Companies like Klout and Kred score how influential individuals, brands and organizations are within their social media networks. The more you post, the higher you score and the higher your influence. Skeptics say these scores are meaningless and don’t really matter, while proponents claim that they are absolutely critical. Still, many people have never even heard of Klout or Kred, nevermind their own scores on either platform.

What are your Klout and Kred scores? What are your followers’ scores? And why should you care about either? Government Technology set out to find out from top social media experts exactly what Klout and Kred scores are, what they mean, how they work and whether government social media managers should put stock into theirs and those of their followers.  

What’s Klout All About?  

Klout is a San Francisco-based company that measures users’ depth of social media engagement based on their social media activity, as well as numbers of followers and connections across several social networks. Launched in 2008, Klout now boasts more than 1 million monthly users.

The free service assigns each user a score ranging between 0 and 100, based on more than 400 social media signals and 12 billion data points per day across 12 social networks, including Facebook, Foursquare, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, WordPress and YouTube.

An average Klout score is 20, while scores between 50 and 70 are above average. Users with a score of 50 are in the 95th percentile. A score in the 90 to 100 range is truly exceptional, that is unless you are Barack Obama, Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. Each regularly scores in the mid- to high 90s. (In fact, Bieber once achieved the elusive perfect 100 Klout score.)

Klout scores take into account the number of people you influence via social media (how many people follow you) and how often you inspire them to retweet your tweets, share or comment on your Facebook and LinkedIn status updates, etc. Klout also keeps tabs on which trending topics you have the most influence on.

What is Kred and How Does it Work?

Kred is also a San Francisco-based free social media metrics provider, however, the company only measures users’ influence on Facebook and Twitter. Founded in late 2011, Kred is widely considered to be Klout’s top competitor and is often viewed as Klout’s much more transparent younger brother. (Interestingly, according to technologynews site AllThingsD, Kred and Klout are headquartered in the same SoMa District warehouse office building.)

Unlike Klout, Kred issues each of its users with not one but two social media scores. The first is an Influence score that spans from one to 1,000. Kred Influence scores are based on how likely others are to retweet or share your social media posts within their networks. Users who connect their Facebook accounts to their Kred profile also earn Influence points when people share or like content on their Facebook wall and the walls of others who have registered their Facebook accounts with Kred. Anything above 700 is generally considered a good Kred Influence score.

The second half of a person’s Kred score is the Outreach score, which ranges from one to 12, with seven or higher being an impressive score. Outreach scores rank how likely a user is to comment on or share content on Facebook and retweet others’ social media posts within his or her network.

Also unlike Klout, Kred’s scoring algorithm is available to the public. Kred claims to be the only social media influence measure to show users exactly how their Twitter and Facebook activities contribute to their scores. The highest Outreach Level anyone has achieved is 12 (in June 2012), according to Kred. In addition, Kred updates users’ scores in real time, not on a 24- to 48-hour delay, as Klout seems to. Kred claims to have 100,000-plus monthly users.

Kred founder and CEO Andrew Grill said Kred is “the only platform to have had full access to the Twitter firehose over the last four years, collecting and analyzing over 150 billion tweets and calculating a Kred score on 250 million Twitter users in real time.”

He said that “platforms like Kred allow government agencies to understand more about their communities, and hence serve them in a more meaningful way.” But do they really?

Do Social Scores Really Matter?

Unfortunately the answer is much more complicated than a simple yes or no. The majority of experts Government Technology spoke with said that, specifically in the public sector (versus the private sector), the social media influence scores of those who follow you tend to matter much more than your own scores. Why? Because others’ Klout and Kred scores can help you better identify whom in your constituency to respond to, as well as how best and how soon to engage with them. Social media influence scores essentially offer a shortcut to identifying, evaluating and engaging key influencers in your specific sector.

For example, someone with high Klout and Kred scores has a wide scope of influence online. What they say, post, share or tweet about your federal, state or local agency within their own and others’ social media networks has a higher potential to reach and impact others significantly more (and perhaps more meaningfully) than someone with low social media influence scores.

“If you are a government agency and you have someone yelling and screaming at you on Twitter or Facebook, or if someone just created a social media account simply to harass an agency, a social media manager or communications director could pick up on a person like that very quickly if they have both a low Klout score and low Kred scores,” said David Gerzof Richard, a social media and marketing professor at Emerson College in Boston and president of public relations and social media firm BIGfish.

“Conversely if you find people who have high Klout and Kred scores, and they really understand where your agency is going, and your agency’s goals, and they’re sharing your social media content, those people would especially be your super targets,” Richard said. “They’re the people you want to make sure are seeing your agency’s social media messaging and content, because they’re actively sharing it and they have a high rate of influence. What they share gets a lot of exposure and engagement, so it’s important to engage them.”

Examining your followers’ social media influence scores also helps to quickly, easily separate the “wheat from the chaff,” said Richard, enabling you to prioritize positive influencers and advocates over “noisy,” negative trolls and other disruptive followers.   Be Aware, but not too Concerned

“I think it’s a good practice for state and local governments to be aware of their social media metric scores, but I wouldn’t say they should necessarily be concerned about them, particularly on a day-to-day basis,” said Bill Greeves, CIO of Wake County, N.C., and co-author of Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide.

“However, social media outreach in government is crucial because it’s where the people are,” said Greeves. “Social media offers a relatively inexpensive opportunity to connect with an audience using the tools they use for work, play and socialization. Social media influence scoring tools give us an opportunity to better expand our communication channels and to catch up with people who might not be engaging with government using more traditional methods.”

Don’t get too hung up on a single score through a single tool, Greeves advised. “Check your Kred and Klout scores occasionally. If they’ve gone up, figure out what you did and do some more of it. If they’ve gone down, try to figure out why and avoid doing it again. We’ve got to use social media to talk, listen and respond. Be positive. Be friendly. Be honest. Be responsive. If you do that, your metrics are going to go up and so will your overall reach and impact.”

Take it With a Grain of Salt

Others say social media influence rankings are little more than digital status symbols that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. “A high Klout score is like a Maserati or whatever the cool car of the day might be,” said Aliza Sherman, Internet pioneer and co-author of Social Media Engagement for Dummies. “It’s fun to flash around, but at the end of the day, it isn’t practical.”

Sherman cautioned public-sector social media managers and communication directors to take all of these rankings with a grain of salt and to spend more time being thoughtful about their use of social media tools than trying to make sense of the myriad numbers from competing ranking companies. “It’s really anybody’s guess which numbers are truly valuable or mean anything at all,” Sherman said. “Some of these companies pay a great deal of money marketing the fact that they have the metrics that matter, but in reality, it is all a matter of perception and not the reality of any true accuracy or value.”

Instead of worrying about Klout and Kred scores, Sherman suggests that social media managers focus more on improving their social media campaign outcomes. “Take courses from reputable sources,” she said. “Gain more knowledge, skills and abilities that help you better integrate social media tools and tactics into your overall communications mix. Don’t get duped by snake oil salesmen, but instead do your homework and work with trusted trainers and consultants who can help you more thoughtfully adapt new communications methods to better achieve your organizational goals.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Kim Lachance Shandrow  |  Freelance Writer

Kim Lachance Shandrow is a Los Angeles-based tech journalist who specializes in writing about iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android phones, as well as social media marketing, startups, streaming TV, apps and green technology. Her work has appeared on Entrepreneur.com, NBC’s The Today Show, MSNBC.com, NBC.com, and in The Los Angeles Times and The International Business Times. She also consults for Ameba, a Canadian multiplatform children’s streaming TV startup.