Klout's splash page: The site quantifies your social media influence and claims to have over 1 million active users.
With corporations like Coca Cola, Reebok and Chevrolet offering invitations to Spotify's U.S. release, it was a relatively small San Francisco-based web upstart named Klout that may have ironically held the most clout with Spotify users.
Klout is a site that quantifies social media users' influence over their peers on Twitter and other sites in specific fields such as "sports," "politics" and "music." Users are assigned a score on a scale of 1-100, with 100 representing the widest influence based on 35 possible rankings. While the user identification system may be less than perfect (I was deemed an expert in "pregnancy" and "weddings" presumably because I tweeted about the MTV show "Teen Mom," but it more accurately pegged me to "The Sopranos" "television" and "YouTube"), it's done a good enough job determining the consumer predilections of its one million active users that major corporations are regularly using Klout's target marketing services for social media campaigns.
Sponsors have the ability to offer Klout users "perk" packages depending on their areas of influence. Nike, for example, offered first access to a Kobe Bryant short film to users influential in "basketball," Subway offered gift cards for new subs to users influential in "subway," and Spotify's deal offered users with a score above 20, regardless of what field they were influential in, a free invite to their service. The Spotify deal brought 250% more traffic to Klout than an average day and briefly crashed their servers.
Billboard.biz spoke with Klout founder and CEO Joe Fernandez at the tail end of the Spotify campaign about marketing in the social media age, the benefits of jaw surgery and why Spotify CEO Daniel Ek sent over cupcakes and beer on their U.S launch day.
Billboard.biz: How did Klout get started?
Joe Fernandez: It's a weird story. In late 2007, I had jaw surgery and my jaw was wired shut for three months. During that time I completely relied on Twitter and Facebook to communicate. I started thinking about it differently, from the standpoint of how crazy it was that I could tell the people who trusted me the most my opinion about anything instantly. I got really obsessed with that idea and started building Klout from there. The first couple of years were really slow and the last year has been really crazy. We're now 45 people.
What do you attribute that huge jump to?
Social media has exploded. The importance of social networking broadly for individuals and companies reached a tipping point. I like to think of this idea of an "attention economy." With Facebook, people started using their real names and as you start to use your own name online, your personal brand starts mattering. All those things started happening around the same time Klout began its social credit score.
What is your relationship with Facebook and Twitter like?
I started the company in New York but I moved it to San Francisco specifically to have good relationships with Twitter and Facebook. We put our office in the same place as Twitter which helped bridge that gap. We've since moved to a bigger space but we worked really closely with them and shared some investors. Facebook is actually an investor in us through the Kleiner Perkins Social Fund. The networks both love us because you only have a high Klout score if you're creating good content.
Not a Milli? One can only wonder which topics Weezy, who scored an 88, would be most influential.
How does your ranking system work?
We're looking at all the content you create and analyzing what you're talking about. The algorithm will read your tweet and pick up mentions about music or baseball or fashion. And then we'll look at "when you talk about music, does your network respond?" Sometimes when they talk about what concert they're going to, everyone goes crazy. We have a Klout score but we are able to say who is influential about what by topic. As it processes more and more of your content it becomes more accurate.
How did the Spotify deal come about?
It was a great deal. The Spotify guys happened to use Klout - Daniel (Ek) and Shak (Khan). Six months or so ago they were in San Francisco and stopped by our office. They let us play with Spotfiy and everyone here got hooked on it. We kept in touch as they were planning to launch. Word of mouth around product launches are so powerful and we've been able to do very well. It just seemed like a natural fit. Music is something that people love to share, love to talk about. It definitely drove a lot of people who had never heard of Klout but were music fans and wanted to try Spotify to join up. It was a record day for us.
Obviously this was a mutually beneficial deal but did money still change hands in either way in this deal?
I can't really comment on that. There was a business arrangement. The coolest part was Daniel stopped by our office on launch day and personally said thank you to all the developers here. They sent beer and cupcakes over. They're the best guys to work with.
Klout, in the last year has grown from a small office with five employees to this office with 45 employees.
Can you comment at all about your plans for Google+?
It's really exciting to us. It's another great way people are communicating. Clearly there are signals there like how many circles are you in, who's commenting? We have a plan and a team ready to go, we're just waiting for Google to give us access to the data. From what we're hearing that shouldn't' be too far off. We don't have a whole lot of "clout" with Google yet.
What do you see for the future of Klout?
I think every page and every person will interact with Klout in some way to improve their experiences. This new way to leverage word of mouth at scale through social media and have trackable data about is really exciting. And the users love it. These are the people who are passionate about these topics and have so much traffic and authority. Them getting access to things and being able to tell the world their opinions, and then us measuring it and telling it to brands has been really powerful.