Wikipedia tells us that ”Keeping up with The Joneses” is an idiom referring to an individual’s comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. As with everything digital, it’s always fascinating to see established human behavior such as this begin to show up (or morph itself) in a new online incarnation. While I believe it may currently be a minority of the online social sphere, there are certainly signs that there is a growing group of distinct users who have a preoccupation with their online social standing and prestige.
1959: Caddy fins. 2011: Klout score.
With that, I present Exhibit A: Klout.¹
The most important thing about Klout (and the debate surrounding it) is not the purported influence it measures, or the fact (according to Klout) that marketers seem to “want it.” It’s that it brilliantly satisfies an emotional drive. Klout is important because it recognizes the core need for ubertweeters to Keep up with The @Joneses. Klout is the ultimate letter jacket for geeks. A daily updated badge of honor that continues to fuel the conspicuous consumption of all that is digitally social.
I’m not convinced this means anything for marketers. A Klout “Perk“—sending a user a branded coffee mug or a 3 oz. sample of styling gel—isn’t anything new. It’s just moved from the warehouse aisles at Costco to a sweet digital user experience for the tiniest sliver of people who happen to tweet a lot. What marketers foolishly fail to realize is that giving out freebies to Klout subscribers isn’t going to buy them any loyalty—that loyalty exists between the user and Klout. Subscribers like Klout because Klout gets them free stuff, regardless of whatever that stuff might happen to be. See my friend @NateStPierre‘s brilliant post on this very subject.
It goes much further than Klout of course. The desire to increase one’s position in the social hierarchy may not be solely American, but we certainly have a knack for it. In the digital age, this presents the opportunity to manifest itself in many ways. For this “soci0-egonomic” group, getting on the list for the iPhone 4S, being jazzed over Google + (that didn’t last long), or scoring an invite for Spotify is a big, big deal. Some Twitter lists have become the equivalent of elite suburban neighborhoods. “OMG, I’m on @edwardboches design list with IDEO.” How else does one explain the constant daily barrage of blog posts with a headline that touts the 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 reasons why you should do this, not do that, remember this, but forget about that. I recently pulled the following numbers out of the headlines from a very well known blogger’s most popular posts list: 8, 5, 7, 10, 5, 27, 10, 10, 10, 7, 5, 10, 5, 5. I kid you not. These digits were followed by nouns including reasons, tips, secrets, habits, steps, techniques, mistakes, and ways. Twitter is a gold mine for social media hawkers peddling self help advice to users preoccupied with their social standing in the digital food chain.
It was only a little over two years ago that social media felt like a wide open territory, full of opportunity and equality for all. Now, good old human nature has take over, creating cliques and “hipper than thou” scoring systems. It was bound to happen. The outcry on Twitter yesterday to the change in the Klout scoring system was predictable to say the least. When Klout algorithmically says you have influence and bestows you with a high score, Klout can do no wrong. When Klout arbitrarily decides it is time to reshuffle the data and your score drops precipitously, Klout is held in contempt. So it goes.
With an entire generation of digital natives becoming mature, it will be interesting to see what other behavioral manifestations and social status anxieties we’re likely to see migrate online.
¹ Many readers of this blog have no idea what Klout—or the Klout score—is, which is interesting to say the least. You may be surprised that even though you may not know what Klout is, Klout knows who you are and has been tracking your online social activity whether you like it or not. And get this—there’s no way to unsubscribe. According to their site:
The Klout Score measures influence based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:
- True Reach: How many people you influence
- Amplification: How much you influence them
- Network Impact: The influence of your network
Klout’s tagline “Measuring influence since 2008″ is dubious at best. Klout measures online “influence”. It does not attempt to measure offline influence. Which last time I checked—as warm-blooded hominids—we all still frequent on a daily basis.