Mike Isaac

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With “Experts,” Klout Wants to Make Influence Matter in Online Q&A

For some time I’ve thought that Klout, the social startup that aims to measure online influence, makes a certain amount of sense as a business product. The ability for a brand to keep track of the social reach of consumers could be useful, perhaps in catering to them with offers or just engagement.

Where I — and some others — have found Klout deficient is in its consumer application. Aside from some real-world perks, a scoring system of my online reach doesn’t necessarily do me any good on a consistent basis.

“We weren’t letting people actually be influential,” Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout, said in an interview.

Klout wants to change that perception, and it’s part of why the company is previewing its latest product, “Experts,” on Wednesday.

Experts is pretty simple. The premise: If you’ve garnered sufficient credibility on a certain topic based on your Klout score — say, gardening or hair styling or whatever — you should be qualified to answer questions on the area. Moreover, you’re likely more credible than some result in a Q&A thread on a site like Yahoo Answers or perhaps a Quora.

So to spur the knowledge base, Klout will drop in questions to some of its users during its preview period. Maybe they’ll answer, maybe they won’t. But, if so, those answers will show up in search results through Microsoft’s Bing — Klout’s official search partner — and potentially Google’s search engine (which Klout doesn’t have a partnership with — just as if it were another page on the Web.

“Think of a company like eBay. It works well because of its reputation layer,” Fernandez said. “We just built that layer first, and now for the first time we’re enabling a direct sense of consumer utility.”

If people actually use the product, it’s clever in a few ways. Yes, it could potentially give people more reason to consider Klout scores important and regard influence more highly. But pumping topic results pages into Bing and (maybe) Google search results is an easy way to stimulate outside activity and engagement, and perhaps increase signups to new users seeing the pages for the first time. I say “maybe” for Google because, honestly, it isn’t clear whether or not Google will surface those results. For now, Klout has only officially — though not exclusively — partnered with Microsoft on this.

If they do indeed show up, there’s still Google’s social recommendation layer to compete with here. Google sticks “+1” recommendations from people using its social network into its search results when applicable (and when users opt in to seeing it), which arguably may have more power than a Klout page. And of course there are existing knowledge bases online — the Wikipedias and Quoras of the Web.

But I’ll admit that it’s nice to see Klout thinking about a more direct consumer application outside of an assigned influence number, which to some could feel a bit haughty.

The preview rolls out on Wednesday to a limited group of users, and there’s a waiting list to sign up for on the site, if you’re so inclined.

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