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Measuring influence online: A Q&A with Klout's CEO

Joe Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of Klout, which measures social influence online.
Joe Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of Klout, which measures social influence online.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Klout is a web service that examines online influence based on "one's ability to drive action"
  • The most effective means for increasing one's Klout score is consistency
  • Big things are in store for users this year such as new tools that increase transparency

(CNN) -- Entertainer Lady Gaga scores a 93, edging out President Barack Obama at 91. NBA rising star Jeremy Lin scores an 80. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gets a 77. Pope Benedict XVI earns a 53.

However, these very public figures -- along with the other hundreds of millions of us using social media -- all bow to the 100-point chart-topper: teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.

We're talking about Klout, the four-year-old Web service that measures online influence based on "one's ability to drive action." Klout scores are derived from social networks -- mostly Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus -- to measure how many people you influence, how much you influence them and the relative power of your network.

Some have described a Klout score as the credit score of the digital age. It has very little to do with real-world, offline influence and everything to do with Twitter retweets and Facebook likes. The more of those you have, the higher your score.

The San Francisco-based startup claims to have assigned scores to more than 100 million people.

CNN sat down recently with Klout co-founder and CEO Joe Fernandez to discuss why web users should know their Klout score, how brands are capitalizing on rewarding key influencers, the company's first acquisition and why burritos helped shape the initial idea behind Klout.

CNN: Why should people care about their Klout score?

Fernandez: We're helping people better measure and understand influence online. To examine the content users create on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the whole social Web. As the Web grows more massive all the time, it's becoming increasingly important to quickly assess what Internet users are influential about and how they are influenced in order to make more informed decisions.

What are the most effective means for increasing one's Klout score?

Consistency is really the biggest thing. It's finding time in your day to create at least one piece of content to keep your network engaged in what you have to share.

Last year Klout users reacted rather loudly to some pretty significant changes to the service. How has the feedback been overall now that a number of months have passed and what did you guys learn in terms of the passion of your core users?

It was a great learning experience for us. People were surprised at how much their scores shifted and their passion for the scores definitely showed after that. What we learned was that we need to drive transparency and make it clear why users' scores changed. Since then we've worked to add layers of transparency and our users have reacted very well.

Is it true the idea for Klout was partly inspired by your expertise in burritos?

Ha ... yes. My jaw was wired shut for three months in 2007. I was thinking all the time about food. I then became interested in the idea that, because I recommend taquerias to friends online so much, that I should be rewarded for that expertise. Burritos were definitely a part of my inspiration.

Are you seeing adoption of the Klout service in the job market?

Everywhere I go it seems I'm meeting someone who tells me they either put their Klout score on their resume and got the job or it came up during the job interview. If you think about what's important in the workplace today, for many positions, it's one's ability to activate a network. To spread the word. To be comfortable in the social web. Klout is a great way to benchmark how effective someone really is.

It seems businesses are beginning to pay more attention to key influencers online and reward those patrons accordingly. What is a good example of an industry or company using Klout to elevate the consumer experience?

One of my favorite uses are by hotel properties that are now using Klout scores to upgrade the rooms of guests during check-in as they access their online influence rating. These types of perks have been offered for many years but always based on how much money a person spends. Now for the first time brands are valuing your networks.

Klout was in the news very recently with the acquisition of Blockboard, a service that helps people connect with their neighbors. What can you share about the thinking behind the move and what impact will it have on users?

The web is clearly shifting from desktop to mobile. We've done a good job at understanding influence online, but as it drives down to local and mobile we thought it was important to pick up a team like the people at Blockboard that are as passionate as we are about the rest of social media and open up mobile to Klout in new ways.

How do you respond to criticism that the Klout score is not a true reflection of influence? For example, ahead of the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney and New Gingrich were tied according to their Klout score (78). But ultimately Rick Santorum won in Iowa. What's wrong?

Klout measures your ability to drive actions online. That doesn't always reflect in the real world. We predicted the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl because many of their players had higher Klout scores. But on the playing field it's a different situation. Just like Newt and Mitt were tied online but the voters in Iowa saw things differently.

With Cuban heritage as part of your background, what has it been like as one of just a handful of Latino tech company entrepreneurs?

This entire journey so far has been great. The Latino community online along with the rise of social media use across Latin America has been supportive throughout, offering lots of goodwill. Silicon Valley is an interesting place. I went there two years ago not knowing a single person. It's amazing. I believe anyone can arrive and if you have a great idea and the passion to build a company, you're gonna get a shot at it.

What do you see for the short- and long-term future of the company?

Our big thing is continue to drive value for our users. Help them understand their influence. And not enough for them to just understand their reach but benefit from it. Big things are in store for Klout users in 2012, such as the integration on the mobile platform ... [and] new tools that increase transparency and help people drive up their scores.

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