Klout launches business portal, is gunning for brands

March 20, 2013, 5:02 PM UTC
Klout’s new business dashboard, rolling out today, will offer a granular using at which social networks brands are seeing the most (and least) traction.

FORTUNE — Klout, the analytics startup that aims to measure users’ influence across their social networks, is going after businesses. The San Francisco-based venture, which launched in 2008, is launching Klout for Business, a portal intended to be used by big-name brands to better understand their online audiences.

Today, Klout is making available a free analytics dashboard for companies with features that allow them to learn how influential their fans and followers are, which social networks the brand resonates most (or least) with, which social networks they should use more, which topics about the brand are most popular, and which “moments”—a Tweet or Facebook (FB) update, for example—get the most attention.

Later this spring, the company will also introduce a Groups feature. Klout Groups will operate somewhat similarly to Facebook Groups, although they will only include the most influential people on social networks like Twitter and Instagram. The feature will allow companies to know, broadly, in which social networks members are particularly influential. Pricing will vary on a case by case basis. Klout currently draws the lion’s share of its revenues from Klout Perks, a rewards program that encourages social media influencers to share information about brands. Klout CEO Joe Fernandez told Fortune he expects these to flip next year once Groups get off the ground.

The third part of Klout’s business strategy will include tools so brands can interact and engage directly with their influencers, from polls to targeted perks. At this year’s South by Southwest, Cirque du Soleil and Klout provided users who downloaded the mobile app and were at the festival various prizes.

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Will it work? That remains to be seen. Klout is no stranger to controversy. The company’s very launch generated much discussion of the importance of measuring influence on the growing social Web. Later, controversy then shifted to Klout scores themselves. Because outsiders were unsure of how scores were achieved, they questioned their validity. (Indeed, at one point, President Obama ranked lower than tech influencer Robert Scoble. Wait, what?) That issue was allayed thanks a major redesign late last year that offered a more accurate calculation of scores as well as transparency into how they are measured.

Since then, Klout has matured and gained more acceptance among consumers, thanks in part to a partnership with Microsoft’s (MSFT) Bing search engine. The company tripled revenue last year and expects to make in the low double-digit millions this year. There’s a hitch, however. “A friend came in and told me that 10 out of 10 CMO’s [chief marketing officers] that I talk to know what Klout is—so we have brand recognition—but 0 out of 10 know you do anything for brands,” says Matt Thomson, Klout’s VP of Business Development and Platform. Today’s announcements are intended to address this.

Because aggregated influence scores on their own tend to be less useful to brands than scores that reflect influence in specific topics or areas of influence, Forrester Research (FORR) analyst Zachary Reiss-Davis, says Klout’s expanded brand push, particularly into deep analytics, is a smart move. “Klout is clearly making an attempt to refine its original single-score offering into more granular information about the specific focused areas that individuals are influential in, and that will be a powerful change as that matures,” he says.

On Klout’s business dashboard, users will able to see which topics are most popular with different segments of users.