Last Saturday, slightly hungover, I spent the afternoon texting with a friend about a show that we had missed the previous night. He sent me a link to a particularly gripping account of the event, Riff Raff's San Francisco debut, from someone named @BoyTweetsWorldX, whose exploits on acid were rendered entirely in all caps.
On his bio and across dozens of tweets was a strange hashtag — #YungKloutGang. Something about "Yung" paired with "Klout" made me laugh — it didn't make any sense. Why would kids care about Klout, a site that attempts to quantify the power someone has on Twitter or Facebook through a complicated algorithm that seems, frankly, useless?
So I went about untangling the #YKG web.
It turned out to be a group of eight — originally, four — friends, all in their early 20s, all into music, going out and, most especially, the Internet. In some ways, they aren't unique at all: There are thousands of kids like them on Twitter, Facebook, FormSpring and the like, revealing way more about their lives than they probably should. They're not particularly famous, nor are they promoting anything in particular, besides, generally, themselves. But there is something fascinating about how this group has seized upon a kind of niche stature that is tied to what Klout claims to measure — the amount one can influence, impact or capture an audience online. They're friends in the real world, but they don't see a distinction between social status online and off-, and they've seized on Klout to create their particular collective identity in the way that teenagers (and adults) have been doing since the beginning of civilization. It strikes me as the kind of thing that more and more kids will probably do as they grow up using the kind of tools that older people see as the domain of geeks and public figures and those with a specific personal interest in promoting themselves.
Brittney Scott (@B666S), 20, first met Lina Abascal (@linalovesit) and Chhavi “Chippy Nonstop” Nanda (@chippy_nonstop) late last year, but she had already been introduced to them online — she started following them on Twitter a month earlier and thought they were "really funny." In fact, she thought the whole crew of seven childhood friends from San Francisco got her sensibility: hypersocial, into hip-hop and dance music and not afraid of being obnoxious.
"We're mostly like tight because of the internet," she said. "We mostly don't live near each other. But it was cool to meet people as interested in the Internet as much as I am."
And indeed, this group — who christened themselves over brunch this past spring — is really into the Internet.
"The name is kind of a joke," Scott said, before explaining that it also kind of isn't. (Abascal said that they had considered and rejected the name InsaneKloutPosse as well.) #YungKloutGang now has its own fan Tumblr, and Scott says she's been recognized out at clubs and parties thanks to her Twitter avatar. She also got her job, at an L.A. boutique, from someone who noticed her online presence. In fact, all of the #YKG derive some kind of professional frisson from being prominent on Twitter. Bradley Exum (@MPHDmusic) does marketing; Demian Becerra (@theholymountain) works as a photographer; Erin Bates (@celebates) and Abascal have degrees in journalism; and Chippy, perhaps the most well-known of the group with over 6,000 followers, raps.
"I've said publicly on Twitter that if I didn't have the Internet, i'd have no friends, no job, no boyfriend, no life," said Abascal, who was trying on clothes at American Apparel while we spoke, "I've hooked up with boys who've DM'ed me their numbers. I think it's funny."
"I am basically on the Internet all the time," Scott said, blithely. "I love the internet."
There can be drawbacks, too. Jasper Abellera, BoyTweetsWorld, working as an assistant to a stylist, almost got fired when his employer saw videos of him doing drugs online. That didn't stop him from continuing to post about drugs and alcohol, although he changed his Twitter handle (it used to be his name) and doesn't use his picture as his avatar.
The KloutGang isn't trying to sell anything — they're not trying as a group to get jobs DJing or modeling or even getting paid to be glamorous in a time-honored Lower East Side kind of way. But in general, what they're doing is a good career move. Skills in social media are highly sought after now. As Forbes notes more than 1.5% of all job postings contain the term.
Klout doesn't release specific information about their demographics, though a spokeswoman said that their user base "doesn't heavily skew toward that age spectrum," referring to 20-somethings. But still, there's something very much of this time about YungKloutGang. They were raised on computers — Scott said that her mother used to take hers away in high school because she was on it so much — and are well-versed in social media. They have been the stars of their own show for years. The progression from MySpace to FaceBook to Twitter to Tumblr and beyond (Klout) is natural. Scott dropped the word "relevant" at least four times in a 20-minute conversation: staying in the information flow obviously carries social currency.
Marketing oneself as being young, attractive, provocative and unfiltered is not a new phenomenon, of course. But in many ways, what's so appealing to me about YungKloutGang is precisely how much they feel like normal party-hopping 20-somethings. Reading through their confusing, seemingly-drunken back-and-forths, I feel kind of nostalgic but also relieved because THANK GOD no one gave me a smartphone and a Twitter account right of out of college. And unlike the previous generation of nerds who spent time interacting with a screen, #YKG are hypersocial: their use of Twitter especially doesn't replace physical interaction so much as run parallel to it.
Others have already seen that the good-looking, multi-ethnic group might be tapping into some kind of zeitgeist. An online music-and-trend website, Buzznet, got in touch with them about doing some blogging. "I had a meeting with Buzznet, to be one of their 'buzzmakers,' said Scott. "Their top people are trendy girls in L.A. but they are looking for looking for people that are relatable, so they reached out to us. It was like, 'You're relevant on the internet; you seemed to know what's popular."
Clearly, her adeptness with her online persona was a point of pride: "'She's really funny on Twitter, that's how I'm introduced alot." But Scott also admitted to social anxiety and to not having too many friends in real life, with the whole IRL concept getting fuzzier by the day. "I think it's funny — it's really a name for our friends but people do get influence from us," she said. "We're not celebrities, but we find a way into things."
And the ability to be ranked according to the specific skills that YungKloutGang has perfected is very appealing to Scott. "I think Klout is very important. Like, the concept of Klout," Scott said, noting she checks at least once a day. "It's so cool that they are able to come up with some score to pull this together. It literally connects the world."
Abascal was a bit more circumspect about her need to be ranked as an influencer than Scott: Her main concern was locking down a full-time job, probably in marketing. She said she'd be sad to lose the daily outlet of Twitter if her job barred from posting, but she already censors herself, in a way. Boring details of life get edited out in favor of the more outrageous stuff: Lately, her thing has been to make outlandish comments about her extreme attractiveness.
"The thing is, it's a fantasy but you could do it too," she said. "I'm just a normal girl. You could be literally be doing everything that I'm doing."
Besides meeting people, like the girl "fan" who Abascal thought was creepy until they started hanging out, the main perk of being young and full of Klout turned out to be food.
"Five people have sent their credit cards to order me takeout," she recalled. "Usually Thai food, although sometimes with the time difference, the only thing that's open is Dominos." Her fans, apparently, don't always live in her city and don't know about web-based food delivery services. These people are strangers who just want to connect with her. "People think that I'm giving them something in return but I'm not." So what do they get? "Nothing," she laughed, "literally nothing."