Much has recently been written about Klout, the latest darling of social scoring that aims to measure social clout, an individual's ability to influence others.
Like many emerging technologies (after all, we are at the dawn of social scoring), Klout has some problems. Even as some opine that it's premature to arrive at an Influence number, the groundswell from the marketing and advertising elite see too much promotional value in Klout to hold their deals at bay. Disney, Virgin America and other marquis names are already building their buzz online using Klout, handing out perks, airline and hotel upgrades (and yes, social media consulting contracts) based on an individual’s Klout score. Mercedes-Benz just chose contestants for their "Tweet Race" challenge for the Super Bowl based on their tweet score. Even lay twitterers have their appetites whetted for an industry-accepted social score to help pave the way to paid tweets and sponsorships.
What's most concerning: Employers are starting to use Klout to evaluate job candidates.
Six Concerns Employers Should Have About Klout
Below, I list six identified problems in order of how often they're mentioned in my review of 23 blog posts published between August 2010 and January 2011. You can check out my reading list here.
1. The "Warren Buffett Problem." The current Klout algorithm takes little to no account of a person’s offline influence.
As Klout has acknowledged, for Warren Buffett to get a low score within their 100 point system is a failing. Based on Warren's score, he might be passed over for an investment banking position.
2. Klout only taps into the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn portions of the entire online ecosystem.
3. Klout can be manipulated.
One of the key readings for anyone seriously wanting to understand a key hurdle for any standard of influence is Adriaan Pelzer’s excellent piece, Klout is Broken. Based on a series of tests done by building Twitter bots, Pelzer was able to show that a bot could attain a highly respectable Klout score of 50 in 80 days. Neil Kodner has created tens of twitter bots (based on Seinfeld, The Big Lebowski, and more recently Sarah Palin), some of which have attained Klout scores as high as 74.
As an employer, how would you know that the high-scoring candidate was not using bots to artificially elevate their score?
4. Klout provides a single number to rank all users, not a number within an industry.
As Danny Brown wrote, "When it comes to influence, the folks that matter to us are the ones that are in our industry, or affect the industries of our customers and clients. That’s what influences our business and its success (or lack of it), not someone who’s in an industry that has little to no relevance to us."
5. The volume and frequency of tweets and status updates is weighted heavily in comparison to the quality of content.
6. Social analytics experts have warned about premature use of Klout (and other metrics) as a basis of hiring employees.
Recently, Eric Peterson, creator of social metric Twitalyzer, weighed in after learning in a discussion with Shel Israel that a social media consultant had been passed over in a hire due to a low Twitalyzer score. Eric wrote, "To use Twitalyzer (or Klout for that matter) to make any decision about an individual other than broadly how they use Twitter as a tool is a mistake and does disservice to the individual, Twitter, and our analytics platform."
Bottom Line: Employers Should NOT Prematurely Use Klout Scores in Hiring.
What gives me particular worry is that some of the technical issues are not very tractable. Taking down the bear of the "Warren Buffett problem" in a couple of quarters, as the CEO has said, seems overly optimistic. In fact, as the company integrates data from more social networks and services swiftly, the complexity of their data set increases. Brandon Prebynski called this, "Combining qualitative and quantitative data from various sources (social networks) that serve different purposes for the individuals who are active on the networks in order to achieve one 'influence score' is a task that I believe cannot be achieved. As you can see, the idea of combining unlike data from unlike sources (social networks, for this case) is flawed in itself."
When it comes down to it, my primary concern regards the likelihood of the engineering timeline catching up and keeping pace with the Klout marketing juggernaut.
So, no. After weighing the six significant technical and application issues remaining with Klout, it seems unwise and injurious for an employer to use a job candidate's high Klout score as an index of their social media prowess. Some have ventured that there may even be a negative correlation! Consider two job candidate finalists, Candidate A having a significantly higher Klout score than Candidate B. But what if Candidate A was principally self-promoting and engaging in lightweight interactions, while Candidate B delivered fewer tweets but included blog links demonstrating his/her social media expertise? What if Candidate B was also occupied with working on the social engagement of her clients? In this case, if you made the final candidate selection on the basis of their Klout score, you'd be choosing the wrong candidate. Think twice!
Image 1 credit: Artwork from The Higher Critical Review