Professor Sparks Controversy for Klout-Based Grading

Students shouldn’t weigh the influence-measuring site too heavily, experts say.

Social media experts give a thumbs down to those that weigh students’ Klout scores too highly in the classroom or an interview.
By + More

A Florida State University professor who recently blogged about his intention to grade students based on their scores on the social media influence-measuring site Klout is drawing criticism from education technology experts.

Citing the "inescapable fact" that many firms are screening job applicants' Klout scores, FSU doctoral candidate Todd Bacile announced his social media-related grading plans for the electronic marketing class he is teaching at the university this fall. "I owe it to my students to introduce them to every and any concept that will help them land an internship or fulltime job," he wrote.

Klout scores, which range from 1 to 100, purport to measure users' influence on a variety of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Wikipedia. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney score 99 and 92 respectively, while Bacile has a Klout score of 60—20 points above the average Klout score.

Three marketing managers have told Bacile that they take applicants' Klout scores into account, and he says he has seen numerous examples of hiring personnel citing Klout as an important hiring metric. "If my marketing students are going to use these tools in the workplace, they should have firsthand experience doing so with their personal brands," he says.

Social media experts, college students, and recent graduates beg to differ with Bacile about the role Klout should play in the classroom. "Klout appears to be a joke to me," says Justin Chick, who earned a B.A. in public relations from Webster University in St. Louis in 2010.

If used in conjunction with other metrics—including references, résumés, and portfolios—Klout can help employers identify candidates who are talented communicators, but success or failure is more complicated than a single data point, particularly one as "nebulous" as Klout, Chick says.

[Read about how social media means more than salary to some college students.]

Patrick Powers, director of digital marketing and communications at Webster, has never seen anyone put Klout on a résumé and doesn't know of any colleagues who take Klout seriously. Although social media users are always looking for metrics that show if they're making a difference, it makes Powers uneasy to hear that the FSU professor is relying solely on a third party, such as Klout, to analyze those metrics.

"If someone were to pull up my Klout score during a job interview, I would like to immediately have a conversation as to about why they think that Klout is important," he says.

J.D. Ross, the communications director at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, is equally skeptical of Klout, which he calls an "emerging, growing platform."

"[Klout] just released a new scoring algorithm, that kind of moved everyone up and down," Ross says. "What would have happened if they would have moved that in the middle of his class? It's pulling the rug out from underneath an established rating rubric like that. Had I been a student in the class at the time, that would have thrown me a bit."

[Learn why some students advise avoiding social media MBAs.]

Because Klout protects its algorithm as a "trade secret," students and faculty don't know how, for example, a Facebook post is weighed against a Foursquare check-in or a retweet in Klout scores, Ross adds. "You don't know what's going into the cooking over at Klout."

Lynn Fox, a Klout spokesman, confirms that Klout chooses not to be transparent about its scoring. "We don't really give advice on how to increase your Klout score," she says. "We define influence as the ability to drive action. We believe that if you are authentic and create high-quality content on a relatively frequent basis, your score will reflect that."

Sam Morrison, a senior at Syracuse, says employers weighing applicants' Klout scores is probably what's coming in the future. But until the algorithm stops being "pretty vague," he won't be taking it too seriously, even though he has downloaded the Klout app on his iPad.

[Imagine college life without social media.]