Social media outlets buzzed in 2012 when Wired magazine ran a story about Sam Fiorella, a senior executive who said he lost out on a vice president position with a large Toronto-based marketing agency because of a low Klout score. According to the article, Fiorella admitted during his job interview that he didn’t know what a Klout score was—and claimed that after the recruiter showed him his Klout score (which was 34), the interview ended quickly.
The agency hired a candidate with a Klout score of 67.
Klout and other online services like Kred and PeerIndex claim to measure a person’s social media influence. These services use complicated algorithms to place a numerical value (1 to 100) on a person’s activities on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Google+.
The score is not just about the volume of posts and tweets. These services claim to assess influence by also measuring the number of retweets, mentions, comments, likes and re-shares.
Many people are skeptical that these scores can accurately reflect a person’s social media influence and question whether the scores should be used when making a hiring decision, as was reportedly done in Fiorella’s case.
A Value on Clout
While human resource professionals should be aware of these sites, the scores should be used with caution, said Joey Price, PHR, CEO of HR consultant firm Jumpstart: HR.
Social media influence scores may measure activity and influence, but there are still questions about the quality and type of activity—and if it is job-related. A person can acquire a high Klout score by creating amusing Facebook posts, but rarely use social media to create professional influence, so using scores to assess skill may not be wise, experts add.
“Klout scores measure a person’s engagement level and can reflect personality—the person’s ability to be liked and engaged with—rather than job performance,” said Price. “Hiring a person based on Klout score is like hiring the person who tells the funniest joke at happy hour. It is not a measure of the ability to do a job.”
In addition, there can be the question of whether a person with a high Klout score is actually doing the posting and tweeting at all.
“Some of the highest Klout-score holders are robots,” Price said.
Twitter accounts can be completely automated, followers can be bought, and people can be hired to manage social media accounts, potentially misleading employers about a job candidate’s social media savvy.
“Websites like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex can be gamed,” said Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, CEO of Xceptional HR and the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business (The P3 Press; 2010). She noted that she has her own automated Twitter account with a Klout score of 54 (the average score in 2013 is 40). “HR needs to know the foundations of these sites, how they work; but if HR uses Klout scores in the hiring process, it should be used only as a guideline, not as a deciding factor.”
Some experts argue that there may be some positions in which Klout scores could be a valuable gauge in the hiring process. Salesforce.com, for example, caused a sensation when it advertised for a community manager position with “desired skills” that included two to three years of job-related experience, excellent written and verbal communications skills and a Klout score of 35.
The advertisement generated strong reactions, much of it outrage that a Klout score should be used as a hiring criteria. Drew Olanoff, writer and community director for TechCrunch.com, wrote that it should be illegal to use Klout scores to screen applicants. In response to Olanoff, Klout CEO Joe Fernandez said that he believed Klout scores should be used in context.
“When we hire engineers at Klout, if they have a decent Klout score it’s a bonus, but I’m not…passing on an awesome iOS engineer because of a Klout score. So it’s in context. But I think for more and more jobs, you’re a spokesperson for the company. And … our bigger thesis at Klout is people don’t trust advertising, they trust their friends. And being able to activate your network is a key skill. Fifteen years ago it was like being able to just be comfortable on a PC, then it was be comfortable on Google, now it’s be comfortable on social media. And Klout is a signifier of that,” said Fernandez during an interview with Olanoff for “TechCrunch TV.”
Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace and author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (HarperCollins; 2010) also believes that HR professionals should use Klout scores in their hiring practices, noting that as we move from a knowledge to a social economy, the emphasis is changing from “what you know” to “who you know.”
“From an applicant’s point of view, put it on your resume and LinkedIn account,” said Meister. “The score isn’t important; it’s a statement of your competency in social media.”
Personal branding is becoming the new competency, she added, and with that competency comes the need to demonstrate the ability to use and manage social media effectively. In fact, she says that HR should care about applicants’ social media influence regardless of the job.
Klout: SAT Score for Grown-ups
“From an employer’s perspective, a candidate’s Klout score could be used as a way to weed out people who haven’t kept up with the times,” Meister said. “Employees can foster—or hinder—their employer’s brand, so it makes sense that hiring managers become aware of a candidate’s social media activities and influence.”
Another reason to care about Klout scores, according to Meister, is a recent McKinsey & Company study that found that employees who were active in social media were more productive.
“If you are active in social media, you can find answers to organizational challenges faster by tapping into your social network,” she said.
However, Meister agrees with Fernandez that social media influence scores should be used in context.
“Klout scores are the adult version of the SAT scores. They should be a part of the whole consideration when evaluating candidates for a job.”
Like it or not, Meister said, we are entering the era of the “quantified employee.”
“We are acquiring more numbers. There is more gamification in the workplace. We see people earning badges as they add new skills. I can see the day when, after an employee’s name in a staff directory, there will be a list of numbers and badges reflecting skills, certifications
, and competencies the employee has acquired,” she said. “Klout and Kred scores will be part of that list. Social media—and social media influence scores—are not going to go away.”
Sharon Horrigan is a freelance writer and an editor based in Asheville, N.C.