Klout in the Classroom: A Valuable Grading Tool?

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a two-part series on social media influence tool Klout’s role both in the classroom and the hiring process. The first post can be found here.

By: Geoff Campbell

To determine whether or not Klout is an important tool to use in grading coursework, I spoke to professors, students, and career advisors.

Todd Bacile
Todd Bacile

Todd Bacile, a doctoral candidate in marketing and Electronic Marketing instructor in the College of Business at Florida State University, has come under fire by some for using Klout scores as a grading criterion in one of his classes.

I spoke with Bacile about his use of Klout in the classroom. He explained that he was the only electronic marketing professor at the school and he felt that it was his duty to teach his students about Klout. “I need to tell them about this metric… If I didn’t do that I would be failing my students.”

Bacile said he has spoken to hiring managers who check an applicant’s LinkedIn page and Klout score and if they don’t like what they see, perhaps a Klout score below 35, their application gets tossed.

One hiring manager who considers Klout scores in his hiring decision came forward under the condition his company not be named. He stated that the Klout score is “one of the many variables you take into account when looking to hire someone for a social media focused role.” It is “essential to be active on social channels and have some influence,” he noted, and an applicant’s Klout score should be one portion that is considered in the context of his or her entire portfolio of skills.

Grading With Klout: Is It Fair?

However, the criticisms of Bacile’s method focused primarily on the argument that he is using an untested and potentially unfair metrics. Bacile responded with two points. First, he provided a written assignment as an alternative to being graded via Klout. (Out of 150 students, only three have opted for this opportunity so far.) Second, Bacile argued that Klout is as accurate as other commonly accepted grading methods. He pointed to the standard practice of using marketing simulation software to determine a student’s grade.
Like Klout, marketing simulation software provides a grade based on an unknown algorithm. Bacile explained that the software uses hundreds of differently weighed factors that are not revealed to its users. “The algorithm isn’t transparent and is subject to change,” he said. “But it’s a useful service that demonstrates that the world is full of uncertainty.” 

Another Viewpoint

Jennifer Stromer-Galley
Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Whatever the real-world implications of the Klout score, not all professors see it as reliable metric. Dr. Jennifer Stromer-Galley, an associate professor in the department of communication at the University at Albany-SUNY who studies influence and online social networks, believes Klout is deficient in the way it measures influence.

“There are people who work to build large numbers of connections to others on social media, through friending and following, but such connections are not necessarily meaningful or ultimately influential,” she said. Stromer-Galley argues that what the communication entails is just as important as who is speaking with whom.  

“Developing an algorithm that also accounts for what people are saying to each other is much more challenging than just looking at links and likes, but it is also a more accurate measure of influence,” she said. 

More Than Just a Number

Dr. William J. Ward
Dr. William J. Ward

Dr. William J. Ward, professor of practice in social media at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, uses Klout to grade his students. “Many people who do not understand Klout get caught up in the number,” he said. “They don’t realize that Klout also provides the context and quality of the content being shared and the engagement with the social network” and that in context, it is a good indicator of social influence.

His class syllabus for COM 600 Social Media Theory and Practice reads:

“Klout measures influence based on your ability to drive action on social networks, and how you drive more engaging and relevant professional content for everyone. It is one way that employers are evaluating your social media experience and potential. You will learn how to use social media like a pro and your influence score will improve on professional topics of interest through the semester.”

Dr. Ward’s students tend to agree that Klout is a fair grading metric. One found Klout “mildly reliable” but sees some discrepancy in that students sometimes have higher Klout scores than industry leaders. “While I think it can be a good base estimate of someone’s social influence, it can’t be relied on 100 percent of the time,” the student said. Despite its disputed accuracy, the student believed that it is “completely fair” for companies to use Klout as a metric in hiring a social media manager. 

Klout and Journalism

Ryan Thornburg
Ryan Thornburg

Ryan Thornburg, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, customizes his approach to evaluating Klout for his journalism students. After Klout began receiving considerable attention in both media and non-media circles, he decided to include it in his curriculum because he wanted his students to understand the tool.

Thornburg’s goal is to “stimulate a conversation about ‘How do you do good journalism?’” and to ask students to determine Klout’s value to journalists. Thornburg said that while he doesn’t think Klout will be around for the long term, “it’s an interesting way for someone to get a grounded assessment” of the impact of their actions on social media.
Thornburg expressed reservations about utilizing such a metric in hiring decisions. “ I’d [also] like to be able to explain why my score is the way it is [whether] it’s lower or high. I’d like to be able to describe what other ways of measuring impact are,” he said. Thornburg concluded that it may be predictive for an individual consumer but not for journalists.

Klout: Leveling the Playing Field?

Dr. Stromer-Galley argued that those studying social media need to be aware that if employers are using it to evaluate students, those who want to work in social media “should be on their game and working the system to ensure they are generating solid rankings.”

However, she would “absolutely not use Klout to score students in class.” She argues that social influence measurements place students with an existing widespread social network at a distinct advantage. She explained, “With social media influence measures like Klout, not everyone comes in to class starting on an equal footing. I would not want to set up that kind of environment in my course.”

While these experts’ opinions are relatively split on whether or not Klout is a truly useful grading metric, it is clear that it is causing a stir among educators and hiring managers alike. As Klout’s technology evolves, it will be interesting to see how these experts’ views evolve as well. 

What do you think about the reliability of Klout? Does its use by hiring managers justify its use in grading? Is it an unfair way of evaluating students? Sound off in the comments section below.

Geoff Campbell

Geoff Campbell is a graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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