Social-Influence Scores and HR

Measurements that score a person's social-media influence are the 'latest shiny new thing' these days. Experts caution that, while not fool-proof, these measures could begin to pop up on job candidates' resumes, and HR will need to know how to interpret them.

Monday, March 4, 2013
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Do you check the Klout scores of job candidates at your company? Do you check your own? According to some, these scores will be nearly as important to jobseekers and the organizations hiring them as credit scores are to those seeking mortgages and auto loans.

Jeanne Meister is one of those people. Meister wrote a Forbes column last month in which she predicted that measurements such as Klout scores will soon become a routine feature on many resumes.

The Klout score, an algorithmic measure of a person's online network from San Francisco-based Klout, is the most well-known social-influence measure in use today. Other firms that do this include San Francisco-based and London-based PeerIndex. The measures purport to show a person's level of influence based on their social-networking presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. -- for example, someone whose 10 tweets are re-tweeted 100 times will receive a higher Klout score than another person whose 1,000 tweets garner 100 re-tweets.

"I know a lot of people in marketing who take Klout scores really seriously," says Meister, who has an app on her iPhone that immediately lets her know when her Klout score goes up or down. "A Klout score may not be vital for every job, but it does say a lot for you if you're able to manage your online presence."

Jobs such as social-media specialist and digital marketer are some of the more obvious occupations in which Klout scores are important today, but Meister says she can see the day when they become important for a less-obvious profession: HR.

"A lot of recruiting these days is taking place on social networks, and HR is discovering big data in a pretty significant way, so I can definitely see a high Klout score becoming important for an HR person," she says.

"A Klout score is relevant to any HR position that requires the ability to relate to people," says Lynn Fox, acting head of communications for Klout. "Any executive needs to be able to influence their cohorts and large numbers of people."

Klout is hardly fool-proof, says Meister. Until fairly recently, pop sensation Justin Bieber had a higher Klout score than President Obama's -- the company made some changes to its algorithm and now the leader of the free world's Klout score (99) edges out Bieber's (93).

Skeptics abound, of course. Meister says she receives comments "from lots of angry readers" whenever she writes about the importance of Klout scores.

At TMP Worldwide, many clients have asked about the utility of Klout scores and their ilk, says Anthony Andre, senior vice president for social media strategy at the New York-based recruitment-services firm.

"We often get asked about the latest shiny new thing in the social media space as a potential silver bullet," he says. "But I don't think things like Klout scores should be used as a screening tool, at least not yet. I don't think they're accurate enough yet and I question whether they're indicative of someone's ability to do a job well, unless perhaps that job is built specifically around social media."

Other critics point to the "lack of science" behind the scores as a reason to discount them in the recruiting process.

"I have a team of scientists who helped me build an assessment system that uses validated data," says Katherine Graham-Leviss, founder and president of XBInSight, a talent-assessment firm based in Portsmouth, R.I. "My problem with Klout scores is that they measure activity, not whether someone has the soft skills and the problem-solving skills necessary for a given job."

Many high-level executives don't have the time to spend on social media, she says, while others may have other people writing posts and tweets on their behalf.

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"My PR team sends out tweets for me but their Klout scores don't reflect that -- mine does," says Graham-Leviss, who admits she's checked her Klout score "out of curiosity" in the past.

However, the question of whether someone authors their own tweets or not shouldn't really matter, says Fox.

"The definition of influence is the ability to drive action," she says. "If you're responding to someone's tweet, it's most likely a combination of the content and the person, and if the person stands by the content of their Twitter account, then I'm OK with that."

The concept is analogous to credit scores, says Fox: A credit score is considered valid regardless of whether or not a person has advisors making financial decisions in their name. 

Social influence scores are important not only because they measure influence, but the strength of someone's network, says Azeem Azhar, founder and CEO of PeerIndex. This can be critical for a person's ability to do their job well, he adds.

"When we hire someone, we look for people who have professional peer networks, because not every specialist you hire is going to have an answer for everything," says Azhar. "But if that person has a strong network they can draw upon for ideas or support, that can be very helpful."

PeerIndex looks at social media activity to score a person's influence within a particular segment, such as accounting or marketing, he says. "For example, if they tweet about marketing topics, do others respond to them? This information helps you determine whether a job candidate is genuinely interested in the things they profess to have an interest in."

Azhar and Fox both say that although the scores provided by their companies are important, they should only be one of a number of factors to consider in the hiring process.

"It's another way to cut through all the noise," says Fox. "It's like the way an SAT score can serve as a potential predictor of someone's ability to learn and retain information." 

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