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Florida State U. Instructor Grades Students Based on ‘Klout’ Scores

In early 2010 Todd Bacile started hearing from companies about a new measure they were using to help decide whom to hire: the Klout score, a number that calculates a person’s online influence based on his or her presence across various social-media networks.

So when Mr. Bacile began teaching an electronic-marketing class at Florida State University last year, he created a Klout-based project worth 10 percent of the final grade. Klout.com calculates “influence” based on a user’s level of engagement on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook. It then assigns a score on a scale of 1 to 100, with the average score being 40.

In Mr. Bacile’s class, students were expected to post interesting content and to communicate with others on social networks. The idea was that Klout scores would increase as people began responding to the students’ content. Mr. Bacile then graded students based on their Klout scores at the end of the semester.

The instructor, a doctoral candidate in marketing, has received a fair share of criticism since blogging about his project this week. Critics say Klout scores, in addition to being rarely used in hiring decisions, are a flawed and unnecessary measure of influence.

Jeff Turner, a social-media commentator and president of the Web-development firm Zeek Interactive, wrote that Klout rankings don’t matter because influence cannot be quantified with an algorithm, especially one that the site purposefully does not reveal.

Tessa Revolinski, who just graduated from Florida State with a degree in marketing, took Mr. Bacile’s course this past spring. She entered with a Klout score of 55 and ended with a score of 58, the highest in the class. Ms. Revolinski says the project was useful for a marketing course, but agrees that the algorithm the site uses isn’t very accurate.

“It’s not a very consistent measure of online influence,” she says. Her score would often fluctuate, even when she maintained the same amount of content.

Mr. Bacile contends that the critics are misinterpreting the project’s purpose, which is not to “game the system” or promote Klout but to see if students apply the lessons they learn in class.

“In effect, Klout is a byproduct of what I want the students to learn and apply,” he wrote. ”I chose to use Klout because some ad agencies and marketing firms indicated that they assess a job applicant’s Klout score as a prescreening tool.”

He’s not alone in using Klout in the classroom. Professors at campuses including Northwestern University, New York University, and Southern New Hampshire University have told Mr. Bacile that they assign similar projects, he said.

But whether companies pay attention is a different matter: When Ms. Revolinski began applying for social-media jobs and entry-level marketing positions, not one person sought this particular number.

“I was surprised that no one asked for my Klout score, even though I did throw it out there,” she says. “Some people didn’t even know what it is.”

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Becky Cortino]

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