By Alexandra Tilsley, for Inside Higher Ed
Todd Bacile's Klout score is likely to have jumped this week. The Florida State University marketing instructor has been the subject of a lot of discussion – and outrage – after he revealed his practice of grading students based on their Klout score.
Klout is an online service that measures a person's social media influence on a scale from 1 to 100, drawing on data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites. The exact algorithm behind a person's Klout score is unknown, but the Klout website indicates it has to do with online interactions and content sharing. With Klout, it is not just about the quantity of posts, though posting often can help, but about getting influential people to respond to and share those posts.
Bacile began using the metric in his electronic marketing class after he heard that some employers use Klout scores to screen applicants.
"The idea for this project came about after a few conversations with hiring managers at advertising and marketing agencies," Bacile wrote in an email. "I approached them, asking how they use Klout. I was surprised to hear some of them say that they check their applicants' Klout scores early on in the application process."
So, for the past two semesters, students in Bacile's course have been graded partly on their Klout scores. The "Klout Challenge" is introduced at the beginning of the semester, and students' grades on the project are based entirely on their raw Klout scores at the end of the semester. The project accounts for 10 per cent of a student’s semester grade. Students can also opt to write a paper instead, though Bacile said that only two have taken that option so far.
Bacile's idea, which he described in a blog post published on 2 September, has sparked considerable controversy.
In response to Bacile's blog post, one commenter wrote, "From my point of view, higher education should be the place for students (and professors) to question the value of such metrics, rather than impose them on their students. I'm glad to see that you are taking an innovative approach to your class, but the flawed nature of Klout does not deserve any more credit than it has already been given."
Another critic wrote, "Did you ever stop to talk to them about the difference between education and mindless, indulgent narcissism? I suppose that people who work on their Klout scores to obtain jobs at companies that care about Klout scores deserve what they get, but do you have any pride as an academic?"
There was much debate on Twitter, too, with many arguing that Klout’s mysterious methods make grading based solely on the Klout score unfair.
But David Fountain, a senior at Florida State who took Bacile's class in the spring, said the Klout Challenge was valuable, and that for many students, the fact that it was graded was important.
"The grade helped people to get engaged," he said.
Fountain, who hopes to work eventually as a brand manager, said he did not do anything special to increase his Klout score, he merely focused on starting conversations about the topics that he was already tweeting and posting about. By the end of the semester, his Klout score had jumped from 22 to 57.
Though some critics contend that Klout is a useless metric because it can be manipulated, Fountain said that those in his class who tried to beat the system were ultimately disappointed. Some people, he said, changed their date of birth on Facebook, thinking the deluge of "happy birthday" posts would increase their Klout score – but nothing happened.
"I don’t think there were too many who were upset based on the secretive nature [of the scoring]," Fountain said. "The only reason I ever heard people bickering was when they tried to game it and it didn't work."
Bacile said he viewed the Klout challenge as a way of teaching others important social media marketing skills.
"As we created content that people 'liked', retweeted, tagged and shared, the result was an increase in Klout scores," Bacile said. "In this way, I had found a metric to assess students’ hands-on application of the social media engagement strategies that I lectured about in class."
Whether Klout scores are an accurate metric is the topic of much debate, but Bacile said as long as it is a metric that employers care about – and Fountain noted that he was once asked about his Klout score at a career fair – he feels compelled to teach it.