Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Can your Klout score become discriminatory in the ‘real’ world?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

I recently came across a very well-penned article by Wired’s Seth Stevenson regarding Klout; an online service that measures your influence in the social media realm. In a very cursory summary; it works via a metrics-measuring algorithm developed to track how many times your tweets, Facebook posts and various other iterations of social media are passed along to followers, as well as by who retweets them and how much influence your overall network of people commands.

Klout logo look alike with a dark shadow holding a lighter question mark in black and white conjuring up questions about what Klout says about you.
What does your Klout score say about you professionally?
Good or bad. It may be influencing how people judge you personally and professionally.

Stevenson discusses the potential perks and pitfalls of the service. I am not going to go into further explanation, as I am more interested in the comments following the article and in the story of Sam Fiorella, a Canadian interactive marketing executive, who was allegedly passed over for a job because his Klout score was too low.

In a social business marketing arena, I can understand that an employer may want to take a quick look at a score or how many people follow you. I’ve even had a former colleague tell me that he found it preposterous that a social media consultant would ever approach his company with only three recommendations on LinkedIn. However, to discount Fiorella’s 20 years of experience in favor of a number generated by a proprietary algorithm (meaning we’ll never know exactly what data it’s crunching) is absolutely ridiculous (and perhaps illegal?).

Background checks on potential employees are common but constrained to specific instances to protect people from discrimination (in the US). For instance, a negative FICO score could possibly tell you whether or not to give an employee the keys to the corporate coffer. A positive drug screen might reveal that a candidate is not the prime choice for a heavy equipment operator position.

Even if a background check comes back with a negative result, you must give the candidate an opportunity to explain the circumstances (and/or individualized analysis) and cannot discount them based solely on criteria such as these.

The Klout story is tricky because frankly, there are no EEOC regulations specifically referencing: ‘We’re sorry…love your experience, you’re the top candidate, a great leader, but we’re passing. You don’t have enough Klout.’

Some of the comments regarding Fiorella’s journey we’re insightful. The overwhelming sentiment was that Klout has no clout, especially when it comes to hiring decisions. One commenter said they would check Klout scores and immediately disqualify anyone with a score higher than theirs because it meant they were on social media too much. There were also a few adopters and purveyors of this type of media service lauding the insight it could have for marketers, in building brands, and yes; even hiring.

The idea that there are people out there who think Klout could provide any insight as to whether or not to hire someone for an executive-level job, or any job, for that matter is troubling. There are those who might say Fiorella was in social business marketing, his score should have been high, and he should have known that Klout existed. Possibly a valid point; if he thought it was a relevant medium for his type of clients.

It’s not just marketers. Say you’re applying for a sous chef position. The head chef uses Klout personally to monitor her Klout and how popular her foodie blog is becoming. Out of curiosity she checks your score. She finds out your involved in a controversial organization that does not match her views or, even worse, those of the restaurant owner. Or what if she finds something that could violate EEOC mandates about your sexuality, or that, even though you look 28, you’re really approaching 50, and wouldn’t likely be able to handle taking orders from her; a 30 year old.

EEOC regulations are intended to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, convictions and more. Information found on social media and ranking services have the potential to be in direct conflict with these rules.

Last year, Advertising Age published an infographic on social media demographics for several services that influence on your Klout score. At that time, nearly two-thirds of Twitter users were white and nearly the same ratio women. Couldn’t using a Klout score at all in hiring decisions, based on these ratios alone, have the potential to be discriminatory? It would be interesting to see the demographic breakdown of the top ‘influencers’.

I know it’s a stretch, but the idea of giving any credence to this type of score in hiring decisions seems ludicrous. (Unless of course you want to hire Ludacris to be your next spokesperson.)

If you are connected to any form of social media, your data is out there and people are using it and manipulating it in every conceivable way to make it sellable. Unfortunately, it can also be used to judge you as a job candidate, which opens up a host of new questions for HR folks to handle.

We stand on the edge of a ‘Jumping the Shark’ moment, possibly for all forms of social media. Users are catching on to the ramifications of posting too much information. Services such as Klout, being that their data relevance has already been called into question by many, run the risk of becoming irrelevant as users tend to shy away.

I am very interested in hearing about how much clout you give Klout.