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Does Klout Discrimination Really Exist?

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A student in my new media course recently asked, “Can employers refuse to hire me because my Klout score is too low? Isn’t that discrimination?”

Yes, they can, and yes, it’s discrimination, but not illegal discrimination. Some well-known and accomplished people have lost out on jobs because of their Klout score, leading some to delete their profile on Klout.

The important fact to realize is that employers can and do discriminate all the time. I might choose not to hire you because you have a bold tie, a short skirt, a bad perm, or a bad attitude. I might even toss your resume into the trash because of a typo---before I ever meet you in person.

Screening interviews discriminate against the unpolished, the uninformed, and the unfashionable. Failure to send a thank-you note can result in your being regarded as ill-mannered.

The important question is whether the characteristic on which I base my decision is subject to legal protection. Specifically, I cannot discriminate against you based on age, race, national origin, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or because you have certain genetic markers associated with disease. (Gattaca, anyone?) These characteristics are given special legal protection pursuant to the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Note that the law doesn’t mention anything about “seemingly arbitrary scores purporting to measure an applicant’s online influence.” That means there’s nothing wrong with “discriminating” based on your influence score as measured by Klout, Kred, PeerIndex or any similar site. In fact, it might make sense for some jobs: If your personal Klout score is lower than the average person’s, you might not be sufficiently engaged with social media to be a community manager, for instance.

There is a real temptation for hiring managers and HR people looking to recruit social media managers to lean heavily on Klout scores. A Klout score is a (seemingly) objective metric, set by a third party, and is at least tangentially related to the job qualifications. The difficulty is that someone who understands Klout’s limitations probably wouldn’t need to hire social media help, so you’re in the awkward position of educating a prospective employer about social scoring without being defensive.

Bear in mind that “Klout discrimination” is not illegal, although it is real. The only instance in which a Klout score might arguably result in illegal discrimination is if the employer fails to hire you after seeing that you are influential in a topic that relates to a protected class.

For instance, say I’m interviewing for a social media marketing position when the prospective employer says any applicant hired will need to have a Klout score of at least 50. She brings up my profile on Klout, which shows that score is a respectable 62.

I see her eyes linger over my top three topics: gay marriage, Democrats, and health care reform. Her demeanor noticeably changes, and the interview comes to an abrupt end a few minutes later. After sending a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note, I receive a cursory email informing me that the position has been filled. The successful applicant had a Klout score of 50.

Might I have a case for unlawful discrimination now? Maybe. Proving intent to discriminate is always a difficult proposition, but given the fact that my Klout score was within the acceptable range, and I saw the interviewer’s negative reaction to my topics, I’m in a better position than someone else who wasn’t present when the employer reviewed her Klout profile. Most of the time, however, you won’t see the social media background check that prospective employers run on candidates.

A note to employers: Don’t rely too heavily on any one metric when hiring someone. Years of experience and demonstrated success in the industry should mean more than a relatively new online scoring algorithm.

In addition, don’t dig too deeply into a candidate’s topics of influence. You can’t “unsee” something like an affiliation with a particular political party or cause, and even if you weren’t actually discriminating based on this affiliation, it might look as though you did, which can result in liability for your company.

Job seekers: Tend to your online brand and your social scores (but don’t obsess), and be aware that interviewers will discriminate based on a number of factors. You might never know which, so make an effort to keep the interview focused on your professional accomplishments, rather than your personal opinions.

In sum, Klout discrimination happens, but there’s no law against it.

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, JD/MBA, teaches New Media Marketing in the Internet Marketing Master of Science Program at Full Sail University in Winter Park Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @KerryGorgone

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Goldfish)


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Kerry O'Shea Gorgone is Instructional Design Manager, Enterprise Training, here at MarketingProfs. She's also a speaker, writer, attorney, and educator. She hosts and produces the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. To contact Kerry about being a guest on Marketing Smarts, send her an email, or you can find her on Twitter (@KerryGorgone), Google+, and her personal blog.

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  • by RuthAnn Hogue Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    As always, Kerry, great job. I wonder if they take into account that some people have multiple online identities and are juggling several Klout scores. I wonder if three 40-somethings amount to as much as one 50-something. I know my score for one identity was in the 60s at one point, but as I spent time building new ones, well, ... others dropped some. In part, it is to keep profiles related to some areas of influence separate from others. In part, it is due to varied branding needs. My newest score for my newest identity is already at 19, and I've barely started. I would hate to lose a job because of a low score there, though. Advice?

  • by Shannon Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    Kerry,

    You make some great points here, but I still fail to see why such a new technology is being used to determine the eligibility of someone for a position. I have seen people have "influence" on subjects that have nothing to do with them, their life or business. Klout, like all new tech is still evolving, as we are seeing with the newest design and features rolling out right now. Klout is not the wheel or any kind of stable technology that has been used tried and true. I know there are companies that are doing this like you've said, but it is a horrible injustice to the person denied.
    The ones that end up deleting their online personae maybe right in some ways.

  • by Harry Hallman Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    Any company that will use a "klout" score to rule out a potential employee isn't worth working for. Klout has no clout with me. Their is no reliable information it can provide. If I am not connected via my various social media it can read them and add to my "clout".

  • by Ryan Brady Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    I would discriminate in the other direction. My Klout score is around 50, and it changes inversely with the amount of time I spend *working* while I'm at work.

    To me, a high Klout score indicates that someone is spending too much time on social media. For anyone other than a social media marketer, that's a bad thing.

  • by SharonO Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    Great article Kerry - I love watching your blend your J.D. with NMM.

    I think the real answer is...would you WANT to work for someone who would "discriminate" against you for a Klout Score? I wouldn't. Number runners are constantly measuring you by all the wrong metrics. Life is too short, and Klout is but one element of what should be a well rounded individual. I am more interested in what they say/promise to do for my company, and if they follow through. Of course, I will only know that if I give them a chance!

  • by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    Hi RuthAnn,
    Since Klout already breaks your influence into topics, it might not be necessary to try and build several different online identities and Klout profiles. As you observe, it's splintering your online efforts. I'd recommend creating a single cohesive online identity or, barring that, keeping it simple by having one for professional use and industry-related topics and one for personal use. Having more makes it difficult to maintain the level of interaction required to boost the Klout score, because you can't be everywhere at once.

    I hope that's helpful.

    Best,
    Kerry

  • by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    Hi Shannon,
    To be sure, Klout has its critics, and some people would refuse to work for a company that placed so much significance on such a capricious metric. On the other hand, qualified, talented people who need jobs are, in some cases, being held back by their score, and if it's important to the prospective employer, it's important to them.

    I'd recommend reading Mark W. Schaefer's "Return on Influence," if you haven't already. He does a great job of delving into the good and bad points about Klout, and provides insight into what might help to boost your score, if that's of interest. He also discusses the legitimacy of this kind of metric in general. It's not possible to parse Klout's algorithm specifically, because it's proprietary, but Mark's book examines a number of cases in which people have experimented to see if they could "game the system."

    I think Klout's appeal lies in the fact that it boils someone's online influence down to a simple score. From grade school on, we become hard wired to measure our successes in a way that's easily quantifiable, and assess others' success the same way. Because Klout's so appealing, many are drawn to it, despite its limitations.

    Some people have deleted their Klout profiles, and use Kred instead, which publicizes its algorithm so people understand what it measures (and what it doesn't).

    Best wishes,
    Kerry

  • by Lisa Thu Sep 6, 2012 via blog

    What's next? Seminars for how to boost your teenager's Klout score to get into college? I'm sorry but we are allowing social media and its hype take over our lives. Just because someone has a high Klout score because they spend a lot of time tweeting on a subject doesn't mean they can run a social media campaign for a client. And Klout is no where near like "grades" from coursework...yes you have to work to get Klout... but as hard as getting good grades in a class? I would hope our educational system meant a lot more than that.

  • by Karenm Fri Sep 7, 2012 via blog

    When I first read this, I thought is this person joking? I'm sorry, not going to mince words here, but this was so ridiculous, I couldn't even believe anyone would think this was true.

    Kerry, there are more than one reason why this would easily turn to illegal discrimination..

    But the biggest reason why a Legitimate company would never consider using a Klout Score and why this could and will never happen.. Well, because it isn't an OBJECTIVE Employment Qualification

    The government created Guidelines for the Selection process during the hiring process.. they are called UGESP.. the uniform guidelines of the employment selection process.. http://www.hirecentrix.com/index.php/uniform-guidelines-of-the-employment-s...

    One of the main criteria of the selection process so that companies would not discriminate, intentionally or Unintentionally is by making sure that when hiring, a company focuses on 3 things..
    i) The qualifications must be noncomparative features of a job seeker.
    (ii) The qualifications must be objective not relying on the employers personal judgment
    (iii) The qualifications must be job-related;


    They also realize that when we focus on Subjective criteria, that our personal biases can come into place, and that disparate impact, or systemic discrimination can happen.. Where certain qualified individuals can be eliminated for the job..

    So, in a nutshell, well, a Klout Score is definitely not job related.. and doesn't demonstrate a person's ability..

    Hope this helps
    Karen Mattonen

  • by Karelisa Falkner Fri Sep 7, 2012 via blog

    I agree with you Ryan, and would go so far as to say that it should in fact be counted in the other direction, specifically for a social media marketing/ management position.

    Excelling at managing multiple clients' social media accounts leaves very little time to manage one's own social media accounts (I speak from experience!). If I were an employer, a high Klout score for a social media applicant would tell me that they don't put in as many hours of actual "work".

    Also, a person who is trying to leverage their Klout score for a social media position is implying that they will use their own connections to promote your company or brand -which is a very amateur approach to corporate social media. Would you want this person, who has no filter, to be the social face of your business?

  • by Jorge Fri Sep 7, 2012 via blog

    Excellent article Kerry, discrimination Klout score veine not the case for serious business, this platform is only for personal marketing or also called branding, and it is only reflecting his personal position in social media. Therefore, the discrimination score by a digital platform is necessary. Also I have my profile, but more for my friends and also meet her! But if you really want to have an influential person that will grow your business the best is the personal interview and know their business achievements in physical or online business!

    A hug and success!

  • by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone Mon Sep 10, 2012 via blog

    I'm not sure you could say that a Klout score is never job related. If you're in social media marketing, there's an argument that it's tangentially relevant. I'm not saying that I think it should form the basis for a hiring decision, but I don't see that considering the score is illegal in and of itself.

    Also, although a Klout score might not be "objective" in the traditional sense of the word, it does seem to satisfy the definition in this instance -- "not relying on the employer's personal judgment." Unless the employer works for Klout, Inc., they don't set or influence the score. In that sense, it is objective, inasmuch as you and I are both rated and ranked by the same, unaffiliated third party.

    Certainly, there's risk, as I've pointed out above, but I don't agree that scoring alone is somehow illegal discrimination.

    Best wishes,
    Kerry

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