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Todd Bacile’s Klout score has likely jumped this week.

The Florida State University marketing instructor has been the subject of a lot of discussion – and outrage – since he shared his practice of grading students based on their Klout score.

Klout is an online service that measures a person’s influence on a scale of 1-100, 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's 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 program in his electronic marketing class when 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 e-mail. “I approached them asking how they use Klout. I was surprised to hear some of them say 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 in part based 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 term. The project accounts for 10 percent of a student’s semester grade. Students can also opt to write a paper instead, though Bacile said only two have picked that option so far.

Bacile’s idea, which he described in a blog post published Sunday, has sparked a lot of 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 you are taking an innovative approach to your class, but the flawed nature of Klout does not deserve any more credit than it's 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 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 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 get engaged,” he said.

Fountain, who hopes to eventually work as a brand manager, said he didn’t do anything special to increase his Klout score, he just focused on starting conversations about the topics 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 those in his class who tried to beat the system were ultimately disappointed. Some people, he said, would change their birthday 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 that were upset based on the secretive nature,” 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 other 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 I lectured about in class.”

Whether or not this is an accurate metric is the topic of much debate, but Bacile said as long as it is a metric 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.


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