Last week, news broke that the search engine Bing and the polarizing social-influence-measurement site Klout entered into a partnership to improve social search. Bing will now integrate Klout into its search results, and Klout will integrate Bing into its scoring algorithm. What does this new, friendly alliance mean for all the Bing and Klout users out there?
Back in May, Bing incorporated the Social Sidebar into search results.
Now, the Social Sidebar will include people whom Klout believes to be “influential” about the topic we’ve searched. Pop-ups displaying these influencers’ Klout scores will appear, and we can click directly through to individual Klout profiles.
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And, according to Klout, the more certain experts appear in the “People Who Know” section of the Social Sidebar, the more they’ll reap the benefits in the form of their Klout score. The same thing goes with people who have a Wikipedia account associated with their Klout profile; they’ll be rewarded when others search for them on Bing. Apparently, these two measurements will reflect a person’s real-world influence, an influence that extends beyond the social networks of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed Joe Fernandez, the co-founder and CEO of Klout, who stated that the goal behind the Bing-Klout partnership is to provide searches with increased relevance and context, to put them in touch with individuals who are knowledgeable about and passionate on certain topics. It’s the idea that people, not pages, can offer us the best results. This sounds like a commendable aspiration to me. Who doesn’t want easy access to alleged “experts?” Who doesn’t want more contextually relevant search results?
I applaud Bing’s strides toward social search; allowing people to effortlessly cull opinions from Facebook friends and writers, film critics, chefs, etc. and infusing search results with recommendations from trustworthy sources is smart. And I think Bing’s most recent marketing effort, Bing It On, a unique spin on the idea of blind taste tests, is creative, original, and a direct yet tactful swipe at Google.
Social Résumés and Klout Scores
Yet, when I read about the Bing-Klout integration, I cringed slightly, and here’s why. I read the following on the Klout blog regarding the new partnership:
“Starting today, you will notice that Bing is surfacing Klout Scores and influential topics for experts that are listed in the “People Who Know” section of its social sidebar. The Klout Score and topics are a helpful signal for understanding why you should trust recommendations from these experts. By clicking through to those users’ Klout profiles, you can see their best moments and gain additional context and insights into their expertise. It’s the “social resume” at work!”
A Klout score is purportedly a skill one can list on his or her “social résumé.” But, is it really? No one really knows exactly how Klout crunches numbers and how it determines an individual’s Klout score; the algorithm, which some people liken to a “secret sauce,” is famously (or infamously, perhaps) inscrutable, mysterious, cryptic, and enigmatic. We use résumés to display our skillsets and attributes. Can a Klout score really be a part of a social résumé if we don’t even know how it’s calculated? Isn’t it a pretty hollow measurement resting upon a slightly shaky foundation comprised of very little, questionable merit? Is having a high Klout score really an attribute worth showcasing?
And yet, Klout scores are becoming increasingly relevant as people place them on their résumés—both of the social and traditional variety. Salesforce.com recently made headlines when they posted a job opening for “Community Manager” and listed as one of the desired skills “a Klout score of 35 or higher.” And a Florida State University professor received criticism when he announced plans to grade students in his electronic marketing class based on their Klout scores. According to the professor, because employers screen job applicants’ Klout scores, he “owed it to [his] students to introduce them to every and any concept that will help them land an internship or fulltime job.”
And, of course, Bing proves that Klout scores are deemed (at least by some people) as testaments to individuals’ expertise, knowledge, skills, power of influence, etc. And yet, a Klout score really only claims to be “a representation of your overall social media influence” (that’s taken directly from the Klout website). Thus, it seems that connecting a Klout score to the expertise an individual possesses is a bold leap.
Consider this. On its blog, Bing uses the following to visually represent its integration of Klout scores:
Ann Hornaday is a film critic for The Washington Post. Her Klout score is 49. She’s a fantastic writer. If I use Bing to search for a film, and Ann Hornaday appears in my Social Sidebar as “People Who Know,” I might check out some of her articles not because of her Klout score, but rather because she is a film critic for a prestigious publication. In fact, I think her Klout score actually works against her, because, according to Klout, the average Klout score is 40. So, Ann Hornaday is merely slightly above average, when, in fact, her writing is anything but. Her Klout score can’t measure her ability to write clearly, convincingly, and engagingly. It can’t measure her ability to write things that Washington Post readers want to read. And some people might argue: “Her Klout score isn’t designed to measure that stuff!” And they’re right; Klout isn’t designed to measure that. As I said, it merely measures our ability to influence others as that influence can be assessed though various social media accounts. But, then I would argue: why use Klout scores on Bing? Why does Bing connect the terms “influencer” and “expert?” They seem like two very different things to me.
The irony of this example is that Lynn Fox, Head of Communications for Klout, once said this:
“We believe that if you are authentic and create high-quality content on a relatively frequent basis, your score will reflect that.”
Ann Hornaday clearly creates high-quality content, and her Klout score is a mere 49. Justin Bieber, on the other hand, has a near god-like Klout score of 91. Can someone remind me of the last piece of high-quality content The Biebs put out? Something tells me it wasn’t this:
Placing Stock in My Klout Score
I simply can’t get on board with the Bing-Klout integration, even though I know the search engine has a noble aim in improving social search. I don’t necessarily think the problem is Klout itself, although assigning our “influence” a numerical value that will fuel the fire of peer comparison doesn’t exactly thrill me. I think the problem is the way in which we use Klout scores: tokens of our abilities, symbols of our proficiency, signs of our know-how. Yet, sometimes it seems that the things Klout fails to capture (writing abilities, for one; personal qualities, another) outweigh the things it does capture. And even though Klout it touted as, to quote Lynn Fox: “one of many indicators of someone’s skill set,” should this be an indicator at all? Maybe for jobs related to the marketing/social media field, but its integration into Bing seems somewhat strained.
I signed up for Klout on a whim while writing this post, and I currently have a Klout score of 10. If the Bing-Klout integration is a sign of things to come, perhaps I should focus on improving it. Although this response to the job posting on Salesforce.com (which required applications to have a Klout score of 35 or higher) suggests that to do that, all I have to do is set up an automated Twitter feed.
I’m still hoping that the Bing-Klout integration will be a success, simply because I admire Bing for the most part, and I’m crossing my fingers that the partnership between Anonymous User and Salesforce will be as well.
View the original post at Mainstreethost.