7 Reasons To ReThink Social Scoring Inside Social Organizations– before it’s too late

by cv harquail on April 25, 2011

“Manager A’s results with the department’s implementation of Program X were outstanding, but her internal Klout score is only a 43. Given her low influence score, it looks like she’s not as good a leader as Manager B.

I know that Manager B has been with us only two years, and hasn’t yet finished Program Y, but look– her Klout score is 65! That’s huge! Clearly, she’s a better leader than Manager A. If we’re chosing between the two, let’s promote Manager B.”

Can you imagine a conversation like this happening in your organization, where managers are evaluated and compared against each other based on their (internal) social media scores?

I can imagine it, and the prospect scares me. Given management’s pressure to quantify, their lack of understanding of what internal social media is and how it should be used, and their worship of abstract concepts of “leadership” and “influence, it concerns me that organizations will misuse these ‘measures’ of online social influence and treat them as objective evidence of performance.

201104251432.jpg“Social scoring”, as I’m discussing it here, includes any kind of single measure, profile or dashboard that evaluates a person’s use of social media tools (e.g., Yammer, Chatter, Twitter) within their work organization and/or among their organization’s stakeholders. These scores would be like enterprise versions of  Klout or PeerIndex— designed to measure someone’s online influence.

It’s only a matter of time before Social Scoring moves inside our Social Organizations.

Social media is moving into organizations, making organizations more “Social”.

We may be struggling with the terminology to describe digitally-media networked communications tools (be they “social media”, “social networks”, “Systems of Engagement”, or “work media“), but these networked, enterprise-wide tools (hereafter, social media networks) are already in place in many organizations. In other organizations, these tools are emerging and/or being imported.

More and more organization members, regardless of their place in the organizational hierarchy or work process flow, now have access to these social media networks and are using these tools. Thus, more and more people are involved in online social activity that can be evaluated empirically.

Social Scoring is increasingly available.

Social scoring is an emerging mini-industry. Social scoring is already being used to to evaluate the performance of people in certain kinds of roles (e.g., as brandividuals, as industry thought leaders, as celebrity endorsers, as influential customers ). Within some specific external career markets (e.g., social media marketing itself) candidates are being hired for their social scores.

Despite important concerns about the quality of social scoring systems, appropriate metrics and ethical use in marketing, social scoring is pervading other organizational functions too.

Why is Social Scoring invading the Social Organization?

  • Social media networks facilitate the relationships that make individual leadership possible.

Because social media network tools make it possible to reach more people, more quickly, more efficiently, and more often — we expect to see leaders using these tools to create meaning, to reach out to others, and to connect with organization members. We expect to see individual leaders using these tools to influence how members think and what members do.

  • Social engagement tools facilitate important organizational work.

In addition to creating and maintaining relationships through which work gets done, social media networks help to inform and focus organization members on organization-level values and goals.

  • Inside organizations, we are anxious (desperate?) to evaluate rising leaders as soon as possible.

We want to identify people who seem to have what it takes to become leaders, and we want to invest in these people. Social scores may help us identify leaders we have overlooked.

  • It’s hard to evaluate employees on their performance in a way that seems fair to everyone.

Thus, we look for tools that help to make these evaluations more “objective”. Scores — taken literally at face value– give the appearance of being objective, in part because they subsume the qualitative, subjective evaluation criteria into a number. And certainly, everyone agrees that a ’43’ to is less than a ’65’, regardless of the underlying criteria, right?

  • It’s hard to compare individual employees, with their unique histories, to each other.

But social scores help with that, by turning oranges and apples into numbers. We use these numbers to compare very different people, in different functions and at different ranks in the organization, on (what appear to be) the same set of relevant criteria.


All this would all be fine, if these scores measured what mattered to being influential within an organization. But they don’t.

Before we start using Social Scoring to evaluate individual influence, contribution and performance within our social organizations, we need to reconsider what social scoring measures, what it doesn’t measure, and why that matters.

7 Reasons to ReThink Social Scoring inside Organizations

1. Not everyone becomes socially influential by using social media OR by directing their influence efforts to audiences that are online.

Many relationships are made and maintained by purely non-digital interactions, like face-to-face coaching conversations, or speaking up in a meeting may make an individual influential but may never be measured by a social media metric. Moreover, not everyone who is or may need to be influenced is available online

3. Social scores show only a part of the picture of social influence.

Even when measures are carefully constructed, they can exclude dimensions that are important to one person but not another, to one department and not another, to one organization and not another.

2. Considering digital behaviors alone, people build strong relationships in different ways.

A particular online behavior may be preferred by one employee but not another. A particular online behavior may be used for different purposes by different people. For example, to encourage a colleague and show support, one person might prefer to use a retweet while another person might prefer to cheer the colleague on ( e.g., “#WayToGo, Brownstone!) A social score might weigh one behavior as more influential than another. But, which one of these behaviors is more effective, and which one should count more?

4. Online influence may not be used in pursuit of the right goals, yet may be measured as though it is.

Social media networks, and thus social scoring, are goal agnostic. A social score does not tell us whether or not a person is getting the right job done.

That one manager might get a lot of retweets for that lolcat picuture, but has his social influence resolved conflicts in the distribution system? Social scores may distract our attention from considering whether the activity has served an important goal: What is this person using his or her influence for? Are they focusing on building influence for themselves or moving others towards the organization’s shared goals? Not everyone uses social influence in service of collective and strategic goals, so a social score can’t really tell us about job performance.


5. Specific measures themselves may be used for the wrong purposes.

For example, many tools that were created to diagnose strengths and weaknesses to help a manager grow are often misused to evaluate that manager.

We’ve all see people judged as being better or worse for something due to their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a tool that is too often mistakenly described as a “score”. And, I’ve recently seen social network analyses of specific managers used to assess the performance of those managers, when the point of the analysis was only to identify relationships they might want to build to get certain kinds of work done.

6. We forget too easily what these scores actually measure. We also forget what they don’t measure. Ultimately, we lose sight of what these social scores actually mean.

Once a measure has been created — even though we “know” all the caveats and the biases involved — we begin to treat those meaures as being more valid (measuring what we think they measure), more accurate (measuring correctly), and more meaningful that they actually are.

Social media tools are means to an end that can get confused with the end itself.

7. We over-rely on social scores because we don’t understand the processes they measure.

We grope for measures that make it easy to evaluate what we struggle to fathom with our own own analysis of the ‘data’. When we can’t understand what really makes someone influential, and how influential someone is relative to others, we rely on measures like Klout scores. Worse, once we have the scores they are easy to use as a crutch so that we avoid ever having to learn what the scores really tell us.

We may not really understand what Klout measures (despite Klout’s own efforts to make the scores more informational.) But we can compare a ’43’ to a ’65’ and know who’s better. At least, we think we can.

The Future of Social Scoring for the Social Organization?

These seven caveats of social scoring should help us realize that embracing social scoring simply because it’s available is the wrong thing to do for our organizations and our colleagues.

Rather than rushing to embrace social scoring, we need to recognize what social scoring currently is and re-envision what it could be. We need to make sure that social scoring offers useful, meaningful information about each other and about our own organizations.

We desperately want to know who in our organization is making a difference. We want to find those rising stars, thought leaders, and influential influencers. Especially, we want to be able to give people credit for the social work that they do online.  Social scoring can be part of this process, but only once we made social scoring fit our organizations’ explicit needs.

We need to create second-generation scoring tools that evaluate online influence behaviors that are important to our organizations, that help get work done, and that lead members towards shared goals.

See also:

The Quantification of Individual Social Equity, by Geoff Livingston
Klout: Do You Have Enough Influence to Get the Job? by Michelle Tripp at BrandForward
Why Klout doesn’t count: putting social media influence in context, by Matt Owen
How Social Media Create Organizational Meaning

Image of figure skating judges’ scorecard, on eHow’s How Competitive Figure Skating Works.


Anonymous May 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

“All this would all be fine, if these scores measured what mattered to being influential within an organization. But they don’t.”

Uh huh! This was the turning point. I really think we have a very strange thing going on where a split is about to occur, a split in voices, a split in leaders, a break in belief systems and approaches. This influence direction frightens me. I really am glad that people like you are blogging about it.

Thank you,


Katherine: Unemployed May 9, 2011 at 6:03 am

So interesting and very important for managers and companies to be privy of! I’m so glad I found your blog; you write about really interesting topics!

John Tropea May 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Great post…we need people like you to stop people and get them thinking about what they are basing their decisions on…maybe we are sooo busy that we like the idea of a one-size-fits-all tool that pretends to know all the complexity of what’s going on and be the sole source for us to make a decision…we want things to be easier, but at the expense of folly.

I had a conversation with one of our managers a while back on social software, where I was saying over a series of interactions and participation, people can become known as experts (influence by reputation)…this happens as a by-product of participation (I guess it can also be an engaging/intrinsic motivator)…it’s like DIY career development. I said since these interactions are documented by default, they can be seen and appraised for their efforts. ie. efforts in using their network to be resourceful (getting in touch with people and answers), and also helping people on tasks that you are not on (doing it for the org at large). He responded that in parallel to this many phone conversations and email are happening, where plenty of the same thing is going on, but it’s invisible so they will not be appraised as such.

Just like your post alludes to, social software is only one aspect of the communication/work, but unfortunately we often make decisions based on what we are exposed to, what we see. Since we don’t hear or see those phone calls or emails we assume person A is better than person B. We need to be mindful of this and think more holistically.

Participation (adoption), just like engagement or page views is not an end in itself…we need better performance/value/productivity.

I covered this in a past post…see bold heading “Employee Performance Review based on ratings and reputation (peer review)” http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2009/12/17/the-roi-of-time-spent-helping-others-and-performance-reviews/

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