By ANNE KADET
From the Greek Olympics to SAT scores and rankings of the world's richest billionaires, humans have long delighted in rating and grading each other. So it's no surprise that in A.D. 2007, humankind invented the online-influence score -- a measure of how much attention folks garner with their tweets, posts and LinkedIn updates. Think of it as the social-media credit score. Someday, your mortgage rate could depend on your number of Facebook friends.
It started innocently enough. Tech outfits like Klout, PeerIndex and PeopleBrowsr came up with a fun way to measure a person's online influence. Typically, the companies calculate a score based on how many followers you have on services like Facebook and Twitter, how many followers your followers have, and how often people retweet or repost your updates. On Klout's scale of 0 to 100, the average person scores a 20; Martha Stewart has a 71; the glamorous Mitt Romney, an 85. Companies have been using the scores to identify influential consumers and ply them with perks in hopes of nabbing a flattering mention. Audi invited individuals with high Klout scores to test-drive its 2011 A8, for example. Reebok offered free shoes to fitness influencers through PeerIndex.
But humans can't resist a metric, and lately, influence scores have been popping up in the strangest places. While it's still largely a bit of a stunt, folks are now using them to select party guests, conference speakers and beta testers. E. Jean Carroll, cofounder of dating service Tawkify, says her company uses Klout scores to match partners. High scorers usually hit it off: "They're very clever, very attuned to culture and very up on the news," Carroll says. Folks with low scores, one presumes, can pair up and spend the evening staring at the wall.
No harm there -- no one's forced to join a dating service. But some companies are using the scores to determine everything from sales deals to response times. Gilt, the online fashion outlet, recently offered discounts to customers based on their Klout score; Capital One offered extra bonus miles to its highest-scoring customers. Klout says some companies look at scores to determine who gets priority service at call centers.
Smartmoney.com reporter Anne Kadet stopped by The Daily Wrap from The Wall Street Journal to talk about "online-influence scores" and how they could affect you in the future.
And there's at least one banking start-up planning to factor influence scores into its rates and fees. Movenbank founder Brett King says clients with high scores are probably a better lending risk -- after all, thousands of followers trust their judgment. And they're valuable customers -- if they're happy with a service, they tweet about it.
Influence scores are even creeping into the workplace. Recruiters won't admit it, but they're using these scores in their hiring decisions, especially when it comes to advertising and marketing jobs where online prowess and connections are prized, says John Sullivan, an HR consultant and management professor at San Francisco State University. Hiring can be maddeningly subjective, he says, so a clear-cut metric such as an influence score is irresistible: "We like data."
Does this mean we should all be furiously tweeting and friending in an effort to avoid career failure and bad service? "It can't hurt," says Sullivan.
Oh, yes, it can! For some of us, the mere prospect of tweeting feels downright painful. But maybe it's a blessing in disguise. If the online glitterati are all dating and hiring each other, maybe they'll leave the rest of us alone. And then we'll be free to contemplate our high interest rates and long hold times -- in blissful, tweet-free silence.