What If You Were Paid Based on Your Klout Score?

At GigaOM’s Net:Work conference on Thursday in San Francisco, Salesforce.com (s crm) chairman and CEO Marc Benioff said the company has an analytical tool that tracks activity on Chatter, its internal Twitter-style corporate social network (which the software provider also sells to other companies), and that Salesforce is giving employees who provide valuable information or contributions to the corporation via the network extra compensation, in the same way executives are given bonuses for exceeding sales targets. But is that really such a good idea?

“You, as an individual contributor, can receive the same compensation — stock, cash — as an executive vice president,” Benioff told Forbes editor Victoria Barret in an onstage interview. The Salesforce CEO didn’t provide any details about how the analytics tool (called Chatterlytics) works, or how the compensation for the Chatterati — which is what the most active Chatter users are called — is determined. But he made it clear that activity on the social network is seen as a crucial part of working at the company. So will other companies adopt this kind of model for their own internal compensation? And if they do, is that necessarily a good thing?

As social networking tools and features have been making their way from the consumer world into the corporate world, the pressure to somehow quantify that activity — to show that it actually has an effect on business metrics such as sales, profits and so on — continues to increase. Companies such as Klout and Peerindex have been trying to solve that problem by looking at Twitter and Facebook and ranking users based on who follows (or friends) them, who re-tweets them or re-shares their status updates, and tries to compile an overall influence score based on metrics such as “reach” and “amplification.”

Whenever there is a certain volume of human activity, someone is bound to try and measure it, so it’s not surprising that analytics would be applied to social networks like Twitter or Chatter. But it’s not clear (at least not to me) that it’s all that easy to determine the value of that activity in business terms, not to mention how (or who) to compensate as a result of that activity. Should it be the person who spends the most time on the network? Should it be whoever posts the most? In some cases, a person who posts one or two messages might actually provide more tangible value — but how do you measure that?.

As more than one person has noted, including Chuck Hemann of media and communications company WCG in a recent blog post, your Klout score — or your Chatterati score, for that matter — probably isn’t a great measure of your overall influence anywhere other than Twitter, which only a fairly small proportion of people use, as a Pew report this week pointed out. That’s not to say that Chatter or Twitter or any other social network isn’t going to help employees collaborate inside companies like Salesforce and elsewhere — but it’s another thing to say that the people who spend time on those networks deserve to be compensated differently than those who don’t.

If Salesforce is using Chatter activity as just one of a number of things it looks at performance-wise when it determines how to reward employees, then that seems fairly reasonable. But making social networking alone a proxy for how much value someone adds to the company seems to be going down a potentially dangerous road, with unpredictable consequences. Wall Street bonuses certainly triggered some unpleasant behavior by traders and bankers during the recent financial meltdown — companies need to be careful about what kind of behavior they are motivating when they think about compensation.

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Post and thumbnails courtesy of Flickr user Andres Rodriguez