Wednesday, December 04, 2013

You are what you tweet

I’m a sucker for personality tests.

When I first encountered Myers-Briggs over 25 years ago – for some reason, they administered it at Wang when I was there – it was a revelation. The test confirmed what I had suspected all along. As an INTJ, I was, statistically thinking, something of a weirdo.

A few years later, at another company’s sales kick-off, they did a quickie test that grouped all of us under one of four colors. I was in the blue bunch, a small group of mostly home office, introverted staffers. Most of the attendees were reds, or flaming reds, a band of extraverts that, not surprisingly, comprised most of our sales force. One guy who found himself to be the only sales person in the blue group, kept looking wistfully over at the large number of reds, who were – predictably – whooping things up, making a lot of noise, and, in general, behaving like a bunch of a-holes. (Just revving themselves up for a night of drunken revelry which would find them carousing through the halls wearing bed sheets, and using the hall stand used for an ashtray – remember these? – as a battering ram to try to break into a suite where a group of us blues were sheltering from the red storm, drinking wine and playing Trivial Pursuit.) The fellow who was blue about being in the blue group did tell us he took some comfort when they told us that Ronald Reagan was a blue…

Anyway, a few years later I got a bit hooked on enneagrams, largely through a book I found called The Enneagram Made Easy. I can’t remember my type, but I recall the book as being great fun. I lent it to a colleague at some point, and never got it back. I should probably just go on Amazon and get me one.

Still, I’m not quite prepared for companies to start big-data-ing tweets to figure out who to hire.

This strikes me as a tiny big unfair.

After all, is it not possible that someone’s tweeting on a specific topic of interest that they just plain like to 140 character on about? Like the Red Sox, or the Kardashians, or what happened in school today. Or that they’re tweeting for work and are, thus, not necessarily revealing personal traits. (“The Z1492 widget doohickey is now available in beta. For more info, ping me.” Does that tell you anything?) Can someone’s personality be defined by looking into just one aspect of their life? Or can we just assume that, whether your twittering is narrow or broad, personal or professional, you are what you tweet?

I know that the minute you blog, comment, order from Amazon, swipe your CVS card, Google the latest on Alex Baldwin or Obamacare  – let alone tweet – “they” have in their possession (or have the potential to have in your possession) an awful lot of information on you.

Privacy be damned!

Much of it, we voluntarily surrender (mostly without giving the act or its implications a thought) our information rights, happy (perhaps too strong a word) to give up (give away?) our privacy in return for some of the excellent things that the Internet brings us: the ability to settle every possible sports/TV/trivia bet out there; shopping while wearing PJs; connecting with old friends…

But if we think about it, most of us – at least those of us of a certain age – tend to have a “now wait just a durned minute” minute, when we think of the life altering implications of sacrificing our personal data on the altar of big data.

So why not have Acme Services grab our oh, so public tweets and analyze them to determine whether we’ll fit their corporate mold well enough to man the weekend customer complaint desk?

Well,  maybe because it seems sneaky, invasive, impersonal, and kind of nasty. I guess it’s more efficient than checking references, or checking someone out through the informal who-knows-who network, or even just relying on gut instincts. And if you want a crack sales force, I guess you’re better off making sure you’re stacked it with flaming reds.


But this will, no doubt, be coming soon to a hiring company and/or recruiter, thanks to Michelle Zhoe, a researcher with IBM who:

…says she can make a good educated guess about your personality just from looking at 200 of your Twitter messages…

Companies that pay attention to this research could save hundreds of millions of dollars — and stop annoying people. (Source: article by Dean Takahashi in Venture Beat.)

Well, I get how this could save hundreds of millions of dollars in hiring mistakes – who wants to have to train someone only to get rid of them a few months later? – but just how does it “stop annoying people”?

Although annoying wouldn’t be my word off choice. (C.f., sneaky, invasive, impersonal, and kind of nasty.)

  “Computers can derive people’s traits from linguistic footprints,” Zhou said in an interview with VentureBeat. “That hasn’t been widely applicable before, because where do you get those linguistic footprints? Now, you can do that with social media and digital communications. Those are readily available, so we saw an opportunity there.”

In Zhou’s analysis, 52 different traits are measured – traits like hedonistic, excitable, and curious.

So I suppose if you tweeted, “Dude, I was so wasted last night” you might be characterized as hedonistic.  An “OMG!!!! Front row!!!! New Direction!!! Harry looked at me!!!!” might peg you as excitable, while those who do a lot of “WTF????”-ing might come across as curious.

This type of analysis, of course, has applications way beyond job applications.

What big tweets you have! All the better to market to you with!

Other than marketing, Zhou mentions using her linguistic analysis to figure out the person on the other side of the negotiating table. And I’m thinking it would come in handy for jury selection. Not to mention looking for Mr. or Ms. Right.

Anyway, if I were to tweet on this, here’s what I’d say (in fewer than 140 characters, I might add):

Personality typing via twitter. You are what you tweet. One more genie we’ve unleashed from the technology bottle. God help us.

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