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Fast Company’s Influence Project Is A Complete Sham


07.08.10 Posted in advertising, business, Large Blog, marketing, social media by

For anyone following this meme on Twitter, Fast Company recently launched a site called “Influence Project”, where they’re essentially pitting online “influencers” against one another to vote for their influencer ranking. The Project is being pushed left and right on Twitter and Facebook and I’m sure elsewhere, but at this point I’ve tuned out from it, not because I don’t want to vote for my friends but because it’s like watching cattle being lined up onto a conveyor belt only to be lead to slaughter.

How It Works

Dump your name into their database, then go out and wrassle up your online following to vote for you via a unique URL. And golly — there’s a deadline and a leaderboard and everything! “You’re more influential than you think you are!” is the tagline for the contest. It should probably read “We have no idea how influential you are!”, but I digress.

A Rose By Any Other Name

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one  enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m guessing many of the narcissistic folks on Twitter don’t remember the beginnings of the AdAge Power 150, which aside from sounding like a lame radio station name, used to be called Todd And. The Power 150 is a weak algorithm for calculating which blogs gamed the system, err, had the highest completely human-controlled variables, like inbound links, number of trackbacks (people still do that unless they’re pissed?), etc. It’s still around today and there shouldn’t be any surprise that those good at working SEO but have very little client experience or relevancy to advertising are at the top of the list. The upside? All of these blogs that fought for a ranking proudly display a badge – and more importantly, a link – back to the AdAge list.

I submit to the jury exhibit #2: the Bloggers Choice Awards. You can call IZEA’s Ted Murphy a lot of things and innovative better be one of them. IZEA created the Blogger Choice Awards so they could essentially build a list of bloggers, and more important their readers, that drive clicks. Once again, the sheep flocked to Bloggers Choice Awards and submitted their URL, promoted the crap out of it and by golly – got a badge for their site that included a link back to Ted’s site.

The last example of pure genius to populate a database without having to do any of the work is Klout. The site launched as a free service to find out your influence on Twitter. Are you a “persona”? Are you an “activist”? OMG THE SUSPENSE??!?! En masse, the social media experts flocked to the site to find out their Klout, agencies went to measure their campaigns and brands wanted to figure out if this would be something that might tell them if they should actually continue to be on Twitter. Several months later, Klout unveiled a new sampling program (O HAI, 2002!) whereby “identified influencers” for Starbucks would be sent a free sample. I was one such person, and given my caffeine addiction took the bait. Don’t get me wrong, I think this was a good use of influencers and sampling, and while I never wrote that I got a few free pounds of coffee and VIA samples until now… well, maybe it wasn’t that good.

Your Klout Score Is: Dodo

I’ll leave you with this last thought before you think you really get where this is going: Hearst magazines recently acquired social monitoring and marketing firm iCrossing. Why do you think that is? Because they need to, as marketers (sorry, but real “journalism” has been dead for a long time) they need to understand how to package offerings for advertisers. And monitoring software help identify influencers, in case you didn’t know. Sound familiar?

The last example is what should have made these “influencers” that believe they’re a media channel wake up and smell the coffee:  A publisher is becoming a marketer, thus eliminating the need for a brand to engage and agency or marketer elsewhere. That means you, social media consultant. And you, popular author on Twitter. And you, Mom blogger who writes content and consults doing SEO. They won’t need your expertise, content or services anymore, and the democratization of influence means one day they won’t need your reach either.



6 Responses to “Fast Company’s Influence Project Is A Complete Sham”

  1. [...] For anyone following this meme on Twitter, Fast Company recently launched a site called “Influence Project”, where they’re essentially pitting online “influencers” against one another to vote for their influencer ranking. The Project is being pushed left and right on Twitter and Facebook and I’m sure elsewhere, but at this point I’ve tuned out from it, not because I don’t want to vote for my friends but because it’s like watching cattle being lined up onto a conveyor belt only to be lead to slaughter.-David Binkowski [...]

  2. Jeff Tippett says:

    Trolling around for posts on the Influencer Project. Thanks for posting.

  3. Anna Viele says:

    I was wondering what that was. Makes sense. They will still need content producers, but they won't need people who make a business of showing people who the influnecers are, or how to be influential, or whose business is “influence.”

  4. Krista Neher says:

    Great post! Part of the issue is that REAL influencers rise to the top naturally through their actual influence whereas in most of the examples you mention it is more about a popularity contest. The most popular people (or those who can be bothered to harass their friends to vote for them) are not usually actually the most influential.Additionally, many companies who try to leverage influencers totally miss the mark by assuming that “influencers” will pimp their audiences in return for free product. Real influencers have it because they don't do that (and they probably also have better things to do then harass people to vote for them).On a side note, we should launch the Social Media Cool Kids Awards – to enter you have to link to my site 10 times and also drive your friends to my blog to vote. You also have to give me your entire email address book to add to my mailing list. You In? </sarcasm>

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin Dugan, Angie, Cecily, Roger Friedensen, Alex Priest and others. Alex Priest said: RT @dbinkowski: In case you missed my @shamable post today: Fast Company's Influencer Project Is A Complete Sham: http://bit.ly/9IAItq [...]

  6. dbinkowski says:

    Exactly. Most influencers online don't move cases, bottom line. They're good at gaming the system but they are but a sliver of a consumer's overall purchase decision. I think smart marketers know better, though, because even in our space most of the “Top” thinkers don't get any respect; it's typically the unemployed and junior folks helping them maintain their status vs., oh, I dunno, any major brand giving them props for great thinking or work.

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