Thursday, July 8

Pimping URLs: The Fast Company Influence Flop

Shirley Polykoff, the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, increased hair color sales by 413 percent in six years and expanded the market from 7 percent to 50 percent of all women. No one really knew her name, but her headlines can still be attributed to a Clairol campaign that some people remember despite not even being born yet. That is influence.

Fast Company: The Influence Project measures idiocy.

It was first brought to my attention by Amber Nusland on Brass Tack Thinking. She's one of several hundred blogs I subscribe too, many of which are in my reader as part of the Fresh Content Project. She said Fast Company confused ego with influence. (Close.)

Then, scrolling down the Fresh Content reader list, Danny Brown plugged the project as potentially valid, complete with an embedded link to add influence though he added a "non" add influence link too. He said it might reveal whether community trumps popularity. (Upsidedown.)

Those two post "influenced" me, I suppose, to find out more. This is the kind of thing that some of my clients ask about and I write about, so I don't have much choice. I joined, I pushed the links, and then something caught my eye: How We Measure.

So how do they measure?

1. The number of people who directly click on your unique link. This is the primary measure of your influence pure and simple.

2. You will receive partial "credit" for subsequent clicks generated by those who register as the result of your URL. In other words, anyone who comes to the site through your link and registers for their own account will be spreading influence while they spread theirs. That way, you get some benefit from influencing people who are influential themselves. We will give a diminishing fractional credit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8 etc.) for clicks generated up to six degrees away from your original link.

Seriously? Fast Company convinced some folks to fluff up a URL pimping contest with the structure of a pyramid scheme? There is nothing worthwhile that can be gleaned from the project other than what we already know.

• Most people will never read the rules of this game.
• Many people will pimp their URLs to create the illusion of "influence."
• Some people will be disgusted, delete any links, and look for the opt out. There is none.
• Fast Company has less credibility today than it did before it rolled out its pimping contest.
• Emails from Fast Company land in my spam box. Oh, right, you probably didn't know that.

So no, Mark Borden, this is not a good weird. It's a bad weird. And with the exception of a November punchline for a joke that has already been told before, nothing remotely like research will come out of this "experiment" except perhaps a new social media superstar. And that poor soul may likely be embarrassed.

Real influence is a function of authority, credibility, and ideas. And real influence cannot be measured exclusively online.

“I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.” — J.D. Salinger

Of course, you can discount that and accept the new explanation. It isn't an influence project. It's an editorial investigation. Ironically, all the lead up to the explanation is supposedly tied to an experiment I ran months ago.

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