Breaking Rant: Fast Company is Incredibly Stupid

I had to write this short post, I just had to…

You are probably as tired as I am of seeing the tweets  from people you follow (or used to follow in some cases) asking you to click their link so they can show their influence in the dumbest project since SXSW voting (I was going to say Enterprise 2.0 voting, but fewer of you might have gotten the reference – Mark Tamis blogged about that one).

I did participate in Enteprise 2.0 voting as I had a vested interest, and I did pester people who followed me at the time (some of them who don’t any longer) into CMS (click-my—– stuff, yeah- that’s it).  I apologized at the time, and I do again now.  I had a purpose, and I played the game as it was laid out in front of me.  My intentions were pure, spread the message and build a bigger pie, but the implementation lagged due to lack of judgment.

Now that I have my mea culpa out of the way, I would like to address the issue of influence, as Fast Company defines it, and how it is not influence.  I have said to as many people as they were willing to listen in the past that the killer app for the Social world is a universal reputation tracking engine.  Your influence both varies and carries across all your social networks and fluctuates almost by the minute based on your last (and next action).  There is no reliable way to measure reputation and influence – either on one channel or across multiple ones.  Virtually all algorithms you see there assume that the number of followers (or retweets) you have is the key to measuring influence.  Which of course, it is terribly wrong.

If you and I are members of the same community (one where followers are measured and reported, like Twitter or Facebook, or LinkedIn) and you have 10,000 followers and I have 50 I could have a lot more influence than you.  If your followers are not decision makers, recommenders, connectors, or people with influence in the same industry, you are just having a conversation among friends as it is very likely that no action will come out of that.  If my 50 followers are the people who make the decisions and set the wheels in motion and follow me because they trust me, I am ahead of you.

That brings us to Fast Company’s project.  It does not measure influence, by any stretch of the imagination,it simply measures reach (as well as how popular people are).  I could mount a campaign across networks to get people to click on my link, my reach across all networks is close to 120,000 people (I think I got this from some web-based tool or another).  Does that mean I am influential to 120,000 people? Or that I can get 120,000 people to do what I ask if I ask often and nice enough? How does affecting the actions of 120,000 people for something that has not benefit for me or the world make me influential? Who gains and who loses from this?

I am not going to bore you with influence and reach, I will direct you to Dr. Michael Wu’s excellent series in the Lithosphere (and continuing work), or I could tell you to listen to @TheMaria (Maria Ogneva, from Attensity360), who said this morning:

(I think there are a few more criteria to it, but that sums it up very well in a short 140 characters or less).

So, going back to the title.

Fast Company is a magazine that I respect, trust, and had some influence at some time or another in my life.  I wrote a few blogs in a now defunct blog I had there some time back, and I got good response.  All in all, we had a good relationship — until then went stupid. How so? they decided to throw their reputation and their influence behind a high-school popularity contest.  Alas, that is not the worse part — the worse part is that they call that popularity contest a measure of influence.

Sad, truly, that they are willing to lose their reputation over a stupid thing like this.  Hope they reconsider – or at least that they put some serious content that distinguishes reach and influence in their November issue.  Right after the pictures of the most popular people in the world…

Am I wrong? Right? What says you?

38 thoughts on “Breaking Rant: Fast Company is Incredibly Stupid”

  1. Esteban,

    The whole point is that I have more followers than you. But seriously folks, I can’t wait for the day when I don’t simply have to rely on a metric because the guy from Net Promoter Score will be the role model.

    Ultimately, I’d love to be able to “see” the complete relationship and use my brain to figure out if the people I’m broadcasting to (hehe) are being listened to themselves. It could be a wonderful day, but I don’t want it to look like that Matrix data waterfall thing. No, please no.

    1. I am so sorry to hear I am not in the same league of influence as you are…

      I will continue to admire you from afar until the day comes when, hopefully, we can speak at the same level.

      Until then, I will be forever grateful that you helped my small, insignificant crusade to end confusion between reach and influence by flexing your influence muscle (read your followers) and helping me out.

      Maybe, just maybe, if I could get people like you to help I could win the Fast Company popularity contest… Maybe it will make for a good experiment… Nah, got better things to do: there is a tin of rusty nails in my desk waiting for some nice chewing…

      (thanks for the read and for playing along — btw, I chose to leave the NPS thing along so we would not start another war to go along with this one)

      1. Mike truely is our Moses on the Hill that gathers the Commandments on what influence is and brings it to the People.

        To me an influencer is someone that is motivates someone to take an action that they would not have made without the influencer’s ‘little push’ in the right direction. How to measure that? Maybe through some kind of opt-in feedback mechanism. Else measuring followers only shows that there is a potential to influence, not influence in itself.

        Furthermore, equating follower numbers with people that will blindly follow any nonsense that you may utter is complete folly – everyone has the freedom to form their own opinion and take action accordingly. ‘Following’ someone doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with their views – it may just mean you look at what the person has to say just as a contrast agent so that you can hone your own point of view…

        🙂

        1. Mark,

          Action causation (or what made you act as you did) is the core of what Social Marketing is trying to measure right now. Lots of vendors, different (but similar) approaches. Just getting started, so jury is still out on whether it can be measured.

          However, is that what influence really is? Causing a follower to act on a certain way? I like the concept, but how about if there is no request for action? How about if I simply write that the sky is blue and I like it — what type of influence does that statement exerts on you? Does it build over time to the point that you will remember next time you have to make a statement about the sky? If so, how influential I am in your actions? or your thoughts?

          Gets tricky without a specific request for action to taken, but still does not make what FC did a measure of influence. It simply makes it a popularity contest.

          I totally agree with your last paragraph, I have a diff view on how to make this influence-driven, will tell Bob when I reply below.

          Thanks for the read and comment!

  2. Hello Esteban,

    Thank you for referencing my blog posts. Not all of my research at Lithium is on Influencer Identification. The relevant series of blog posts on my influencers work can be found here:

    The 6 Factors of Social Media Influence: Influence Analytics 1

    Finding the Influencers: Influence Analytics 2

    The Right Content at the Right Time: Influence Analytics 3

    Hitting Your Targets: Influence Analytics 4

    Community Influencers Step by Step


    Are all Influencers Created Equal?

    There are several others articles that expands on these ideas with examples, but these are the important ones.

  3. Esteban, I feel honored and very popular because my tweet was published here. Yay me! I am soooo influential. In the words of Ron Burgundy, “I’m kind of a big deal.” And because I am such a big deal, I should also get everything for free. I’m like a poor person’s Angelina Jolie.

    Jokes aside, this disturbed me, and a bunch of others (have you seen Amber Naslund’s post? – worth a read – I went off in the comments there too). FC completely missed the boat with this. Frankly, they missed the whole pier. PR stunt, fueled by the ego-driven part of social media (which I loathe) – this stuff gives social media practitioners a bad name. I’m disgusted on the one hand, yet hopeful because this shows how much work there is to do for us, people who care about where this social media thing goes.

    What they were measuring, and rather poorly, is reach. I clicked some of these links this morning, because I thought they were going somewhere else, but they went to the tweeters’ personalized influence pages, where I was invited to join – kind of like an MLM. I won’t be clicking anymore. And guess what, they lost a bit of influence and “street cred” in my eyes. Influence is so complex, and metrics aren’t always right for it. Klout is making an attempt at portraying complexity AND including context within their metrics. If I am influential in social media monitoring, I am not necessarily influential in gadgets. So from a measurable influence standpoint, I like Klout, even though there’s a long way to go. But SO much of influence can not and should not be measured.

    Funny, I had a post drafted on my personal blog about how much I hate job contests and various other such contests. I think this is the final straw that broke the proverbial keys on my MacBook – maybe I’ll finally publish it today 🙂

    /rant

    1. I like the idea you put forward – influence in context. The other notion you put forward is ‘street cred’ – how likely are you to trust them in the future. Maybe ‘influence’ should be linked to trust?

    2. Maria,

      You are tops in my book, in case that matters, and you are very influential with me in regards to use of SM. You are a big deal, because you do it, live it, and know it.

      Alas, that is the point — if someone who does not know you or your background but is following for some reason sees your tweet asking for CMS-love and they click — did you influence them? Do you influence your high school or college friends because of your knowledge / position / smarts or because they know you? how do you differentiate both of those? and should you?

      Doing a popularity contest to measure influence is like measuring happiness by size of bank accounts. Sure, more money means you may have more “stuff” — but does that translate into more happiness? have you ever met people who are happy without money?

      Anyways, will stop asking stupid questions so i don’t lose my influence. As for Klout, I will only second your statement that they have ways to go, but at least they are trying and improving. the change from version 1.0 to version 2.0 (or least the last two versions i am aware of) is good, but needs more. Always needs more.

      And that is the point, what influence are you measuring, and within which segment, is what determines the value of the influencer. Not a popularity contest (but I said it better above).

      Thanks for the read and comment! means a lot coming from you…

      1. Thanks, Esteban! I hope you know I was being extremely cheeky when I commented on your post. I was making fun of the entire influencer concept. I AM actually honored that you linked to me – you are also top-notch in my book. Which is why I click stuff you post and comment from time to time. If you tweeted to validate your ego by clicking a link to a popularity contest – I would probably find you less influential. I bet I’d let the first time slide, because you’ve got a positive balance in your bank of influence, but I’d have to make a withdrawal 🙂

        Cheers!

        – Maria

        1. Maria,

          I would like to think that is a withdrawal that will never happen, but — you never know… we all make mistakes here and there. No worries on the other stuff, you are still tops in the book of goodness!

          Thanks for the read!

  4. Estoy de acuerdo contigo Esteban. Creo que quienes conocemos un poco de este negocio, sabemos que la cantidad no necesariamente es calidad. Tal vez, como dice @AmberCadabra FastCompany confunde Ego con Influencia. @themaria lo dice de otra manera. Creo que en este caso FC desea llamar la atención con esta propuesta, y definitivamente habrán algunos que le sigan la corriente.

    1. G,

      Muchas gracias por el comentario. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con lo que tu dices, creo que FC desea llamar la atencion y generar publicidad gratuita… no se para que, pero lo estan logrando. Como todo project the CRM, espero que sepan que hacer con los resultados…

      Gracias por la visita!

  5. Esteban (and others),

    Bob Safian here, the editor of Fast Company. I’m sorry that your initial reaction to The Influence Project has been disappointment. But I hope you’ll be patient. The big-picture goal of this project, editorially, is not a popularity contest. It is part of a real-time experiment in how influence spreads and who spreads it. It isn’t perfect, but we believe drilling into the data will yield useful information and spark insights–including the kinds of discussions going on here about whether more clicks really equates to more influence. The project will be supplemented and built upon via reported coverage, both on fastcompany.com and in the November issue of the magazine.

    I hope you’ll keep an open mind. Thanks,

    Bob

    1. Bob,

      My comment on Twitter was very simplistic, and what is going to skew any real results is, by my own analysis is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (Link easily found on Wikipedia), which states: “the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be measured.” In this instance, I believe a slight alteration of this, which I also agree with, is that the act of watching, while asking for the sole purpose of data collection will skew the results.

      As the Fast Company post on the project states “This experiment will show what happens when an individual takes an audience at rest and applies an unbalanced force–through suggestion, advice or direction–that converts it into an army of action.” By asking people to ‘Tweet’ about influence in order to measure influence is not pushing things to simply an unbalanced state, but an unnatural state.

      What will be found is how real people can influence influence, not influence when or to whom it matters.

      Mitch

    2. Bob,

      First of all, kudos for engaging in conversations and for taking the time to address my post. I totally appreciate it, and it does show you know what you are doing in social.

      Now, for the issue at hand. Fast Company missed the boat completely on this one. Influence is not measured by how many people you get to click on something, but how you influence their decision making and their thought process. I can create a tweet with a rickroll link, put a text of “Cute Kittens – OMG – Gotta SEE!!!!!” and get loads of clicks and RT (mostly blind, fewer than 15% of people check the links before they RT) and put a sizable number of people into a rickroll-induced brain-dead situation (actually, been doing it today – replacing people’s links to FC’s contest with rickroll links, got over 43 clicks in a couple of hours). Does that make me influential? or as @GuyKawasaki called me “a bozo”? (I am going to side with Guy on this one, BTW).

      Linking influence to number of clicks on self-promotion is so wrong that I usually don’t bother addressing it. I refer people, as I did in my post above, to the work of Dr. Wu (I would recommend you reach out to him and ask him for an article for the November issue on differences between influence and reach – you won’t be disappointed). In this case, due to the quick spread of the meme, I felt compelled to say something.

      Bob, I would love to engage in meaningful discussion on how to get people to talk about a specific topic. So would Dan Quayle, if you remember, when addressing single-parenthood (that was funnier though, much more ignorant). Let’s set the proper forum and do it right. Getting people to spam links all over the universe in a vanity-driven effort of seeing their picture in an issue of FC — not the right way to spark dialog.

      I am indeed looking forward to your November issue and the lengthy coverage on influence – way beyond this silly experiment.

      Thanks a lot for the read and the comment… and again, kudos for monitoring and engaging. Much appreciated.

  6. I agree! Someone just sent me to the site and not only do I disagree with the popularity contest and worry about the fraud-rampant possibilities – the site seems more interested in showing off neat, swooping graphics than in making it easy to identify those who influence you.

    I hate to see FastCompany drift in to the just-don’t-get-it category.

    1. Sigmund,

      I am with you on that feeling, FC was a great part of the last few years and building the new corporations, I’d hate to see them go down for an error in judgment. I guess we will need to see what the magazine says in November…

      Thanks for the read!

  7. Esteban,

    I love your enthusiasm for this topic! (We certainly took note of your reference to Dr. Wu, for our future coverage.) I sense that we may be destined to disagree about the Influence Project. There may, perhaps, have been better ways to spark a dialog. But in the big picture, the dialog is underway–which is really our goal at Fast Company. We want to better understand the ever-shifting and expanding digital world, and bring that information to our readers.

    Senior editor Mark Borden’s recent blog post tries to explain this a bit further. http://www.fastcompany.com/1667964/popularity-ego-and-influence-what-is-the-influence-project.

    Cheers,

    Bob

    1. Bob,

      I will take one of the two complaints back then, you did come back to engage in dialog — but cannot say that you did not plastered the exact same message in at least 3 blogs I found out. Why does this matter?

      Fast Company earned my trust and respect some time ago as a cornerstone for the new generation of corporate america. Some of the articles you published we would have never found anywhere else, and the concept of Brand: ME was ahead of its time, and quite valuable for a lot of people trying to figure the world of business as the changes from the internet were taking place. In other words, you were a big influencer.

      Now, the problem is that with this lapse in judgment you are destroying that early trust and respect. Is it unrecoverable? probably not, you have not done a lot of other stupid things behind it (like attacking those that criticize you, not engaging in dialog), but you have made other small boo-boos as well (plastering the exact same message among those that were not kind to you). I don’t disagree with the concept, don’t get me wrong — I do congratulate for taking the time to engage with critics.

      I also congratulate you for sticking to your beliefs, and I am anxiously waiting for the November issue of the magazine to see the coverage you give to this. However, it would be interesting to see you concede that even if the intention was pure and the purpose noble, there was some backfire on this attempt. Were you wrong? I say yes, you will say no – publicity-hungry hounds will also say no. Time will tell… but a mea culpa may be in place now. Just saying.

      Thanks for talking to me, much appreciated… btw, you can follow this link http://blog.attensity.com/2010/07/08/influence-me-this/ to get an idea of the sentiment analysis behind the initiative (which I am sure you already have anyways) and add more kindling to the fire.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I cannot get the grin off of my face after reading this. Where has this blog writer been all my life?

    The continuous effort of some people/companies to attempt to measure digitally what can only be determined organically is driving me mad. I have to admit – I get caught up in sometimes. Yes – on occasion I do go to Klout. Just to laugh at myself.

    Please keep up this great writing and the calling out of BS like this. Especially if I ever get caught up in it (again). I hope FC take this to heart.

    Patrick Allmond

  9. Esteban,

    Thanks for acknowledging the possibility that Fast Company’s “intention was pure and the purpose noble.” As I admitted in my first reply to you, our experiment isn’t perfect. No journalistic assignment ever is. We ask questions that we don’t know the answer to. Sometimes those questions make people uneasy. Sometimes the answers make us uneasy. But all of it is in pursuit of better information, knowledge, understanding.

    I wish this project had unfolded differently–mostly because I would prefer to have people like you as supporters of Fast Company’s efforts. Our credibility is on display with every magazine article we print, with every post on fastcompany.com. We know that we cannot please everybody with everything, but we hope that in total our efforts make a positive contribution. Our goal is to encourage businesses and businesspeople–many of whom are less enlightened and progressive than you–to embrace change and possibility and new ways of thinking and working. That is delicate territory; not everyone wants to hear that message. But it is one that we believe is important to deliver.

    You are engaged in a similar pursuit, and in that way we are partners. Those of us at Fast Company will continue to work, to try to earn your trust.

    In time, I hope you’ll be able to see the Influence Project in a somewhat kinder light: as a heartfelt effort to engage in an important area, and as part of a larger portfolio of efforts, where the goal for Fast Company is neither fame nor riches but the continuing education and encouragement of our readers and the business community at large.

    Bob

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