Fast Company’s “Influence Project” – So Lame, Fast Company Ignored Its Own Results

Cast your mind back to July. Fast Company launched its “Influence Project,” a scheme supposedly designed to see who has the most influence online. The results are in! And the winners aren’t anyone that Fast Company mentions in its write-up about the project. That’s how stupid the entire thing was. [NOTE: Turns out, the winners do make it into the magazine in a separate article -- more below].

Fast Company initially pitched the effort this way:

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. That’s power that can be quantified and lead to an understanding that can be applied to both the largest and smallest of networks. No doubt it’s profound to address a million followers and get 100,000 of them to respond. But what does it mean when you have one hundred friends on Facebook and 97 of them click through to a site on your recommendation?

The clicks and networking and connectivity (out to six degrees!) collected in this experiment will provide a compass for where real influence lies on the Internet.

Awesome — we’ll finally know who has real influence! If you ask me (and SF Weekly did, in its write-up on the project at the time), about who has influence on the internet, you’ll hear some familiar names. As I said:

Steve Jobs decides not to include Flash on the iPad, which causes a huge ripple among web publishers. That’s influence! But this “Influence Project” will measure none of that.

It’s fair to say that some of the most influential people on the web aren’t going to take the time register in a project, to begin with. I mean, they’re influential! As part of being influential, they’re probably busy doing the things that made them influential in the first place, not worrying about proving their influence.

Can you see Eric Schmidt, Steve Ballmer, Carol Bartz or Steve Jobs – all of whom are fairly influential people on the web – taking time from running their companies to register?

There was plenty of criticism about the project, and how it would play out. But no more guessing or speculation. The final results are out. And the most influential person on the interwebs is …. Shoemoney!

Shoewho? Most people outside the SEO and affiliate marketing spaces probably won’t know the name. Shoemoney (sometimes written “ShoeMoney” is the online moniker of Jeremy Schoemaker, who runs the Shoemoney blog. Shoemoney is a great guy. He has a well-deserved, loyal following. But respect to Shoe, he’s not the most influential person on the web. He’s just a master of playing Fast Company’s lame poll in his favor.

How about some of the other most influentials? Here’s the top ten:

By name, they are:

  1. Jeremy Schoemaker
  2. Shefqet Avdullau
  3. Tod Sacerdoti
  4. Cory Boatright
  5. Greg Clement
  6. Frank Kovacs
  7. Sebastian Saldarriaga
  8. James Dunn
  9. Richard Lee
  10. Pace Lattin

Congrats to each and every one. You worked your networks, proved your influence according to Fast Company’s own rules, and you deserve to be included in Fast Company’s story about the project’s final results — “The New Faces Of Social Media,” which starts out:

From YouTube celebrities to chief social-media officers, these unexpected players exert outsize impact and power online — offering new channels of communication that businesses can’t afford to ignore.

You deserve to be there, because you are absolutely the unexpected players according to this poll. But you’re not there. Sorry. I guess you weren’t the faces Fast Company was looking for.

Who is there? The story starts out with a profile of Justine Ezarik, “iJustine,” who we are told:

The most effective participant by far in this regard was iJustine; she converted 4,800 of her friends and fans into participants — 15% of the eventual 33,000 participants.

Odd, I thought Shoemoney won. Oh — but wait, she’s the most effective of those in the “YouTube Celebrities” category that Fast Company decided needed to be created — one of six categories that were never mentioned in the initial project.

Overall, the winners are like this:

  1. Justine Ezarik, YouTube Celebrities
  2. Jill Fletcher, Chief Social Officers
  3. Gary Vaynerchuk, Gurus
  4. Christopher Poole, Cabals & Compatriots
  5. Greg Allan, Specialists (apparently, it’s kind of hard to tell)
  6. Jonah Peretti, Filters

Shoemoney, by the way, would be considered a “guru” by many. Not only doesn’t he get listed as the top guru. He’s not mentioned in the guru section at all. And as best I can tell, none of the top ten in the poll got mentioned at all.

I thought the project was lame from the start. Ignoring those who actually won the contest is even lamer. Far classier would have been to have done the story about the real “new faces” that won. They actually have a lot of lessons that Fast Company’s readership probably could learn from.

Postscript: Fast Company editor Bob Safian commented below that the winners are mentioned in the magazine. Indeed, there is a separate article about them, with interviews and covering the polls actual results. You’ll find it here, and it’s worth a read.

I was surprised that I missed this. I looked — and looked — for a piece like this. But you only find it listed if you go to where Fast Company lists all its stories by print magazine edition, something that I didn’t find that obvious.

The project slideshow itself was listed in an email to participants (I got one of these, as I signed up to see how it worked but didn’t promote it). It was also listed on the home page of the Fast Company site. That slide show linked to an About page, which in turn linked to that  “New Influentials” write-up, then another link back to the slideshow, plus a link to the blog about the project:

I went back to each of these — and back to the Fast Company home page — to scan for any reference to the winners. I found nothing. But after Safain pointed at the magazine table of contents, the “The Influence Project” took me there:

All of which shows two things. Fast Company needs to think better of its cross-referencing. And had I bothered trying to ask Safian or someone at the magazine, I’d have saved myself a blog post.


Comments

  1. Ric Dragon says

    Great to see you get passionate about this. I’m so busy going about on a galloping horse, I hadn’t noticed just how screwed up the premise of the whole article was. But I was happy to see they featured the mystery guitar guy- as he really has been doing some novel video work.

  2. says

    As #10 person, I agree with you 100%. I actually had called them as a JOURNALIST to speak to them, and they took two emails and my phone call and put it into a quote. You can read my response at my blog if you interested.

  3. James Dunn says

    Definitely agree. Although I figured they would do as much. The project was more about getting attention from people who would promote their link than anything else. I’m still happy to be #8 though. :)

  4. says

    Agreed — and I’m hoping he’s not taking this as a hater article from me, because it was most certainly not meant that way. He should have been mentioned in the actual article that Fast Company readers will get out of the contest. He should have been interviewed. And the readers would have learned a lot — as they would have from all of you who hit the top.

  5. says

    Jeremy; I’m not how you’re getting hate out of either Danny’s post, here, or Fast Money… Danny’s criticism of the article is spot on; and Fast Money is Just misguided.

  6. says

    @ Ric: I would think Shoemoney has a very legitimate gripe with Fast Money. They are not misguided – they avoided talking about him after he won their contest. There was a reason they did this – it was not an oversight. They decided to write about someone other than the winner. I didn’t see his comment aimed toward Danny either…but I am not Jeremy.

  7. says

    Marty good point indeed. As a note, Fastcompany has promised that the winner would:

    1) Be on the cover of the magazine. They put Lance Armstrong instead.
    2) Be in the October Issue. They are doing in November.

    Frankly the violated a written promise, contract to put Mr. Shoemaker on the cover of the magazine. They gave equal press to ME!

  8. Bob Safian says

    Bob Safian here, the editor of Fast Company. I’m sorry our coverage and editorial investment in this subject didn’t satisfy all of you. I would like to point out a couple of things.

    First, to Pace’s contention that we promised the winner would be on the cover of the magazine: that is absolutely untrue. Nor did we promise that our coverage would be in the October issue. This is what the Influence Project site promised:

    “By participating, you will have your picture appear in the November issue of Fast Company magazine as part of an amazing photo spread.”

    That’s exactly what we delivered.

    Second, Danny above asserts that “the winners aren’t anyone that Fast Company mentions in its write-up about the project.”

    That is also incorrect. We devote six pages in the magazine to discussing the winners of the project. The “photo spread” alone comprises four pages. You can read the text of the coverage at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-influence-project and view the photo spread at http://www.fastcompany.com/influence.

    We did include additional coverage of social media and influence in our November issue, as a complement to our Influence Project coverage. For those, like Danny, who found our methodology unsatisfying, we thought a more traditional journalistically-reported assessment of the kinds of influence being exerted online would add to our readers’ understanding of the space. You can read that coverage at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.

    We know that our efforts can’t always meet all readers’ expectations (and the subjects of our coverage can often be the least satisfied, given their hopes for glowing PR). But we remain dedicated to covering developing online media, helping our readers learn more (and learning ourselves). My explanation of our thinking, approach and experience make up another two pages in the magazine, which you can read at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/letter-from-the-editor-the-influence-virus-our-unlikely-experiment-in-social-media.

    If you take the time to read all of our coverage, perhaps you’ll see some value in what we’re providing to a large, broadbased business readership.

    Bob

  9. says

    Thanks for your comment, Bob — and sorry it got hung in moderation for about an hour. The links tripped WordPress’s moderation filter.

    Agreed — there was no promise of being on the cover. It’s funny. I had this exactly impression that this is what Fast Company had said. But I went back and looked and realized I’d remembered things wrong. That’s why I didn’t mention it, myself.

    I’m very glad to see that article on the actual winners will show up. I did spend some time trying to find anything like this. it wasn’t there.

    From the http://www.fastcompany.com/influence/, you’re taken to http://www.fastcompany.com/article/about-the-influence-project, which in turn lists “The New Influentialsm,” a link that takes you back to the photo spread, and a link to the blog. I went to all of these, and there was no reference to that other article. I went to the home page of Fast Company, and the photo spread was listed but not the article about the winners. I just never spotted it.

    I’ll get a direct link up to it shortly. For those reading comments, it’s here:

    http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-influence-project.html

  10. says

    @bob it looks like this experiment gained you some attention, even it it was different kind of attention than you originally anticipated.

    “If we did this project again, we would make sign-ups a more significant part of our scoring system, emphasizing deeper forms of engagement over simpler clicks.”

  11. Lance says

    Add it to the list with the creepy tech people’s obsession with being and hoping to be influential. Nobody knows who any of these people are, or who any of the people the industry thinks is influential, nor does anybody care.

  12. says

    I’m going to look through the wayback machine, but being on the cover may very well be just the word of other bloggers. Many of them mentioned that people would be on the October cover of the magazine, and I remember hearing that. Unfortunately, there are no cache copies of what was said, so we have to take their word for it.

    Still doesn’t address why the Marc Borden used a confidential private email between journalists in a publication instead of doing a phone call followup. Not professional, period.

  13. says

    Danny, turns out that the reason most people thought it was the “cover project” was because that is how it was pitched and what Mekanism promoted it as:

    “Ultimately, it’s an attention-getting, easy to participate in viral stunt that will result in lots of coverage and get Fast Company the attention it deserves. And, Fast Company will forever be known to as the magazine that put me on its cover.”

    Since it was still on the FastCompany website, at http://images.fastcompany.com/magazine/145/Mek_FastCo_r1_041310.pdf

    perhaps many bloggers felt that was the truth.

  14. Bob Safian says

    Pace,

    Once again, I need to correct you. The Cover Project was a proposal from Mekanism that we rejected, as were the other proposals in the pdf you linked to. That pdf was made public by us, as a transparent sharing about the process behind our effort. The Influence Project was a subsequent, more evolved program.

    If you or others assumed the Influence Project would be put on the cover, that was your wishful thinking. We do not promise our covers to anyone, as a matter of editorial policy.

    Bob

  15. says

    Bob,

    You are not correcting me, but agreeing with me. I’m saying that perhaps since the proposal was on the website, many people misunderstood and took that to be “truth”. It was publicized incorrectly as truth it seems.

    That being said, I respect FastCompany, but you aren’t addressing the real issue of what I would call “modern journalism.” An email I sent with a query, which I considered a private conversation between professionals turned into quote without permission.

    Danny also raises a really good question, you included Gurus, and Jeremy is arguably one of the top “make money” gurus in the industry, from what I am told. I am not a fan of that industry at all, but that being said he’s highly successful and in theory won the contest.

    Who am I? Besides being the founder of several publications, google “interactive advertising fraud” and you’ll see that I dominate the google listings as the leading expert in this field. Now there’s a story, interactive advertising fraud, how it’s growing in our industry and how fraud affected your influence project.

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