In my mind those two words are inextricably linked and have been since long before my days at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. So when I saw the first Tweets pass by about something called The Influence Project by Fast Company Magazine, I clicked immediately. The person from whom the Tweet came was someone I respected and of all the business rags I read, Fast Company has always held a top spot for great reporting/writing and rock solid editorial integrity.
I was wrong.
After musing on it for a few hours, I sat down to write up some thoughts, and then caught sight of a link (from someone other than the person noted above whose judgment I now question) to this post. Rather than re-write the wheel, I asked the author, Amber Naslund, for permission to repost it. I highly recommend checking out the original post to see the comment thread.
UPDATE – this story apparently has an even more ugly backstory than I’d thought. I mean, I knew that there had been a rather dirty crossing of the line between editorial and marketing by an agency being used for this, but had no idea it was so grievous. SF Weekly reporter Alexia Tsosis had asked me for a quote for a story she was writing … and upon reading her post today was shocked to see the deeper details.
PLEASE NOTE – THE FOLLOWING BLOG POST WAS AUTHORED BY AMBER NASLUND AT BRASS TACK THINKING. WHILE THIS POST DOES REFLECT MY OPINION OF THIS PROJECT, I DID NOT WRITE IT AND SO CANNOT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE VERACITY OF ANY CLAIMS MADE. THE REASON FOR THE DISCLAIMER IS DUE TO THE COMMENT FROM NOAH ROBISCHON FROM FAST COMPANY (SEE BELOW) AND SO AM MORE CLEARLY DELINEATING THIS PIECE AS A RESULT.
By Amber Naslund, originally posted at Brass Tack Thinking.
I’m a Fast Company fan. I’ve been reading for years, and they have some super smart writers and contributors on their team.
But I really think they missed the mark with The Influence Project, in a big way, and confused the idea of “influence” with ego.
To me, influence isn’t about popularity. Or even reach. It’s about the trust, authority, and presence to drive relevant actions within your community that create something of substance. That last bit is key.
I clicked this morning on a tweet from Tac Anderson, someone I like and respect a great deal. I even uploaded my picture, all that stuff that I was supposed to do, hoping that there was something really interesting that would happen at the end, something I was supposed to do. Spread the word about a charity? Encourage people to contribute thoughtful content around an idea? Something I could sink my teeth into to show how great ideas can spread?
Nope. This is in the confirmation email I got:
1) You can use any means to spread your unique link to your online network. We shortened it for you so you can share on Twitter and Facebook.
2) Your goal is to influence as many people to click on it as possible.
3) You want those people to sign up as well, since they will be spreading your influence along with their own.
4) You can track how your influence has grown, where it’s lead, and where you stand at any time on the site.
5) Your picture is going to be in the November issue of Fast Companymagazine, where we’ll reveal the most influential person online!
Seriously, Fast Company? The goal is to influence clicks to my stupid profile? And I want people to sign up to be my minions so they can “spread my influence along with their own?”
This isn’t influence. This is an ego trap and a popularity contest, pure and simple. There’s no goal other than click pandering. Already, Twitter is full of people shouting “click on my junk!” and flooding my stream and countless others with nothing more than clamoring for…well…validation.
Influence can be quiet, understated, and wielded with grace. Influence is NOT jumping up and down, begging for people to click on stuff so that they, too, can find the gatekey for their own path to feeling important in the online fishbowl.
I’m sad that there wasn’t more to this. I was expecting something different, something meaningful, something that shows that influence isn’t about numbers and eyeballs and fleeting stabs of attention in the maelstrom of 140-character snippets.
I’m disappointed. I’m sorry I clicked, and hoped for something different. And I’m frustrated that, once again, we’re going to have to discuss influence in its proper context, the work that it takes to create a truly influential platform that people can trust, delineate the difference between people who can inspire meaningful action, and those that seek the panflash of popularity in an attention-starved space.