Some of my blogging higher ed colleagues are taking issue with my recent call to arms that we (the small but vibrant community of higher ed marketing and PR bloggers) storm the gates of Ad Age’s Power 150 rankings and stake our claim. The reason for my plea: Of the 658 marketing and PR blogs included in the Ad Age rankings, only one higher ed blog (this one) in on the list. Upon discovering this lack of representation, my inner PR guy took over, and I issued a challenge to five higher ed bloggers to add their URLs to the Ad Age list.
First to question the point of my call to arms was Andy Shaindlin of Alumni Futures. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have thrown the gauntlet down at Andy. His blog has a special niche — alumni relations — and doesn’t meet the Ad Age criterla that mandates at least 50 percent of blog posts pertain to marketing issues. Fair enough. A bad call on my part.
I next heard from Robert French, who expressed strong reservations about these rankings, their validity, and the motives behind them. Now, Robert’s never been one to shy away from expressing his opinions on PR and marketing — he’s mixed it up with the likes of Amanda Chapel/Strumpette, so a discussion about the merits of Ad Age’s rankings is child’s play to this blogging vet — and he seems to relish a good cyber-donnybrook.
In his post, Robert dissects the Power 150 ranking criteria with the precision of a brain surgeon. But from my perspective, Robert is missing the point.
To dismiss the Power 150 as invalid because of the subjectivity of its metrics is like dismissing the annual U.S. News rankings of colleges and universities for the same reasons. We can object to the methodology, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go away. It also doesn’t mean people are going to suddenly stop paying attention, simply because we object. The smattering of colleges and universities that have decided to withdraw from the U.S. News ranking process for similar reasons will soon discover that their effort is counterproductive. They are taking themselves out of the game, rather than changing the game.
Sure, the notion of assigning “Todd points” to blogs is capricious and subjective. If I were to create an alternative ranking of higher ed blogs (or, heck, why limit it to higher ed only? why not evaluate all marketing and PR blogs?), I’d assign “Andy points” — and guess whose blog would set the high-water mark? At least Todd feigned enough objectivity to shave a couple of points off his own blog. I would’ve assigned mine the highest possible value. Because it would be my ranking, and my rules. But I didn’t create a ranking, so the point of such a mental exercise is moot.
And yes, Technorati’s popularity rankings aren’t necessarily the most valid measures of a blog’s influence. There is a difference between authority and popularity, as Robert points out. So rather than cast stones at the Power 150 methodology, why not offer a more valid alternative? I’m reminded of the quote about critics being like eunuchs in a harem: “they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves” (source). Or in this case, they may be able but not necessarily willing or inclined.
And then there’s the argument that the Power Rankings are filled with SEO blogs. You’re going to have those who will try to game the system, regardless of the system. It happens with our institutions and U.S. News. We’ve all read the stories about universities fudging admissions numbers in hopes of rising in the rankings. If there’s a loophole, someone will try to exploit it. But there are plenty of legitimate blogs on the list. I doubt anyone reading this blog (if anyone’s still with me) would consider Seth Godin, the guy who holds the No. 1 spot, an interloper. Nor is Copyblogger (No. 3 and a valuable resource for anyone who writes PR or marketing copy) or dozens of other blogs on the site.
Regarding last night’s post: I suppose, in my enthusiasm to get other higher ed bloggers to infiltrate the power rankings, I failed to fully explain my rationale. It is simply this: visibility. We, as a community of bloggers, ought to be recognized for our efforts. The Ad Age Power 150 is one venue for recognition. Is it the only one out there? Heavens, no. Is it a panacea? Of course not. But it is one worth exploring and, if you’ll forgive the crass expression, exploiting.
In public relations, as in much of the rest of my life, I’m a pragmatist. I’m more interested in the way things work than in the way things ought to be. I’ve never been accused of being an idealist. Maybe that’s the wrong stance. But that’s the way I approach the Ad Age Power 150 rankings. There they stand. And here we stand — higher ed bloggers, on the sidelines. We can stay there. Or some of you can.
As for me, I’m diving head-first into the muck and mixing it up with all those marketers, the sleazoids and the legits.
Who’s with me?