Fight the power (rankings)?

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?

—————-
Now playing: Arcade Fire – Neighborhood 3 – Power Out
via FoxyTunes

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

11 thoughts on “Fight the power (rankings)?”

  1. Hey, Andrew. I appreciate and understand your motives. As I said via e-mail, this is not about you.

    Yes, there is value in gaining exposure for the niche area of higher ed marketing and PR. I’m with you. I saw your point from the beginning and recognize that it could help raise awareness among those interested in the list. After all, that’s the only people you really have any chance of impacting with the charge on the list. But, can you tell me who is really interested in the Power 150 list?

    As for the U.S. News rankings of colleges and universities compared to the Power 150, I believe the U.S. News rankings actually do (right or wrong) have a strong impact on admissions choices and policies at many schools. They also likely have an effect upon budgets, or people getting raises by rising in the scores and so many other aspects of school image (perceived and real).

    You see, to me, the U.S. News list has an effect on hundreds of universities – along with uncountable faculty, staff & students. And, we haven’t even begun to mention the parents and funding sources that may perceive the list as valid and base decisions upon the list’s claims. The Power 150 list is important, really, to only the 640+ individuals on the list, along with AdAge & Todd. Is this really a contest?

    Certainly you’re not comparing the scope of awareness and (even misguided) appreciation for the U.S. News list to the Power 150 list – and viewing them as equals?

    The Power 150 list (not the bloggers on it) has zip effect upon much of anything, as far as I can tell. I’ll admit I could be wrong, but can anyone show me significant evidence to the contrary? Honestly, I rarely (if ever) think about the Power 150 unless someone else brings it up. U.S. News and Power 150 is apples and oranges, to me.

    As for building a comparative replacement, and why those perceived as eunuchs don’t build one, I can only ask, “Where’s the funding, Andrew?” Building a ranking list with respectable efficacy would take an entire staff with a cash endowment to support it. So, if you’ll fund it, Andrew, I’ll build it. Seriously, it would take a lot of people to take on that chore – and do it right.

    As for quotes and quips, I’ll merely share that “The measure of a man’s life is not what he accomplishes for himself, but what he accomplishes for others.” You are trying to help build awareness for a small legion of sincere higher ed marketers. That’s admirable.

    For me, if my blog carries any weight in that measured decision regarding my life’s work, I should’ve been put to sleep a long time ago. ;o) I actually feel like I’m lighting one small candle at a time, not cursing the darkness.

  2. Robert – Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your views, and your appreciation of my motives. Perhaps my comparing the Power 150 with US News’s rankings was off base. I didn’t intend to infer that the two are on a par. Rather, I see the Power 150 as a shadow of such rankings.

    I agree that a funding model should be in place to create a ranking model that would do a semblance of justice to the challenge that lies ahead of us. I’m afraid I don’t have the cash flow at the moment to underwrite such a venture (even when considering that my home state has the lowest price of gasoline per gallon in the nation, at this writing). :)

    You are lighting a candle, but it burns brighter than you may suspect. Time, not capricious rankings, will bear all things.

  3. I have to say, I’m with French on this one. I have little use for the Ad Age 150, or Technorati or Alexa rankings for that matter. I subscribe to blogs because they have good content, not good rankings.

    People like you, Karine, Brad, etc. operate within a fairly small niche of the overall marketing industry, so it makes perfect sense that you wouldn’t rank high on this list. And much like Google results, when you get down into the 200s and 300s no one is ever going to find you anyway, so who really cares.

    Personally, I think your status as one of the star attractions on BlogHighEd is a far more prestigious and relevant honour (yeah, that’s right, I spelled it the Canadian way).

    To echo what Robert said, you (and the others) have built a small but passionate and engaged following of higher ed marketers. That’s an admirable achievement, and speaking for myself, it’s been a valuable resource.

    And let’s all keep some perspective. If it’s about the numbers, then remember that a DJ working the afternoon shift in Topeka has about as big a daily audience as most blogs in the Ad Age 150.

    And if it’s just about receiving kudos, then isn’t that what CASE Awards are for? ;-)

  4. Good exchange – thanks all for these thoughts…As for standing on the sidelines, I refuse to take that bait Andrew! Some readers, and all the critics (and eunuchs, to use your analogy) are on the sidelines. Those of us trying to encourage people to generate fresh ideas for higher ed are in the fray, not on the sidelines!

    By the way, this topic of “authority” versus “popularity” is a good one and I’d like someone (you?) to write more about it. Throw “influence” in there too!

  5. Colin and Andy – Thanks for adding your perspectives to the discussion.

    Colin – It certainly is not all about the numbers, or popularity. I am not asking other higher ed bloggers to sign up simply so I can compare my Power 150 ranking with theirs. From my perspective, it’s about being visible. Maybe the Ad Age listing is the wrong place to start. It just sticks in my craw that the higher ed PR and marketing blogging community is invisible on that listing. But that may just be something I have to learn to live with.

    Andy – You are most definitely in the fray, encouraging new ideas. Thanks!

    As an aside, I asked (via email) a non-higher ed blogger who is on the Ad Age list what she thought of it. (I suspected she might be a fan of it, since she adorns her blog with a “Power 150” badge.) She replied that her inclusion on the list opened the door to more PR/marketing spam. So maybe it’s not such a great place to be. (I haven’t noticed any more frequent spamming from the list, and I’m not too far removed from her place on the list.)

  6. “We, as a community of bloggers, ought to be recognized for our efforts. ”

    Why? This has always confused me about the culture of higher education – this insane need to be recognized for every little thing. Maybe its because the culture inherently undervalues its workers so we go seeking validation elsewhere? I don’t know, but I guess its just not a mindset I understand. This series of blogs along with my 6 hour conversation with Kyle the other day made me realize that I’m the minority in this respect, but I never started blogging for fame or glory so I’ve never really seen the sense in stuff like this.

    Also, I say this as someone who ran a political blog that got thousands of hits a day, hundreds of comments with every post and was consistently ranked in the top blogs on MySpace. While I didn’t go seeking it, it found me anyway lol. I’ll admit, it was fun for a while but what ultimately really made it worthwhile for me wasn’t the ranking – it was the emails I would get from people telling me that I affected the way they looked at politics and voting. I think my MySpace experience completely changed my mindset with regards to blogging as I didn’t consider my blog to be remotely one of the best on the network – I just happened to have a cult-like following for a few years that always read and commented.

    Don’t get me wrong Andrew – I’m not faulting you for being interested in stuff like this. A lot of people are. I just think that rankings mean so little and rarely do they actually highlight the really good blogs out there.

  7. I’m late to the party, but I’ve been reading with interest all your exchanges.

    I submitted CWE to the Power150 without even reading the requirements (does it make me a bad person or just a very busy one – maybe both ;-), but I would have to agree with Robert’s point re: the flaws of this ranking system.

    After reading Robert’s post dissecting the criteria, I have to say that I don’t understand why there isn’t an attempt to include some kind of readership metrics. Most of the listed blogs probably use feedburner, so it ought to be possible to include at least some impartial data about RSS subscribers.

    Until this kind of data is included in the Power150, the rankings will just reflect in my opinion the popularity (or even authority) of the listed bloggers among… other bloggers.

    With 18% of the online adults being “creators” of content according to Forrester Research – let’s make a leap and just say that they all blog – and about 50% being “spectators” – i.e readers – you can see why this ranking system is skewed by omitting some kind of readership metrics.

    Don’t you think?

  8. Your call was a valid one, I thought. I didn’t see it as a problem and I understood the sentiment, though figured there would be healthy debate about the usefulness of such rankings and visibility for our field, given the peculiarity and relatively insulation of higher ed versus the ‘rest of the world’.

    That said, I think it’s very important for higher ed bloggers to push themselves to the front lines of a number of ‘open air’ discussions that are happening in the field and rather than being just thought consumers, that we ought to be thought leaders.

    The best way to do that is to put ourselves out there in any way we can, within our own comfort levels, of course.

  9. Just a quick comment between conference sessions (I’ll post more tonight or in the morning). Getting back to Andy Shaindlin’s suggestion that someone discuss the issue of “authority” vs. “popularity.” (And “influence.”) That’s a whole new kettle of fish, and I’m not sure I’m ready to take it on. Maybe some day, though.

  10. Karlyn – Regarding recognition: I think Ron may have articulated my sentiments accurately. It’s about the idea of being seen beyond our little “ivory towers” of academia. I love the concept of the blogosphere as a marketplace of ideas — a kind of open-air bazaar where we can exchange and test ideas. I agree that academia sometimes gets carried away with the notion of recognition (I’ve had to deal with my share of faculty who wanted us to write about some “prestigious” award they’d received that no one cares about), but I don’t think this is about that. It’s more about visibility than recognition. Perhaps a poor choice of words on my part.

    Karine – The Power 150 ranking does use Bloglines as a metric for readership, but I agree that it could be more refined. Feedburner would be a nice addition. I’d also like to see some sort of measurement for conversation included in the mix.

    Thanks!

  11. Bloglines?

    Steve Rubel’s micropersuasion blog has 4,495 subscribers in bloglines but more than 50,000 in total according to feedburner.

    I guess what we need from Google is a widget to display traffic stats according to Google Analytics – this could be a way to have some kind of independent and credible audience measurement. same thing that what they do with feedburner, but with data coming from GA. Bloggers could then choose to display the widget or not on their blogs.

    Does this already exist?

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