The Influence Project? Not so fast, Fast Company

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by one of the people who run the @FastCompany Twitter account. The message was to let me know that I’d been chosen to be participate in something called The Influence Project. In a follow-up email, the @FastCompany person described The Influence Project as “a visual experiment … that will purely track how influence spreads via digital word-of-mouth.”

“You are one of the first people in the mix.”

Moi? I, who didn’t get a Google Wave invitation until a month after everybody else? I finally get to be among the vanguard?

This must be some joke.

But wait. There’s more. Quoth the silver-tongued FastCompany dude:

You embrace your community and you’ve created a loyal group of people that love to hear what you have to say and that you enjoy engaging with as well. You are an influencer and we want you to be part of this.

Oh, I am so in.

Today, the project went live. A tutorial on the project provides a little more context:

What the Influence Project aims to do is remove some of the mystery behind the inherent passivity of social network numbers. 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. It’s something I’m sure every business is curious to know more about. I also think it’s a powerful bit of awareness for anyone who wants to know who in their network is fully engaged with them.

So, my ego leading the way, I signed on.

Then I read Amber Naslund‘s post this morning, which takes Fast Company to task for confusing the idea of influence with ego. “This isn’t influence,” shewrites. “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 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.”

Maybe something better than click pandering will come out of this. But I’m afraid, on first glance, that Amber may be right.

Update, July 7: TechCrunch also calls out FastCompany on this project, calling it a creative combination of link baiting and a pyramid scheme and pointing to a 2008 FastCompany article that says influence doesn’t exist.

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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.

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