You can add another entry to the annals of botched social media campaigns: Fast Company magazine and S.F.-based digital marketing agency Mekanism turned Fast Company readers into digital guinea pigs yesterday with The Influence Project, an ornate marketing rickroll in which users registered to promote their unique link in hopes their friends would also register and boost their "influence."
BECAUSE THAT'S HOW INFLUENCE IS MEASURED. Nowadays. Apparently. By tricking one's friends into pimping generic product. What is this, Amway?
While the rhetoric of The Influence Project rides the fine line between STD awareness and the documentation of the "Icing" meme ("Spread your influence,""See who you've influenced," etc.), a closer look at the background and concept info, gleaned from the Mekanism proposal deck and a May 2010 Fast Company article on Mekanism, hints at something more manipulative.
"Rising to the bait, I propose a little wager: Prove it. If Mekanism creates a viral campaign for Fast Company, I will document the process from conception to launch -- in the magazine to start and then online."
-- Fast Company editor Mark Borden
"This is a viral experiment, conducted not only by Mekanism on behalf of Fast Company, but by Fast Company on behalf of its readership's editorial interests. The subject of how things go viral and how ideas and info spread online is right up Fast Company's editorial alley.
The July issue [the date was eventually bumped up to November] would be accompanied by an analysis of the entire process, of social media's influence on business and media and marketing, and of the way social networks spread information, etc.
It's a meta viral marketing experiment wrapped in editorial.
(Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that little bonus bump: If you're' on the cover of a magazine, you'll probably buy that issue of the magazine. This idea is going to sell a lot of copies of Fast Company magazine to people who have never bought it before.)"
-- Mekanism creative brief
WOAH. Okay, so you guys made a bet? What is a "meta viral marketing experiment wrapped in editorial"? Nothing should be "wrapped in editorial" except editorial, and especially not some lead-generating link-bait pyramid scheme. The helpful "little bonus bump" is again, not something editorial should really be concerned with. And FYI, Mekanism, it is very, very difficult to make things go viral, so you might be careful using the term so loosely in your hard sell. If it were easy, we'd see thousands of things going viral each day instead of, like, three. Something tells me you guys are going to lose your wager.
This shadiness is why almost no major online players have signed up for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be on the cover of November's Fast Company. In other words, where's Robert Scoble? A few experts touched on the subject, and none minced words.
From Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan:
"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?"
"Err, what? Then why the contest? Yeah never mind. We've got links to click. Join me in my quest to put Chevy Chase, with an afro, on the cover of Fast Company Magazine. My work will then be done here."
"I don't blame a marketing agency though -- I would EXPECT such stupidity from most of those ... after all, most agencies suck. Period. If this had been a sales/marketing department ploy supported by a digital marketing agency, then at least that would explain it.
That there was an agency involved AT ALL on something editorial only extends the disgrace.
The editor who did this [Mark Borden] should be fired."