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5 Marketing Lessons From Fast Company's Influencer Project

IMB_FastCompanyInfluencerProject1 Who is the most influential person online? That is the tantalizing question behind the Influencer Project, a brilliantly conceived marketing campaign from Fast Company magazine dedicated to getting people to engage with the idea of online influence and pass along their participation to their entire social networks. The Influencer Project is a simple site that gets you to register with a few details, include your photo and then spits out a custom URL for you to use in all your influential efforts online. The more people you get to click on your URL, the more influence scores you can generate for yourself. (Note – the link above is to my personal URL)

IMB_FastCompanyInfluencerProject2 The payoff, as with many of these types of campaigns, is personal reputation and bragging rights – but for the growing ranks of people for whom social media offers an additional limb upon which to balance their virtual identities this reputation is more important than money. It could be considered a simple journalistic effort to do this, but if you look at how the project has been executed, it offered a great case study on how to use the power of the Internet to engage people and build an audience online.

  1. Have a strategic message behind your campaign. The idea of seeking the most influential person online could have been done by any publication, but the fact that Fast Company has chosen to do it sends a strong message about how they want to be perceived: as the magazine that people who are highly influential online read. There are plenty of choices to fit this category, but Fast Company has long been one of my favourite printed publications that I actually subscribe to in print format and read every copy of cover to cover because of their dedication to merging the worlds of online and offline together to paint a picture of the future of business. It is why I have written for them before and why I often recommend the magazine to colleagues.
  2. Make it easy to spread the word. Core to this idea is the fact that every participant gets a shortened URL to use for their own bio. This URL is what anyone can use to pass along the promotion to their social network and is also the primary way that the site can measure your influence. You can also integrate your Twitter and Facebook profiles, but unlike other promotions that can turn into popularity contests through the number of friends and followers you have – the Influencer Project is focused on actual action. The more clicks you generate, the higher your influence score.
  3. IMB_FastCompanyInfluencerProject3 Support your promotion with your core business. In the case of Fast Company, their business is producing editorial content. Instead of just sticking a banner on their site and sending out some emails to their subscribers, they are also integrating the Influencer Project into their editorial by releasing a series of interviews with influential people online. The first was with Gary Vaynerchuck and presumably the others they do will help add more context to the idea of influence online and take advantage of Fast Company's editorial voice as a way to bring more people into the Influencer Project.
  4. Have multiple payoffs to attract more participants. The ultimate payoff, as I noted above, is the ego stroke that having your photo appear larger will give and that will likely drive many people to participate. Fast Company will also publish a large photo in their magazine with a spread of all the participants as well – which adds a dimension to the reason for participating and likely will attract people for whom the online credit may not be enough.
  5. Integrate long term brand assets with a short term campaign. One mistake many marketers make is to drive a lot of attention and engagement around a short term effort without generating any longer term value for their brand. Fast Company has the Influencer Project, which will have a definitive start and finish, but they also integrate it with their branded Facebook and Twitter pages, which are longer term assets for the brand. By doing so, they can use the spike in activity around the Influence Project as a way to build greater long term value for their brand and a bigger base of engaged people that they will be able to promote content and activities to in the future.

Rohit's Custom URL for the Influencer Project:

Update 07/07/10 – For more context on this campaign and how it attempts to track influence, check out Amber Naslund's great post countering Fast Company on how they are confusing ego with influence. She has a great point about how this is an overly simplistic and ego driven way to track whether people have influence online. Though I agree it is an incomplete metric in terms of influence, I still think there are many marketing lessons you could take from this effort as I talked about in my post – but I found her alternate take on the campaign made me think more deeply about it and I highly recommend you read her post and decide how you land on this campaign for yourself.

8 thoughts on “5 Marketing Lessons From Fast Company's Influencer Project”

  1. Thanks for posting these … I did see Amber’s post and I totally get where she is coming from in terms of the way this campaign uses the notion of clicks to equate to real influence. My point in this post isn’t that they have a complete handle on how to measure influence – it was that this is a well conceived marketing campaign to drive a lot of attention and traffic to their site and social media properties and so far it certainly seems to have done that. I think Amber’s point of view, echoed by the others that you also shared is an important part of this, though, that was missing from my original post so I just added an update about it so anyone reading my post can get the other side of this and decide where they stand on this for themselves.

  2. You have to be kidding me. What kind of influence is measured my my ability to get someone to click on a link? Well, my ability to get people to click on a link.

    Fast Company was looking for a good way to increase time on site and page views and social media luminaries with huge egos like yourself got hooked on it.

    I’m embarrassed for anyone who spoke out for it. Such a waste of time.

  3. Rohit,

    Must admit I’m not with you on this one. The problem I have is that Fast Company ran a marketing campaign under the guise of it being editorial. I’ve blogged about my concerns here with some recommendations for improvement. I certainly wouldn’t call it a great case study. The best practices you outline are sound as long as there is more transparency.


  4. Shiv,

    I enjoyed your post and I think you are spot on about this being a gimmick. The point you made about this happening under the guise of being an editorial effort was a good one … I agree that was a misleading way to do it. For my part, I saw this instantly as a marketing campaign and way to promote Fast Company, and nothing more – and I thought it worked for that purpose. I was ok with it being a gimmick.

    Is using clicks on a link an overly simplistic way of measuring influence? Of course it is. Just like using touchdowns and interceptions is an overly simplistic way to rate a quarterback or impressions are an overly simplistic way to rate the success of a marketing campaign, or number of followers is an overly simplistic way to rate influence on Twitter. Yet we see these measures used every day because people long for simplicity.

    I’m not saying this was right, and the way that people felt they were lured into a link baiting scheme is understandable. For my part, I didn’t feel misled because I knew from the moment I saw this effort what their intentions were, and for many marketers getting this much attention on a social experiment of this sort would be a huge success. Does it tarnish my opinion of Fast Company? Not really, because I think taking stands like this forces the debate about the nature of something as elusive as influence, just as an ill-conceived editorial might.

    You can love or hate what this campaign represents, but there is clearly a marketing lesson to be learned from it. We just might disagree about what that lesson is.

  5. Tyler,

    I’m not sure I’d say I got hooked on it, though it definitely felt like it was worth a post from a marketing point of view. I’m not embarrassed to say I thought there were plenty of good marketing lessons to take from it. Plus it gave me a chance to stroke my Olympic stadium-sized ego. Now I just need to go and DM my fellow “social media luminaries” to organize a tweetup about how misunderstood we all are. Want to come?


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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