(Via PCMag) Old Spice, Fast Company, and the Fallacy of Social Influence

Old Spice, Fast Company, and the Fallacy of Social Influence

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By: Dan Costa

Why Old Spice commercials work and Fast Company‘s Influence Project fails.

The last few weeks saw two attempts to game the messy business that is social media influence: one by forward-thinking business magazine, Fast Company, and the other by a venerable packaged goods manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble. As a regular reader and fan of Fast Company, it’s clear that the magazine should have the upper hand in this. Unfortunately, its Influence Project comes across as literal, artificial, and self-serving. P&G’s Old Spice commercial, other hand, seems certain to become a landmark in interactive advertising. All because the Old Spice Guy brought the funny.

Fast Company‘s Influence Project asks users to register and promote their influence link to as many people as they can. The more people who sign up, the more “influential” you are. Pretty straightforward. Pretty useless.

The Fast Company story turns influence into a ponzi scheme, a Flash-enabled popularity contest, and a high tech version of Narcissus’s reflection. Sure it looks great—they probably spent the equivalent of a PCMag.com’s annual interactive budget to build it. But after you register, it doesn’t do anything for you. Why not just count your Twitter followers?

P&G’s campaign, on the other hand, started with an amusing commercial featuring an appealingly cocksure actor. His physique, in my humble opinion, is just okay. The commercial was broadcast on TV multiple times and made available on YouTube. Rather than leave it there, the company started recording and posting personal videos to people who mentioned the product. Some were average consumers, but most were social media luminaries: Kevin Rose, Gizmodo, Alyssa Milano, Apollo Ohno, and more. Not only did the ads quickly become a sensation in social media circles, they’ve also become water cooler talk at offices around the country. All this for Old Spice!

So, why does Fast Company fail and P&G score an epic viral victory? Part of it is because P&G didn’t create new complex measurements to track influence, it used what already existed.

We already have useless measurements of influence. You can’t get hired these days in media or marketing without your employer scoping out your social media footprint. I just hired a 21 year-old with more than 2,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a kid.

Those of us who make our living in digital media have become obsessed with influence. We have become preening glory hounds grasping for any sign of relevance, signing up for any service that promises to drive traffic to our content.

Follow me on Twitter! Follow me on Facebook! Follow me on LinkedIn! Follow me on Tumblr! Follow my blog that I never have time to update because I spend all my time on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

And yet, influence is an artifact of the digital media industry, a mix of increasingly desperate marketers, consultants, bloggers, PR flacks, and media hacks. The majority of people just don’t care about it. My Dad runs a tissue processing plant—guess what he thinks of my 3,000 Twitter followers? Not much.

The Old Spice guy is playing the fame game as well, but he isn’t trying to make you feel influential or expand your network or dazzle you with fancy Flash programming. The ads are designed to entertain, to make you laugh. That is why they are consumed and forwarded amongst friends. If there is a secret to social media success it is that: bring the funny.

Funny isn’t easy. The Old Spice Guy shows that funny takes talented writing, great timing, and luck.

And, evidently, about 200 sit-ups a day.

Follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/dancosta

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