Ego Trap: Agency Insanity

Before I go on, I have some disclosures to make. I like Klout and use the Chrome Twitter extension. I’ve spoken at a couple of events with Matt Thomson and he’s a smart, funny, and nice guy. My company offers the Social Business Index, which has been called “Klout for Companies,” although we don’t compete. I used to work with David Armano. He’s a smart, funny, and nice guy too – and full of genuinely good intentions. So that should cover it for this post – to be clear, I’m not taking potshots at anyone or company here.


So I had seen vote requests from Agency Insanity (AI) participants and didn’t think much of them. As with so many marketing ideas, everything old is new again. People in the space may remember that Joe Jaffe did this five years and 20 pounds ago with a “Most Valuable Blog” tournament. Now that we’ve got Klout to help keep score and since no one blogs anymore, there’s a new spin on the idea.

Then I saw this tweet this morning:

Which got me thinking about AI again. Why were people participating in this? Wouldn’t most people just ignore this, like I had initially? It seems that some “players” are not participating – as I write, the score in one matchup is 112-21 while another is 6-3 (Maybe I’m wrong and those two guys are just historically awful self-promoters).

This is a great example of an ego trap in action. Get a bunch of people who work in an industry that’s fueled by ego the way Red Bull fuels action sports. Agencies already fight for clients, pencils, lions, etc. so competition is natural. So put the biggest group of industry influencers in a virtual cage match and see what happens.

Who wins? Klout for sure. Maybe the last person standing, in a #winning sort of way.

Who’s a loser? Lots of ways to answer that, depending on how you feel about this.

But wait – if you think this is all about egomania, there’s a catch. Armano posts a personal, revealing story about why he’s participating. Now what?

I’ll cast a vote for David, because I’ve seen him do good deeds in the past. What about you – whether you vote or not, does how you feel about this reflect your general optimism or pessimism? I assume most people feel “meh” – perhaps a sign that ego traps have lost their luster.

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  1. I hate all contests like these. This particular one is no more or less egregious than any other, so far as I can tell. The ones I really hate are contests that allow multiple votes (once per day for example). They strike me as thinly veiled attempts to pump up page views. Just awful.

  2. Nice post, Peter.

    Playing to the ego is a time-tested technique in advertising… and is no different in this case and throughout social media as a whole. Look at the behaviors and motivations of people posting, sharing, liking, etc. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in action.

    You’re right, Klout wins and all the participants and their audiences lose.

    Listen, I can honestly say that I like David too. But it would have been a lot cooler if he would have won and THEN given the trip away. By blogging and tweeting and changing his twitter profile and asking for votes because he’s going to give the Vegas trip away to a couple who could use it is nice. But it’s also a nice tactic for winning and then trying to pin the whole thing on “it’s for a good cause.” I know his motives are pure, but the method stinks.

    There’s a bigger discussion here about influencers in general, but that’s for another time.

  3. Spike, I don’t believe that you think my intentions are pure FWIW, however to elaborate on my thinking—from the start I wanted to give the tickets away and mentioned it in my original post here. Full disclaimer I did think the competition with other agencies could be interesting/fun.

    I can assure you had I taken your advice and worked up my networks only to throw in the end that I wanted to give it away, that folks would have said “oh, he had to give it away or all that effort would have looked selfish”

    Fact is, all of this stuff can be taken way too seriously. I personally try not too. I initially saw it as an opportunity to do something which seemed playful and make it positive. The reality is it really turns some people off depending on your view of the world.

    Also, I like to participate in these things because you learn. Peter knows about this. While platforms like the Social Business Index don’t compete with Klout or Empire Ave for that matter, they do borrow from the psychology and even design (“stock” ticker) for example. And that’s not a dig. Smart people reinvent and evolve things. My inspiration for stuff like this is to always try to learn and do the right thing along the way. If possible.

    BTW, it’s unlikely I will “win” because I am not working my networks as hard as the others, so perhaps another winner will be motivated to give the prize away or put it to good use. My personal story is true. The people in my inner circles know our history with our boys. We’re grateful things turned out well for us, so paying it forward while participating seemed like a harmless act. Anyway, that’s my take.

  4. Nobody blogs any more? I do, but that hardly counts. On the other hand, according to Nielsen, “Consumer-generated blogs have continued a strong upward trend since the company began tracking them in 2006, according to the U.S. Digital Consumer Report State of The Media: Q3-Q4 2011.”

    A few more insights from the ClickZ report on the Nielsen data:

    * By the end of 2011, the Nielsen/McKinsey company had tracked over 181 million blogs around the world, up from 36 million in 2006.

    * The three major blogging platforms — Blogger, WordPress and Tumbler, in that order — account for 80.5 million unique pairs of eyeballs in October 2011. (And I’m one of those using another platform, so my blog and the tens of thousands by people — or more — using alternative platforms aren’t represented in these numbers.)

    * In May 2011, eMarketer forecast that the number of blog readers in the United States that year would reach 122.6 million, representing 53.5 percent of internet users.

    I understand this wasn’t the point of your post, but I get a little irritated when people toss of statements like that as though they are fact without supporting them with data. Blogging lives. Blogging grows.

  5. These things are definitely goofy, but they are harmless and based on interaction with the program, not very popular. That said, my issue with Agency Insanity is that I have no idea who 80% of these people are. I couldn’t find any details about how the people were chosen. It certainly wasn’t Klout score as many of the participants are under the 50 mark. How does this help Klout or the overall credibility of the Klout score when agency professionals with the highest Klout scores weren’t included? I just don’t get the strategy here. It seems less like an ego trap and more of a way to get attention from big agencies or agencies that currently partner with Klout. Regardless… I voted for Armano because I believe he’ll do something good with the trip and he had the highest Klout score in most of the match ups. Seemed logical to me.

  6. I thought we were past this middle-school popularity contest crap, but I guess I’m naive. Plus, I learned a long time ago not to excuse clowning because I’m using it to help a cause. Much easier to just help the cause, so I’m not buying that, sorry.

    (PS- Peter, check your Klout +Ks….)

  7. Hey Peter, great post and observations. I finally had to filter out the tweets about #agencyinsanity. But I did notice that this time, I saw less direct promotion (Vote for meeee!!!!!) and more ‘I’ll tweet for you if you’ll tweet for me’. I mean when you are tweeting that you just voted for someone getting hammered 98-3, it’s pretty obvious you are doing it hoping they will return the favor and vote for you.

    And I think David’s strategy is brilliant. He’s found a way to promote himself and encourage voting in a way that feels ‘more wholesome’. And it makes everyone else feel a bit better about voting. I have seen a lot of people say ‘Well I don’t usually participate in these type of things, but I’ll vote for David’.

    But beyond a deserving couple getting a free trip, I doubt David is doing this so his team gets a pizza party, he’s probably doing it so he gets some nice recognition in an industry where personal visibility is prized.

  8. I’m with @seanmcginnis and generally loathe all contests like this. There was one recently where we discovered an agency gaming the voting system by back channeling their friends and offering +K “rewards” and other “social stroking” in exchange for votes. That was not likeable. Heh.

    And while I’m not suggesting this contest is the same, I am suggesting that most of us genuinely hate things like this. It is a huge circle jerk and when you have to constantly pimp your friends asking for votes, it’s really kind of lame. Not to mention massively intrusive and annoying. And all for the sake of bragging rights. About something that nobody really cares about.

    Kudos to David for trying to do make his efforts worthwhile but in the big scheme of things and IMO it would be better for him to do what he’s good at on a day to day basis and not partake. However, if there’s something to be learned from the process (per your comments above, David), that could, I suppose be valuable.

    Maybe there’s a future blog post in that. Oh, and yeah, I blog all the time.

  9. I want to see this contest expanded. For instance, there should be “Conference Tournaments” so that some of the smaller shops can get their executives into the mix.

    Take me, for instance. My Klout Score, last I checked, was a 64. That’s higher than everyone on the list save for Mr. Armano. But, because I play in a different conference, my strength of schedule is probably a lot lower.

    But I have the Klout score to prove my worth – kinda like going 32-0 in a conference no one has heard of.

    Wait…you can lobby your way to win a first round game? OH THAT’S AWESOME! I love this already…

    All I have to do is set up an alternative tournament, then make sure that the winner gets invited to next year’s Insanity. After that happens, then they can beg for votes like Dick Vitale crying about the fact that Drexel didn’t get into the tournament.

    In case you’re not seeing the *sarcasm font* – competitions like this are lame. The sucking up for votes is lame. Maybe Klout works for some big brands with tons of money who want to hand out swag, and for a few consultants selling books. Aside from that…

    Man, this social media bubble popping cannot get here soon enough. Then we can all go back to doing actual meaningful work.

  10. I actually thought it was a joke when I first saw the tweets and the hashtag, or a spoof on Klout. Fortunately, I don’t follow a ton of people who would be excited to take part in something like this, so even noticing it took a while.

    But it’s sincere?

    Agencies competing with something other than their offerings and expertise and client results?

    People at agencies focusing on vote-getting instead of sharing ideas, findings, and client victories?

    It seems so utterly off-topic, and not what doing business is about. And I’m a pretty off-topic gal, but my contribution to agency / business discussion is usually aiming more for helpful than self-aggrandizing.

    But then again, the agencies I work for (full-time and freelance) haven’t really chased the floppy-eared Klout down the rabbit hole. It’s all clients and work, instead of false measures of expertise / notoriety and attention seeking.

    If I did any of this on behalf of those agencies, I’d hope my clients would go, “Really? That’s what you think is important?”

    A trip to Vegas for two is under 2K for flights, lodging, etc, if you’re smart about booking it. If you took all the time that’s been devoted to talking about this and pimping this by all the people that are doing it, their hourly / salaried wages would more than pay for that a zillion times over.

    Klout is getting their money’s worth a zillion times over, and agencies who I would think would be embarrassed to jump on that train are riding it all the way to the station. Can’t we just do great work and then go have fun? Do we really need to make ourselves look silly?

    This is why clients come to us terrified that they’re going to be charged up the wazoo and handed a bag of magic beans. Because we do great stuff, and then we get attention for doing crap like this.

  11. “Who wins? Klout for sure.”

    I’m not so sure about that. I think this denigrates their brand, and calls their methodology into question. They have loads of funding and PhDs working on smarter ways to suss influence (or at least, social activity/message dissemination), but then they go and run a goofy contest that lets you “vote” for who you think has the most influence. They’ve done little more to me than highlight the fact that “The Standard Of Influence” is, in fact, a game. We all know it’s a game. But that game undercuts what–I think–they are trying to do with their brand. It’s foolish, counterproductive, and, in the way that they have appealed to agency executives (who, in their defense, probably need to compete for agency bragging rights,) ultimately cynical.

  12. It’s not a perfect system by any means.
    it’s a klout promotion. Klout is one method of ranking/factoring/measurement of social media.

    Do klout scores matter?
    yes.. perception.

    Is it a perfect system.

    can it be exploited? (no comment)

    Does this have anything to do with klout scores? not sure.. it’s an experiment, will klout add +k to score for the winner?
    (why not? i would. might encourage future participation in these things and shouldering the abuse of ones peers.)

    I’m curious to how a klout score will have any effect on this or if it does..

    H = person with highest klout score in contest
    X = highest klout score in bracket
    Y = highest klout score in pairing

    Solve for n times H wins pairing and bracket
    Solve for n times H = X
    Solve for n times H = Y

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