Why online ranking is a loser’s game

Rich Millington is the founder of Feverbee.com and the author of Buzzing Communities
Rich Millington is the founder of Feverbee.com and the author of Buzzing Communities

This is an article by Richard Millington, the founder of Feverbee.com and the author of Buzzing Communities

If #socialstudent had existed six years ago, I would have made it my mission to be at the top of the ranking.

I would have tweeted more (had Twitter existed). I would have blogged more. I would have Facebooked more. I would have looked carefully at the ranking system and figured out how to rank higher.

Take Klout. If you want to rank highly on Klout then spend two hours following 2000 new accounts. About half will follow you back. Do the same tomorrow and the next day. That’s 3000 new followers. You’re on fire!

Now tweet the most controversial articles and provocative quotations at around 9am, 12:30/1pm, and 4.30pm in the afternoon (USA time – if most of your audience is based there). Look at all the retweets! You’re so influential.

Once I heard there was a prize for finishing top of your university class, I made it my mission to win that prize. I picked the modules with the easier grading systems, less difficult assignments, no exams, and identified the less-harsh tutors.

I looked at past coursework papers in the library and discovered, for example, most tutors were lazy. They took assignments from questions in a instructor’s textbook – so I got a copy of the this (I called the publisher and asked for a copy).

Finishing first out of over 200 students was briefly great for my ego (and my parents), but bad for my education.

Just don’t do it!

Please don’t play these games. Please ask for your account to be removed. Don’t get sucked into these ego-traps. They’re a popularity pyramid scheme for the desperate.

Back in 2006 we had Technorati. Every blogger had a Technorati ranking. This tracked the number of inbound links to your blog from other blogs. You were ranked between 1 and around 50m.

My highest ranking came immediately after my worst post. I published an ill-judged post that sounded sexist. Dozens of blogs immediately (and rightfully) criticized me. Some of them were very influential. It sent me a lot of traffic and, most importantly, dozens of new links. Ironically I was now more popular than ever.

These ranking systems are bad for everybody. They suck you in and hook you on a false sense of success. No employer (except for those niftily seeking attention from the Klout-elite) will ever care about your Klout score. In fact some, like myself, will adversely judge you if you dare to mention it in an interview.

Online ranking systems are won by those willing to post the most, cheat, or degrade their work to cater to the masses. You’ll always be at the mercy of the ranking gatekeepers. Build a real reputation, not a fake one.

Try this instead

This isn’t as difficult as you imagine:

  1. Write a blog post that shares useful advice. Look for new emerging sectors and focus on those areas. Look to be at the epicentre of several emerging fields. Specialise in something people want. Bring more value to every interaction.
  2. Write to three people working in the industry a day. Ask if you can buy them a coffee sometime and just chat to them. Soon you’ll build up a thriving network of contacts.
  3. Attend and help out at industry events. Participate in relevant discussions. Be someone that most people know (if you do this alone, you’ll never be short of work).
  4. Go above and beyond in your real work. Take real pride in the work you produce for clients. Read books like crazy. Have new, fresh, ideas you can share with clients/employers.

Make no mistake; online rankings/reputation is a loser’s game. Don’t play it. Don’t get sucked in. Build a real reputation with real people.

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