This dynamic creates a tempting opportunity for publications to create rankings even if they have little or no expertise conducting surveys or rankings in the first place. One organization that tactfully takes advantage of this phenomena is the Princeton Review. The Princeton Review's Best 373 Colleges ranking also includes 62 mini-lists including such informative gems like "Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution" and "Don't Inhale." The Princeton Review's ranking services provide relevant and effective marketing for their core business, test preparation, even if the rankings are not always the most scientific.
This brings me to yesterday, when I first heard of the Daily Beast, which claims to "carefully curate the web’s most essential stories and bring you original must-reads from our talented contributors." The Daily Beast published its Second Annual "50 most dangerous colleges" ranking last week and lists Tufts University as the #1 most dangerous college in America. Anyone who has ever even heard of Tufts knows this is a ridiculous claim by almost any measure, objective or otherwise. "The Daily Beast has listed Boston as the home of Tufts, which is where Tufts Medical School buildings are located, but that site is nevertheless removed from the school's main campus in the Boston suburb of Medford." According to Tufts University's Public Relations Director Kim Thuler, the school reports not only campus crime, but area crime from local police and information from their clinics, which inflates their numbers and does not give a fair picture of safety on campus... The murder included in Tufts report occurred off campus, in downtown Boston and did not involve any Tufts students or staff. So if I follow the Daily Beast's logic correctly, Tufts University is "the #1 most dangerous college in America" because the proportion of crime near one of its graduate campuses in a major metropolitan area (Boston) divided by the number of students at a mostly suburban college (in Medford, 6 miles away) is the highest among 458 colleges the Daily Beast chose to rank. As a Tufts graduate, I have been taught to think more critically than that.
By analyzing the Daily Beast's "dangerous college ranking", I have systematically broken down how you too can self-promote, both shamelessly and effectively, in 3 easy steps:
- Create a ranking that is controversial or unique. Ideally the topic of the ranking is related to your own core business and includes a number and a superlative in the title (Might I suggest "7 Smartest Guinea Pigs in North Carolina" for a local PetSmart branch?). This provokes an emotional response for affected readers, although I doubt it is relevant whether the emotion is positive or negative--it simply has to be strong.
- Explain why you should be treated with authority as a source. Ideally this involves detailing an objective statistical methodology and being transparent about any subjective opinions that enter into the analysis.
- Publish online and harness social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Using my own 3 easy steps to self-promote, I hereby present (drum roll please):
Adam Stober's First Annual Ranking of the Dumbest Sites on the Entire Internet
Checklist: 1.The ranking is controversial and unique, and my methodology is purely editorial. 2. I reviewed thousands of websites I have perused over the last year and unilaterally come up with a decision that is entirely subjective. Additionally, I might be treated as an authority because I have a consumer Internet blog and an International MBA from the Economist's and Business Week's #1 Ranked Full-Time Business School (Note: I am a proud Booth alum, but I would never claim that Chicago is better than Harvard or that Yale SOM is worse than Kellogg. They're all great schools, and US News still puts forth the best graduate school rankings, where Booth is currently tied with Wharton for 5th. The "tie technique" is a ranking manipulation for advanced users only). 3. I just sent this article to the Tufts PR Account on Twitter, and will be posting to my Facebook network shortly.
If you are reading this article you should have learned that this "create a ranking for shameless self-promotion" is quite effective. It also means I'm seeking publicity for one thing or another, and it worked. I am currently seeking feedback on Quotezing, a soon-to-be launched web start-up. I wonder if IAC, parent Company of the Daily Beast, could provide any input...