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Was our Readers’ Choice Award hijacked? (Or was it always going to be a sanctioned exercise in new media manipulation?)


Can you remember the winner of TIME magazine’s Most Influential Person poll in 2009?

Was it Barack Obama? Oprah Winfrey? The Dalai Lama?fair

No, it was Moot, the pseudonym of 21-year-old Christopher Poole, a college student and founder of online community 4chan.org.

Not only was the “most influential person in the world”, according to TIME, largely unheard of (and still is) but so were many of the remainder of the top 21, whose first initials not-so-coincidentally spelled the words ‘MARBLE CAKE ALSO THE GAME‘.

4chan.org, if you’ve never heard of it, is a bare-bones, reliably profane image board whose users have hatched everything from Rickrolling to LOLcats. It’s perhaps influential among college students but was its founder worthy of this TIME accolade?

This is a question that even TIME seemed uncomfortable answering in 2009.

TIME.com managing editor Josh Tyrangiel said that moot is no less deserving than previous title holders. “I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll,” he says. “Doubting the results is kind of the point.”

So, how did Moot win?

The simple answer is that 4chan.org used its far reaching network to manipulate the voting process. The technicalities of this precision hack can be found elsewhere.

So, why the long winded introduction to this year’s Cool Company Awards Readers’ Choice Award?

Did we get gamed?

Let’s be frank. Readers’ Choice Awards are usually conducted for two reasons.

The first is to provide readers with a voice. This is obviously a good thing. It takes the decision making process away from a few and gives it to many.

The second is to raise awareness. In our world, that could also be interpreted to mean ‘get more traffic’.

As such, we acknowledge that many award programs often end up becoming (for want of a better description) media sanctioned popularity contests. And with acknowledgement comes acceptance.

So, rather than rail against this hard fact (Oh, the inequity!), many years ago we decided to ignore our internal cynics (the ones in our brains, not just the ones in our office) and reward voters according to the effort they put in to reach their own networks.

That’s right, we empowered our entrants to promote the awards for us.

How did the voting work?

The Cool Company Awards Readers’ Choice gave Anthill readers the opportunity to vote on Cool Company Award finalists in one of several ways:

1. Tweet this post:

Use the Tweet button at the top of this page. Your tweet will say:
Congratulations [Name], Anthill 2010 Cool Company finalist!

2. Trigger a spcial media reaction: Hit “Like” or “Google+”, Disqus “Like”.
3. Leave a comment: Show your support! Share the love!

This seemed fare. And, to state the obvious, if success is built on marketing flair (even partially), ranking highly in the Readers’ Choice should bode well for the ‘cool’ company.

So, how did participants rank?

Below is a summary of our performers.

Company Tweets Likes Google Comments Disqus Total
LeadBolt 5 1000 0 0 0 1005
Starlettos 24 93 11 17 14 128
Effective Measure 6 21 0 0 0 27
03Office 1 20 0 0 0 21
Destination Dreaming 1 20 0 0 0 21
Nanotek 5 10 0 0 0 15
ServiceSeeking.com.au 5 10 0 0 0 15
Jayride 7 6 0 1 0 13
Oomph 4 3 0 0 0 7
Big Kahuna Imagineering 4 1 0 0 0 5
KISS Mobile 3 2 0 0 0 5
iiNet 2 2 0 0 0 4
Reactive 1 1 1 0 0 3
Doin Time 2 0 0 0 1 2
LX Design House 2 0 0 0 0 2
StuckonYou 1 1 0 0 0 2
Brightgreen 1 0 0 0 0 1
Guvera 0 1 0 0 0 1
3Fish 0 0 0 0 0 0

Notice anything weird?

It’s pretty common for the top two to generate more social media interactions than the remainders combined.

At least, that is what has happened in previous years.

One or two companies will usually have strong and established networks. They will have created a remarkable product (hence their slot in the ‘Cools’) and their customers, clients, family, friends and fans are more than happy to show their love.

But this year’s leadership ladder tells a slightly different story.

Our leader generated an outcome roughly five times the social media interactions generated by the entire list.

For those of us able to monitor the process, the astonishing outcome appeared to happen in a matter of days, skyrocketing this one organisation’s Like count seemingly at the push of a button.

Of course, we suspect, that is exactly what happened.

What is LeadBolt?

In less than two years, LeadBolt has become a world leader in website monetisation services via a method called content unlocking.

In essence, site users encounter a screen that makes an enticing offer; the user must engage and react to the offer in order to continue seeing the site content.

LeadBolt says ads powered by its network are generating click-through rates more than 60 times above industry benchmarks and that, on mobile, its engagement layers are pushing publishers’ earnings 100 times higher than industry benchmarks.

The company, founded in mid-2010 by president and CEO Dale Carr and headquartered in Sydney, deployed its export arms early, moving into the U.S. and Asia in July 2010, Latin America in September 2010 and Europe and the UK in January.

Today, it serves hundreds of millions of ad in nearly 200 countries.

Advertisers include Burger King, Pepsi, Walmart, Coca-Cola and Groupon.

It’s a powerful business model and an Australian digital success srory.

But, to summarise and to (perhaps unfairly) simplify the model for today’s purposes, LeadBolt’s business is built to help monetise blogs… by selling Likes.

And what about Starlettos?

It’s part of the Anthill culture to root for the underdog.

In fact, the Cool Company Awards were, in part, developed to identify up-and-comers — businesses with unique business models, powered by innovation. All our contenders for the Cools fit this mould. (It’s the Cool Company Awards, after all — not the richest-business-in-Austraila-deadly-serious-and-humourless awards.)

And, as a fly on the wall, it was plain to see how much effort Starlettos — namely its founders, Mark Naismith-Beeley and Ilde Naismith-Beeley — put into mobilising their masses to achieve an outcome almost five times their nearest competitor (a digital marketing agency too, I might add).

Who would have thought that a small piece of plastic that could prevent high heels from sinking into grass could be so popular? (But I concede that I’m probably not the target market.)

This created a crisis of concience at Anthill HQ.

While LeadBolt is the clear Readers’ Choice winner in terms of ‘votes’, should we not acknolwedge the efforts of others who actively mobilised ‘fans’ and new Anthill readers?

Who do you think should win?

In the spirit of typical Anthillian rule-breaking behaviour, we have decided to ask you, dear readers, for one final vote. Who should win? LeadBolt or Starlettos?

And if you think this turn of events is unfair (or if you ardently support it), leave your rant as a comment below. Now vote. Use the widget below. Click and you’re done.

THIS POLL (INC. COMMENTS) IS NOW CLOSED: To watch the ‘smashing’ finale to this debate, click here and watch the video.

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  1. For next year you could scale the results for actual “reach” i.e. “Re-tweets” should be more valuable than “likes” as it requires a further action or commitment from the tweeter… I think Starlettos should be the winner as they obviously have put in more effort and have a broader reach across a multitude of networks…

  2. Having worked closely with Mark and Ilde while doing some of their web copywriting, I know how tirelessly they work to build their brand and nurture their fan base.  I’d love it if they won.  Good luck Ilde and Mark!  Lucinda J

  3. Good analysis.  

    I just voted for LeadBolt three times just to check whether you took any steps to prevent multiple votes for this form.  Nope.  

    • Doh! Best laid plans, eh. Why is it that our readers are so devious. 😉

      It shouldn’t do that. Now we’re gonna have to tweak.

  4. Your awards are a joke, it seems someone has played by your rules and since you dont like the outcome you have decided to change the rules.

    Your cool awards in the past are given to companies that dont even have a product let alone a customer so why start worrying about rules and logic now. Just give it to who ever you would like to market more.

    • Thanks Guest. You are exactly right. The Cool Company Awards were initially launched as a ‘piss take’ — a way to lampoon all the traditional awards. A joke.

      They are the ‘cool’ company awards (not based on revenue). They were never meant to rank the most successful or the highest earners. Others can do that (and more effectively too). Our winners are organisations that our judges thought were cool. (I don’t think I can get more explicit than that.)

      In other words, they “give it to who ever [they] would like to market more.” So, you are correct on two points. They give it to the company that they think is most remarkable — worthy of being remarked about.

      But we think that this is a good thing. We applaud innovators and rule breakers and challengers and disruptors (like LeadBolt and Starlettos).

      So… as for our rules… we can do… and do do.. whatever we goddam want! (I just wrote ‘do do’. Tee-hee.) And we plan for it to never be any other way. 🙂

      Thanks for keeping us on our toes! JCT

  5. Starletto’s definitely deserve an award an amazing and smart company with great management

  6. Oh the bias! This reads so much like those trial-by-media things detested in the real world and condemned by courts in democratic countries. Whatever happened to objectivity in reporting. Shame Anthill shame. You should probably refuse to award a winner rather stoke the controversy. This whole post is a very sad reflection on your brand that reduces the lofty ideals of ideation and brings your website down in the realm of petty squabbles and gossip columns.

    • Or… it’s an example of deliberately not following the rules because the official outcome smelled not quite right (which is no negative reflection on LeadBolt, which is an awesome and cheeky and pioneering company).

      But, more importantly, what’s wrong with the public court? The fourth estate? Sure, it’s biased. But what isn’t? Politicians? The Courts? I am most certainly biased. I can’t help it. I’m human.

      But, to be frank, I didn’t know the outcome of my post until I’d finished writing it… and then thought… what the hell. I wanna see what happens.

      Fascinating, yes? (Or the shame. The Shame. THE SHAME!)

  7. Starlettos for sure, they are clearly the readers choice, which is the point of the exercise.

  8. Hey Anthill,  Out of interest I just checked back and noticed the percentages on your voting stats haven’t changed in the last 5 days but many comments have been added and I assume votes. Why bother to ask for input? If you want to give it to Starlettos just do it. Don’t try to pretend is in the court of public opinion. Positively Orwellian (read wikipedia)

      • Find a poll that allows more than 100 entries? Unless you want to reward Starlettos for being quick 🙂

      • Find a poll that allows more than 100 entries? Unless you want to reward Starlettos for being quick 🙂

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