Marketing firm Fast Horse cut the field for an internship to three finalists -- then let Facebook vote on the winner. A clever way to test their marketing skills? Or just arbitrary and unfair?
A Minneapolis marketing firm's summer internship finalists didn't need to please one or two recruiters during last week's interviews.
They needed to win over hundreds of fans on Facebook by Friday night.
Fast Horse announced its newest intern at the close of business, more than 1,500 people having made the decision for the firm. The number of Facebook "likes" determined the winner.
"Well sure, it is a popularity contest, but it's more than that, too," said Jorg Pierach, the firm's president. "We just thought we'd turn them loose to show us what they could do to mobilize their own social media network."
Virtual voting began Monday for the three finalists. Molly Hasbargen, Andrew Miller and Stacy Rust spent the week knocking on neighbor's doors, e-mailing past professors and calling every number in their phones. They logged countless hours on Facebook.
Each directed friends -- and their friends' friends -- to Fast Horse's Facebook video page. There, voters could watch three-minute videos of the recent college grads and "Like" their chosen intern. The most popular candidate got the paid gig.
Who won? Keep reading.
Ellen Mrja, a communications professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, called the Facebook contest the latest sign of a social revolution.
"The problem was to market a product, and the product was themselves," said Mrja, who taught Miller in a communications class.
The idea's still novel in the Twin Cities area -- and shallow, in the view of some.
"Is your goal to find the best person? Or is your goal to create buzz on how to find the best person?" asked Clint Roberts, president of One Simple Plan, a Minneapolis communications firm.
Nora Paul, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute for New Media Studies, said many of the social networking skills in the contest will apply in the job.
Still, that doesn't mean the contest is fair, she said. For example, one applicant might simply have benefited from having a larger family or more connections than others.
"There's a way to game the system," Paul said. "I don't know that it's unethical, but it's not legitimate."
David Borak, a principal at Orion Search Group in Edina, said Facebook vote-offs probably won't become standard hiring practice because the public can't take into account who might be the best fit for the work environment.
"If I was going to use a tool like that, I'd switch it around and have an internal vote," Borak said.
And the winner ...
Pierach, Fast Horse's founder, said earlier interviews served the same purpose as an internal vote. Each candidate was asked to submit a video cover letter as their application. Fast Horse employees chose three finalists earlier this month from a pool of 15. Pierach said the ad firm would have been delighted to hire any of the three. So Fast Horse let the Facebook community decide.
Each intern candidate developed a campaign over the weekend.
University of Iowa grad Rust used her father's dental practice as a springboard. "Growing up in a time of Facebook and Twitter kind of prepares you for that," Rust said.
Hasbargen, who grew up in Edina, contacted everyone she could, and asked those people to contact everyone they could. "It definitely keeps the competition going and keeps you motivated to get votes," Hasbargen said.
Miller, meanwhile, focused on Facebook and blogging. The Mankato graduate found out about the internship through his former professor, Mrja, who forwarded an e-mail he wrote to a friend, who forwarded it to 50 more.
By Friday's end, 724 people "liked" Miller, while Hasbargan and Rust tallied 436 and 341 "likes," respectively.
Miller maintained a constant lead during the late part of the contest but campaigned until the end. "I thought it would be way more fun having friends decide whether I got a job, but now I think I'd rather just have three or four guys from Fast Horse" make the call.
Either way, the job is his. He'll start later this summer.
Molly Young • 612-673-4376