Successful Women Don't Get Naked

BlogHer Original Post

"Playboy looking for the hottest women in Social Media. Because women haven't mastered anything until Playboy photographs them doing it naked."

That's what the tweet said. It was the first time I'd heard about Playboy's Miss Social contest but even without context, I immediately felt myself become defensive at the opinion leveled against it.

Why shouldn't a woman be allowed to be a successful professional and also enjoy and share her body? Why are the ideas of accomplishment so fundamentally irreconcilable with the female form? Why is undressing or showing any degree of sexuality grounds for disqualification as a serious professional?

One of the most fascinating business people I know is Cyan Banister, the co-founder of Zivity. The first time I met her was at a tech conference, where she discussed her investment strategy in terms of the seven deadly sins. Later on, she would allow me to run pictures of her first ever naked photoshoot on my blog. Venture Beat picked up the story, describing the spread as not that startling among sex tape leaks and political sex scandal landscape in which we live.

It seemed to me at the time that we were finally making some progress, moving into a world where we could take pride in our bodies and share our likeness without sacrificing our career goals.

Clearly, I'm an idealist.

May 15, 2010 - Hollywood, California, U.S. - Playboy Playmate katie vernola (miss June).2010 makes an appearance in front of the Pearl at the Palms Theatre inside the palms resort & amp, Las Vegas , Nevada 05-15-2010. 2010.K64838EG. © Red Carpet Pictures

Today, Playboy announced its first Miss Social, Krystal Harlow, a 19 year-old student from North Carolina. Unlike the tweet seemed to imply, the contest wasn't among the web's well-known power users, but open to any women using social media.

Participants get through the rounds by mobilizing their contacts to cast a vote via text, each of which costs 99 cents. I've seen users campaign for votes on social media my fair share of times – it's not easy. And to mobilize them to pay money? It's no small thing.

More compelling than how the women involved engaged their respective audiences was Playboy's role in the contest. As an established publication facing the treacherous state of the magazine industry, Playboy has been doing its best to stay relevant, most recently by launching a safe-for-work site named The Smoking Jacket.

"Playboy is looking to harness the power of social media," said Paul Lee, Playboy's Managing Director of Digital Ventures, when I e-mailed him inquiring about the contest. "At its core, Miss Social is about telling the Cinderella story and giving a girl the opportunity to become famous through her own efforts and hard work. The business model is closest to that of American Idol if it were purely digital – we leverage the Playboy brand to allow the girls use their social networks, entrepreneurial efforts, and engaging personalities to get votes (which people paid $.99/vote) to win the competition."

A sound business strategy for Playboy considering over 2,000 women entered this first Miss Social.

"On average, each of the participants drove more than 1,000 impressions and increased their own social networks by more than 300% (as defined by Facebook friends), and generated a significant number of votes," Lee said, though he didn't specify the total votes put in by participants.

Asked how else the brand is planning to stay relevant on the web, Lee referred to the presence of its main web property, Playboy.com, which averages 5.5 million views and remarked they will be launching a series of initiatives to "highlight our lifestyle and brand strength in the digital arena."

No word what these ventures are yet, but by the looks of things, Playboy is moving in a direction that could possibly define what it means to manage profitability as old media transitions to new. I'll be keeping an eye on that.

In the meantime, congratulations are in order to Krystal Harlow. She's shown her chops as far as mobilizing her following, and naked or not, that's no small feat.

AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

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