The Social Network: Ecosystem vs. Egosystem

Of all the social networks competing for our online persona and social graph, Twitter is special. The culture and self-governing rules of engagement shaped by the “me” in social media, create a personalized  experience that looks and feels less like a “social” network and instead, creates an empowering information exchange.

Twitter is at the heart of the Web’s evolving egosystem and its archetype is powerful and quite understated.  For better or worse, Twitter introduces the notion of notion of popularity, whereby the numbers of followers and also the friend to follower ratio we possess indicate ones stature within Twitterverse. As I’ve said over the years, popularity does not beget influence, but the egosystem and all who define it, do in fact reward and nurture it. The true promise of Twitter is revealed not in the size of our social graph, but instead how we influence digital culture shaped by tweets, responses, retweets, trending topics, and the evolving patterns of connectivity we explore as both individuals and as denizens of a global community. Eventually, what happens on Twitter will influence behavior offline as well.

The Illusion of Control and Influence

In business, the illusion of influence is often measured by the quantity of followers and as such, the success of social campaigns is routinely defined by the volume of responses and retweets we trigger and the overall share of voice we earn through participation. As numbers factor into metrics, programs must include strategies for expanding visibility and reach. Brands then look to those individuals with remarkable social graphs to represent products and services much in the same way celebrities endorse products in traditional media today.  As a result, businesses are targeting individuals with substantial connections and rewarding them with incentives and also compensation for introducing a series of paid or sponsored tweets, updates, and posts to their audiences.

While social media presents a wonderful opportunity for individuals to define their “15 minutes” and ultimately their online legacy, brands and individuals must take responsibility for their streams and their valued networks. We are now venturing into domains where “eyeballs” and “audiences” transform into relationships and each are curated and cultivated to mean something deeply personal. Here, people are the masters of their experiences and they are defined by those to whom they’re connected.

Action…

Actions speak louder than words and as such, we earn and retain the relationships we deserve.

Influence is the ability to inspire and measure action. Awareness counts, but if social activity can cause action or change or impact sentiment or perception, we begin to understand the transformative and powerful attributes of true influence.

For example, if we align a group of undeniably popular Twitter users who are recognized for their celebrity and not necessarily recurring topics, passion, and interests, broad reach is certainly an inherent benefit of the alliance. But does reach equate to influence? I don’t believe so. Followers don’t equal influence.

If anything, reach contributes to awareness and buzz.

Twitter is unique in that its most active users, to some extent, are developing their own dedicated audiences. And just because they follow a popular person on Twitter, these campaigns don’t necessarily translate into desired actions or outcomes. They do, however, succeed in spreading the word and most commonly done so via retweets as followers of notable personalities also have followers of their own, which are as important to them and therefore require constant feeding of valuable and interesting information and content. Essentially, followers aren’t really followers at all. They’re collections of “interest graphs” where individuals are not bound by social relationships as much as they’re tied through context, common interests and goals, and shared experiences.

In a recent study entitled “The Million Follower Fallacy,” author Adi Avnit observed, “The act of retweeting (based on my personal experience), typically indicates that the receiver reads the tweet carefully, found it interesting, and deemed it to be of sufficient interest and value to forward it further to her followers. In some sense, retweets capture the content value of the tweet.”

In relation to the number of followers one earns in Twitter, Avnit concluded, “Popular users who have a high indegree [number of followers] are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions.”

As an organization, how would you test the value of these connections? What if our goal was to raise donations for a particular cause or increase pre-orders or registrations related to a soon-to-be released product? Retweets are a necessary step in spreading information, but in the end, it’s the resulting clickthrough and donation, purchase, or registration that tests influence and defines the success of the campaign.

Perhaps the answer resides in the following statement, “we are defined by our associations.”

Brands seeking reach, presence, and connectivity must look beyond popularity and focus on aligning with the influential beacons who serve as the hubs for contextual networks or nicheworks.

The Conversation Quotient

Conversions are already a key metric in other forms of sales and marketing and eventually, it will permeate social media as well. Formulas exist to measure conversion ratios and if we analyze the performance of conversations, we can then not only assess influence, but also identify how to improve or increase conversation to action ratios. If a campaign earns 100,000 tweets and retweets and elicits 600 donations, purchases or registrations, the conversation quotient represents a .6% conversation rate. In this case, it can be assumed that for every 100,000 tweets, we can potentially expect 600 actions.

In the simple example above, conversations contribute to presence, but it is conversions that measure the effects of awareness. It’s imperative that we introduce a click to action, one that evokes response and also a measurable and meaningful event. However, as attention is increasingly thinning and information competes against itself, we must be mindful that multiple factors exist that are already working against you. While popularity factors into the likelihood for visibility, the design of the tweet contributes to whether it’s read, read and retweeted, or read, retweeted, and activated.

The Growing Popularity and Prominence of Nicheworks

Users on Twitter are already forging social graphs based on context. As such, Twitter will eventually base its Promoted Tweets advertising program on frames of reference. For instance, if you tweet about coffee on a regular basis and build a small, but dedicated audience around the subject, you are building a network of influence based on an identifiable topic. While I refer to these contextual networks as nicheworks, Twitter views the relationships formed around subject matter as interest graphs. Accordingly, these interest graphs will then receive advertisements in their streams, in this case, coffee.

Starbucks is already experimenting with Promoted Tweets tied to interests. The company also recently partnered with Klout to run a test campaign whereby “influencers” identified to related keywords were given a special offer. Applying the conversation quotient would immediately measure the performance of the campaign. And if Starbucks experimented with certain variations to test conversion ratios, the company could then introduce an awareness component to the program where the influencer is then empowered to extend the offer to their audiences. The campaign then focuses on context and influence rather than popularity, which will most likely result in a significant increase in clicks to action and ultimately greater conversions.

You Get One Tweet to Make a First Impression

You only get one shot at a desired outcome and one-click to make a first impression. Plan accordingly and ensure that the series of crafted tweets are optimized to incite desired behavior. It is for this reason that we look beyond popularity towards those individuals and organizations that have established influence within relevant subject matters. Thoughtfulness, strategy, research, rewards, and context are critical ingredients of our programming recipe. The consistent introduction of value linked to interests and influence, sets the stage for the establishment and cultivation of active, dedicated, and beneficial social nicheworks.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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