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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.


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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153 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Social Network: Ecosystem vs. Egosystem”

  1. ajleon says:

    Brian, thanks for the thoughtful post. You elucidated quite a few interesting items. What's of particular interest is this statement, ” the friend to follower ratio we possess indicate ones stature within Twitterverse.”. While I think this is true, there is an implied “importance” associated with someone who if followed more than follows, I also that there is an element of elitism there. Its a throwback to high school, where the pretty, blond cheerleader knowingly possesses greater social status, simply because more people want her than she wants. I think new media in general, and social media in specific are opportunities to change that because it becomes so easy yo “follow back”. I think this is one of the great verities of Chris Brogan. He understand that by simply following everyone who decides to follow him, he deflects the notion of elitism. The Twitterspehere is so interesting because our social scripts remain in tact, ie in real life if I ask you a question and you act as if I don't exist, I think you're a jerk. That dynamic doesn't change on twitter.

    Thanks for making us think, and don't worry about Dan. Most of us appreciate your attempts to press further into this horizon. 🙂

  2. bsimi says:

    It is seems important for the user to understand their own 'influence' as well. Chris Brogan says this in his post this morning “I have 150,000+ Twitter followers at the time of this post. But if I ask them to take action, only about 200-300 take action at any given request.” I like the humbleness that is conveyed, the understanding of how and who we all influence.
    Well done, great read.

  3. Great post. Lots of great food for thought.

  4. danperez says:

    Elise, I'm just gonna bite my tongue on this one and take a pass…unless provoked further 😉

  5. Hi Brian,

    @Cristianisdaman recommended I c'mon over to your blog and take a look at this post. I say post, but really I feel like that's a misnomer. This is like reading 5-7 brilliant posts in one fell swoop. Phew. A lot to digest.

    Right now, all I can say is that I really like the term Nicheworks. Just that word is pretty thought provoking, really. What are the ramifications of having a “Nichework?” Is a Nichework the same thing as saying “I don't need 5,000 followers to feel successful?”

    Great post!

  6. danperez says:

    Joel, you sound like a nice guy so I'm also gonna be nice and not go into detail about my thoughts on Mr. Solis (who I'm sure is also a very nice guy) and other “thought leaders”. You see one thing, I see another – so let's just agree to disagree on this one, yes?

    “But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd…”

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