The Great Fracture

Petermann Glacier September 2008 [High Res]
Image by NASA

Every mature market experiences rising competition that carves off specialized pieces of the leaders’ established footprint. It’s how Southwest, JetBlue and others brought the major traditional airlines to their knees (and bankruptcy). For social networking leaders, the great fracture is upon them. Those of us on the front line are left to pick networks and tools.

Facebook has run away with the race. Twitter, LinkedIn, and a host of smaller social networks have taken their seats behind the leader. Yet as time continues, more and more niche networks like Tumblr, Instagram, shiny object du jour Pinterest, Reddit and others carve off their piece of the pie.

The phenomena of so many social media choices has moved from creating to social media fatigue for the most faithful to full-on overload. Even the most tech savvy people find themselves making tough choices.

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The State of Influencer Theory Infographic

The State of Influencer Theory

The above infographic — “The State of Influencer Theory” (download here) — was published today as part of a primer on influence theory that appeared in SmartBrief on Social Media. The post updates a section of Welcome to the Fifth Estate to include leaderboard theory, such as Klout and Empire Avenue.

Addressing some issues pointed out in “Infographics: Art or Porn,” this graphic is designed by Jess3 (thank you, Jesse and Leslie), the industry leader in online data visualization. The infographic fits on one screen view. Because the graphic depicts people and theories, it is designed as a fun, cartoonesque map that illustrates the evolution of theory, creating a pop art element to it. The downloadable graphic is licensed as Creative Commons (with attribution), is high resolution, and can be made into a poster or screen wallpaper.

The key for the data elements in the graphic can be found in the companion post and is listed below:

The Tipping Point (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell – Movements are caused by three types of influencers; connectors, mavens (subject matter experts) and salesmen. Examples: Old Spice Guy, Dell Listens.

Six Degrees/Weak Ties (2003) by Duncan Watts — Data analysis shows influencers rarely start contagious movements, instead average citizens provide the spark. Examples: Egyptian Revolution, Tumblr – Digg Events.

One Percenters (2006) Jackie Huba & Ben McConnell – It is the content creators amongst Internet communities that drive online conversations. Examples: Lady Gaga, Ford Vista.

The Magic Middle (2006) by David Sifry: The middle tier of content creators and voices break stories and discussing that trickle up into widespread contagious events. Examples: 2008 Obama Election, Motrin Moms.

The Groundswell (2008) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff: Movements start within communities, and leaders rise up out of the community, and can have many roles including content creator, critic and collector. Examples: Haiti Earthquake Texting, Pepsi Refresh.

Trust Agents (2009) by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith – Influencers are people who build online trust and relationships whose communities look to them for advice and direction. Examples: Gary Vaynerchuk (WineLibrary.TV), Republican Party’s #FirePelosi Campaign.

Free Agents (2010) by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine – These trusted influencers are independent of traditional command and control organizations, and crash into the walls of storied cultures. Examples: @BPGlobalPR, Robert Scoble at Microsoft – Channel 8

Leaderboards (2010-11): Influence can be quantified by online actions taken by a person’s community, including retweets, mentions, comments and more. Examples: Klout, Empire Avenue.

Because the article is meant to serve as an objective primer on well-discussed theories, there’s little opinion about which theories work and don’t. You do see some alignment in the graphic of top down versus bottom up theories, as well as the basic offsetting of these two theory families, with Gladwell and Watts taking opposite sides. However, there is much to say from an opinion standpoint, and it will be said here next week. :)

5 Social Media Distractions

Soleil In Her Exerciser

When there are more choices and conversations to spend time on, one can easily become distracted. Social media as an industry has created many distractions — some of which are enjoyable, some not — that can easily cause one to lose focus. This makes time prioritization and good decision making a critical skill set. Experience shows making a conscious choice to focus on what matters, individual professional and/or personal goals, makes a huge difference.

Here are five social media items that in hindsight have been personal distractions:

1) The A-List

It’s easy to become annoyed with the A-List. The fodder is endless, whether it’s their lack of originality, the ridiculous posturing and ensuing absurd behavior, or a ridiculous stream of bad practices retweeted by hundreds or thousands. Oh yes, spending time on the ills of leading A-List voices is very easy.

Overfocusing on the A-List is like feeding the trolls. The more you talk about them positively or negatively, the more you increase their stature. Further when talking about them as A-Listers rather than people just like us, you put them above yourself, lowering your market stature. Ironic, given that most of these conversations seek to reduce the barriers between the top and middle tiers of blogging voices.

In the end, negative or positive discussions about popular content producers only distracts one from pursuing their dreams. Just like Albert Einstein said ‘What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.’ So focus on what is right and matters to you. Focus on your business or personal dreams, reward those that merit praise (without labels), and ignore the rest.

2) Mistaking Attention for Respect

Balancing online presence and wasting time is always a difficult thing. But there are many people who spend their entire day on social networks or talking about social media while their business bombs. Or competitors outflank them while they are playing on Empire Avenue or Angry Birds, or some other nonsense. Meanwhile there are people receiving much less attention who are pulling down big contracts, spending time with their families, and achieving great things, like raising $20,000 for charity, successfully concluding a business, or changing the way news is reported.

Real results earn respect, while a big social network presence, well, that just equals a lot of attention. Understanding that online attention is not the same as a real outcome — personal or business — is the realization that online popularity can become a distraction.

3) Rankings

Windmills in Schermerhorn
Image by eric van der eijk

Measuring one’s performance against their peers has been an easy distraction, bothersome or pleasing, in nature. But while rankings like the Ad Age 150 provide a barometer for general intra-industry performance (or at least popularity), they don’t mean much to customers.

Yes, online engagement is important and demonstrating you can actually walk the social media talk matters. At the same time, writing for a stakeholder group like CMOs may be much more important to you than getting the most retweets. What is the goal? This is the difference between quantifying and qualifying online worth. Does it really make sense to compare yourself to others? Never lose sight of the big picture, otherwise you’ll find yourself chasing phantom windmills.

4) Gossip and What He/She Said

The rumor mill is thick in social media. Sure, it’s fun. So what? How does this help you achieve goals? Ever count how much time you are spending talking about other people rather than focusing on your business or goals? Notice the similarity between this one and the A-List. It’s just another form of the same problem, except a bit nastier. Enough said.

5) Social Media Conferences

Rare is the intra-industry social media conference that produces actual business. SxSW and the defunct Gnomedex are the only two that come to mind. SOBCon has been very educational from an online business owner’s perspective. The rest, well, they are great to see your online friends. If you have family and business objectives to achieve, while enjoyable, social media specific conferences tend to waste time, unless it is how you choose to spend vacation. Otherwise stick to professional conferences designed for businesses with an online focus or track.

Another way to think about the topic is when you pass from this world, what do you want your digital legacy to be? Are you investing time in what matters? Or are you distracted?

The Quantification of Individual Social Equity

“Through self-doubt, we lose our sense of self-worth.”
Image by Alex Qin

As the echo chamber buzz about Empire Avenue rises, perhaps we should ask questions about what these “influence” tools actually accomplish. From Klout to Empire Avenue, we are literally assigning numbers and now stock values to people’s social network activity, creating a specific metric of influence. Beyond the increasing ethical issues that these games and tools offer, there are many questions they bring to mind. Are the metrics actually useful? Can you quantify what should be qualified? Are we leading ourselves astray? What are the repercussions on individuals’ well-being?

Quantify

Time and again, it has been proven that social network popularity — follower counts, retweets, etc. — does not necessarily equate to actual influence. In actuality, influence really depends on the strength of community relationships that an individual maintains — strong ties as opposed to weak ties — in online networks. As studies show this influence can be spontaneous on social networks.

One of the best historical examples of real influence was DonorsChoose’s 2008 Blogger Challenge. The blogger challenge pitted some of the world’s most well known bloggers — Tech Crunch, Ars Technica, EnGadget –against each other in an effort to fundraise for students. But despite the big names, the winners were respectable but smaller bloggers like Sarah Bunting’s Tomato Nation blog and Fred Wilson’s AVC blog. All of these blogs arguable could have used their blogs and full Twitter and Facebook networks to their advantage, but the smaller ones with strong community ties won out.

More recent examples of this include the celebrities themselves (forget the digerati in the social media space). Popular celebrities love Twitter, and Twitchange auctions their Twitter accounts as a means to raise money. But of all the big stars that get on Twitchange, its stars like Zachary Levi (who?) and Jeremy Cowart that end up garnering higher bids. A more impassioned, engaged fan base — stronger ties — equals more yield in comparison to the Eva Longoria, LeeAnn Rimes and Tim Robbins of the world.

Quantify3

So right out of gate these online influence metrics (and note that they cannot include real world clout) are bound to fail because they cannot quantify what can only be qualified — passion. Strength of community comes from relational engagement and the bonds people feel with individuals within their networks. Popularity — most liked — does not necessarily equate to passion. That doesn’t mean that popular people can’t cultivate impassioned networks, but the two are not the same. Popularity is attention, strength of community is the passion that creates action.

Klout, Twitalyzer, Empire Avenue, all of these metrics are no more than PR 2.0 metrics. They are at best metrics to see who can get the most attention regularly across single or diverse social networks. To build entire social media marketing programs off of them would be a recipe for failure, as attention alone usually does not yield outcomes such as ROI.

The Ethics of Quantification

Quantify2

This is not to preach, but looking at Empire Avenue caused feelings of discomfort, and after reflection, it became clear why. It seems wrong to affix a price on people’s heads based on their social network interactions. The pricing of people’s worth has a long hard history in human history; markets of people have often had the word slavery affixed to them. Another nasty historical use of affixing market price to people is prostitution. Both of these historical and still present dark human behaviors make Empire Avenue uncomfortable.

Yes, it’s just a game, a stock market, but not everyone has voluntarily opted in. Yet, transactions have occurred. And look how serious the social media marketing industry is already treating it. It just has many implications that lack mindfulness. So for this blogger, there will be no investing in other voices (much less time) on Empire Avenue. Just like personal brands and corporate brands, the concept does not translate well.

Assigning a number regardless of the specific social network measurement still has implications that can hurt people. Consider that Klout is now being indexed by Google, and is coming up on the first page of some searches. Will important decisions like hiring be based on Klout scores? Isn’t this the same as not hiring someone because of a mediocre credit score?

Quantify4

Further, the ties between social media communicators and their activities as participants on these networks raises additional questions about ethics. Whether it is Klout Perks or simple pitches to boost stock value, can these individuals be considered objective in their praise?

Conclusion

As Trey Pennington, people are more important than Klout. And collective communities of people are more important than the individual. Social networking is about those communities. When we get away from the concept of community, and over-focus on individuals, an imbalance occurs.

Community managers and social media marketers should be careful, and leery of quantifiable influence metrics. They can provide a starting point for influencer relations programs, but they can not reveal what important qualitative community submersion brings. Further, they are not a holistic representation of social media, and how to market within them from a strategic perspective.