Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Social Media Influence

According to a study done by a handful of mathematicians and researchers in the United States and Switzerland, this is the question you’ve got to ask yourself – or your business – if you’re using social media as part of your marketing strategy:

Are you popular or influential?

The study, done by Sitaram Asur and Bernardo A. Huberman of the Social Computing Lab, part of HP Labs in California; Wojciech Galuba of the Distributed Information Systems Lab in Lausanne, Switzerland; and Daniel M. Romero of the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University in New York, posit that influence – or the number of times your content is linked to or forwarded to others – is much more important in gauging your overall success than the size of your audience.

This is the core advice they offer to anyone running a social network, or to anyone trying to use social networking for marketing purposes (emphasis mine):
This influence is determined by many factors, such as the novelty and resonance of their message with those of their followers and the quality and frequency of the content they generate. Equally important is the passivity of members of the network which provides a barrier to propagation that is often hard to overcome. Thus gaining knowledge of the identity of influential and least passive people in a network can be extremely useful from the perspectives of viral marketing, propagating one’s point of view, as well as setting which topics dominate the public agenda.
A summary of the study is available here.

This, of course, comes as no great surprise. You’re more likely to have your content talked about if you’re sharing it with people who are more willing and more likely to talk about it and spread it around, than you are with people like myself who are reclusive socially and thus do not mix as well with others. That doesn’t mean you cut out the shy folks entirely, though – because in doing so you might risk kicking out some of the influential members of your group.

What’s got to happen instead is you’ve got to look at the people in your network and see who is the most influential, then talk with them to see what you can do to get the word out better. You can also study different sets of your social network to see if there are influential individuals in one sector that have not yet made the crossover to the sector you’re interested in bolstering.

This comes into play for us at Uncharted as we’ve got three groups of followers that may be – if we studied them – significantly different. We have folks on Uncharted itself, plus we have followers both on Facebook and on Twitter. I’m sure in looking at these three groups we’d find some crossover, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of our Facebook and Twitter followers aren’t yet explorers on Uncharted. So, if what this study says holds true, we need to look at our most influential viewers on each of these networks and then convince them to make the crossover to become Uncharted Explorers.

The authors of this study are cautious in pointing out that their ideas on influence may not be the be-all and end-all of social networking:
In spite of the seemingly chaotic fashion with which all these interactions take place, certain topics manage to get an inordinate amount of attention, thus bubbling to the top in terms of popularity and contributing to new trends and to the public agenda of the community. How this happens in a world where crowdsourcing dominates is still an unresolved problem, but there is considerable consensus on the fact that two aspects of information transmission seem to be important in determining which content receives inordinate amounts of attention.
This still gives those of us in the social networking arena something to consider, especially as we consider how to build an audience at Uncharted.

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