Your Social Media Influence

Something I spend time thinking about is how to gauge influence on social networks and how to gauge the impact social networks have in propagating ideas, content and ultimately in the commercial sense–clicks.

In full disclosure, I think about this from two perspectives-1) as a professional working at CBS News and charged with helping to grow audience in no small part by leveraging social networks and 2) as a straight up user of social media who would love for people to be active on this blog, view my You Tube channel (maybe not that so much) etc.

So, I can go into my Twitter and be pleasantly surprised that I have 1200+ followers. I can go onto Facebook and see that I have 700+ friends.  I can go onto Plurk and realize I have 150+ fans and friends.  I can hit up Friend Feed and see 350+ friends.  But what does it all mean, outside of the fact that I am not the only one with too much free time? (As an aside, one day I would love to figure out how much overlap there is).

So, the question then is I am able to reach 2500+ people on any one of several social networks, but what do they think of my message?  and how do I measure the value of my contributions? And then how does the way I influence my network mimic the way CBS News Twitter influences the 1.5 million followers it has, or the 73,000+ that Katie Couric has on her follower list (after all this is my bread and butter, right?)

For that answer, fortunately the smart folks at the Harvard Business Review have some thoughts, and its more than just a straight up numbers game.  HBR did a follow-up on some great thoughts and research by Adi Avint from August 2009.  His “Million Followers Fallacy” post opines that just the number of followers a user has is not a true indication of their reach.  Yes, a million people may read your thoughts 140 characters at a time–but given the nature of Twitter, probably not.

Instead, HBR suggests looking more at @ mentions and re-tweets as a better gauge of influence.  Meeyoung Cha opines that follower count as a stand-alone metric is a popularity contest, and not a true measure of influence.

follower count is not sufficient to capture the influence of a user (i.e., the ability of an user to sway the opinions of her followers). It only shows how popular the user is (i.e., the size of her audience). But, as we showed in our paper, retweets and mentions, which measure the audience responsiveness to a user’s tweets, do not correlate strongly with number of followers.

I have long argued that Twitter is more about conversation-and being responsive to what the people I follow post and more importantly be able to control the information flow that I consumer and tap into a stream of personal interest.  That can be Mets updates from a variety of sources, or the latest on the Islanders–the value of Twitter to me is the connection to information I am searching for, in real-time and in a passive state (all I have to do is open up a Twitter client on my laptop or mobile device).

Now I work for a major mass media news organization–and there is little doubt of the influence that CBS News will have on today’s news and ongoing stories throughout the news cycle.  But for me, Twitter (and the others listed) are more about niche topics and that is where the true value of Twitter comes from.

Cha says early research shows smaller publishers and smaller business-not just collecting followers have a competitive advantage:

But when it comes to non-popular or even niche topics, small businesses and opinion leaders were far more effective in engaging audience than mass media.

But the true measure of influence is still a work in progress.  Twitter is an easy study because of the open nature of the platform–but is simply counting RT’s and @’s enough to say “A” is more influential than “C”?  Because it’s a matter of what the interaction is.

The interesting Twitter data though comes from a different (June 2009) HBR study–the 10% most prolific Twitter users are responsible for 90% of the Tweets.

Which can lead to an easy conclusion that Twitter is a great content filter, able to sort through a cacophony of data.  Yes, some of it is gossipy, and yes there are still those who want (or need) the validation of the million follower club…

But the goal has to be engagement–both personally and professionally.  Imagine the folks at NASCAR if they read my Tweet taking a swipe at NASCAR:

Kind of a NASCAR in suburbia feel, no? http://mypict.me/6E8p73:11 PM May 2nd via UberTwitter

Knowing their social media strategy is to fan me up–and follow me?

It’s not the follower count, but the message.  As Mel Karmazin once said (in my presence at a meeting), “Content is King,” it’s up to us to maximize its value–and engage our audience.

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Despite all the options, when communication breaks downs

I consider myself to be a pretty connected dude. Perhaps too connected. After all, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Plurk, FriendFeed, Linkahollicks, BriteKite, Hi5, LinkedIn etc-and those are the easy ones.  Then there is all Digg, Social Median, Xing, Delicious and other sharing sites that I am at least semi-active on.

For the most part, I do this for professional reasons. Although in someways its overkill, in other ways, its part of my job to understand what these sites do, how people use them–and more importantly if there is a way to use them to grow the sites I am responsible for.

Yet somehow, in all of this–I can easily forget to simply communicate with the people around me who I care for.  Case in point, my “lunch” today. Lunch is in quotes because there was not a lot of  eating going on.

Someone was surprised that I had a MySpace account, and I realized that I had told her that I was thinking about setting one up–but did not tell her I would.

Its an odd kind of thing–because this is someon I text with all the time, see regularly, and chat with via email, IM and on Facebook….yet, until just now I had not friended her up on MySpace.

Now yes, she could have friended me–but regardless–while I over communicate in so many ways when it comes down to the ability to actually talk with someone, I have a great ability to under-communicate.

So does all of this two way BS make it tougher to actually talk to someone?

Recently someone asked me how Twitter was different than Facebook status–and my answer was that Twitter was a two way conversation while Facebook status is a broadcast.

But sometimes I guess its important to broadcast what you are doing–because in doubt lies worry and in worry lies the seeds of concern…and in reality, we all have too much to worry about and be concerned about, that something simple should not be on the list.

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Old School Social Media

So anyone who follows me on Twitter or Plurk, or has friended me on Friend Feed,  Facebook or My Space, or is a member of my fledgling Twitter Twibe knows my daily battle to make my train in the morning is an adventure.  And normally its kind of fun.

This morning, on a kind of rainy, foggy morning I was reminded of some old-school kind of social media driving to the train station–and despite all of those means of being connected listed above I think some very specific messages were sent an received.

So the morning routine in my house includes my taking the older one to the school bus-which is scheduled to arrive at our bus stop at 8:02.  From there I have 29 minutes to make what should be a 20 minute drive to the train station, park and get on the train.  Add in some normal traffic, and it gets close–usually around 27 minutes to parking and two minutes to make the train-its close but it works.

This morning the bus didn’t show until 8:11, so I am down to 20 minutes.  Yeah, a little aggressive driving, bending a few traffic laws and I can make it.  

Then came my encounter with someone else having (I can only suppose) an equally crappy behind schedule morning.  I slid in front of him–would not call it cutting him off and he go all bent out of shape.  Horn blaring, high-beams flashing he’s weaving in and out of traffic with the goal of cutting me off.  Me, I am mostly amused by this display-seems a bit over the top for so early in the morning, so I laugh and wave.

Then came the battle of the middle fingers.  Standing F-U’s as he tried to swerve in front of me and pulled out and then lost control of his car and onto a media.  Now he is even more pissed and there is a lot of traffic now getting out of his way.  Me, I keep an eye on him and keep on pushing, because I have about 9 minutes to make it three exits on the LIE and another two miles to the train station.

Once he recovered from the median, I got one more long horn blast, a double F-U and I left him behind–not to be seen again.

And I thought about it.

Our messages were clearly received.  He was pissed and probably would not have minded pushing me off the road and onto the median.  I was amused and somewhat bewildered by what was going on.

Simple gestures–horn blaring, lights flashing, fingers points.

So who needs all these computers, iPhones, G-Phones, lap tops, power books–just let me give you a simple middle finger salute–and message sent.

I guess its a matter of who the audience is that determines if its received.

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The Contrarian View-Questions to Ponder

OK-contrarian is a little strong-call it another view.

I met the S/O of a friend last night and among the topics we covered was social media–and what we see as the  differences between Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Plurk etc.  To set the stage for this–Jenna was introduced to me as the “Queen of Social Media” because she is on Facebook and Twitter.  Her boyfriend is on Facebook only, and well, “I update my status there, and that’s enough,” w as the argument.

Jenna countered with Twitter is a conversation.

I countered with leveraging tools like FriendFeed or Plurk you can update all of the networks concurrently–so there is no additional updates.

Jenna and I then briefly discussed update versus conversation.

This morning from Twitter I found out about the Turkish plane crash, reaction to Obama’s speech last night (did anyone else find amusing all the members of Congress live Tweeting during the speech?), a fire in Queens and some good industry reading that I was able to buzz.

But I did not engage–I was strictly a consumer. Others though were engaged in the two way via Twitter, something that is much tougher to do on Facebook.  So perhaps I should further think through my automatic updates from Ping that spread across my networks–am I doing a dis-service to the networks by at times simply doing a status update when there are consumers looking for conversation?

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What We Twitter (or Plurk or Ping) and When

An interesting discussion occurred in the CBSNews.com newsroom yesterday. It involved CNet correspondent Natalie del Conte, CBSNews.com correspondent Cali Carlin and a CBS News photographer about Twitter.  This convergence of people came about because Natalie was being interviewed about a segment she did on the CBS Early Show yesterday on the new Google Latitude.

The photographer (who is just getting onto Twitter so I won’t share his name until he is more comfortable) is trying to figure out if Twitter is a good utility for him and is something he can sustain.  Natalie and I were telling him about the media folks who run the gamut who are on Twitter including NBC’s Jim Long, CNN Steve Brusk etc.

The commentary turned to my Twitter/Plurk/Ping stream–and basically its about going to the gym at 430 in the morning, the weather I encounter on my way, my morning LIRR commute and my morning web-surfing where I check to see if the world is safe.  The latter is accomplished by perusing my Google reader, Social Median and Digg primarily, and then I will buzz my Twitter followers for cool links.

But it got us talking about what we Twitter and when, why and where we Twitter from.  Now Natalie and I are pretty regular users of Twitter.  Cali and the photog are on the cusp of jumping in.

I think the goal is to offer some level of controlled voyeurism into our lives.  Not that it is all that glamours, but it kind of is an opportunity to put stuff out that we want.  On my Twitter roll is Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Tina Fey, Katie Couric, Shaquile O’Neil–and they all do different things with their Tweet stream.  But I think in the end its still a way to manage their public discourse.

And from that discourse we establish our social network, and the social networks of our friends, families and followers. 

I think its fascinating when New Media Jim (an NBC News Washington based photographer) takes us behind the scenes at events he is covering. I wish my network had a photographer doing the same thing–it shows a different side of the news.  The same way as when Katie Couric popped out a quick video of her green room interview with Joe Torre:

Its about connecting, making connections and delivering to our audience–not unlike TV, web or mobile.

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#Superbowl and the $%&*(@^% Feeling

OK, so one of the cooler aspects of Twitter, and something many of the other sites and services (I am thinking Friend Feed, Plurk etc), is the ability to group updates with the “#” and then view them as a running commentary.

But this is also one of the biggest distractions of the service too.

Case in point-last night’s Superbowl.  Now I was not what you would call glued to the game. In fact, the game was on, and I was helping a neighbor move some boxes and furniture around in his new home.  From time to time I would check in on the Twitter world – since there I would get the prime plays, the great commercials and generally an update on the game.

Oh yeah, and a lot of “Steelers rule,” and the helpful “Go Cardinals,” and the equally useful “that call sucked.”

Before anyone jumps up on me, I get it-Twitter is an open platform and all of the users have equal ability to use it in the way they see fit.

But there has to be a way to make it more useful to the reader, without compromising the content creator.

There was some great stuff in the stream.  Comments about the games, the plays the commercials.  Thoughts from the people really into it, thoughts from those being social about it and thoughts from the fans.

Too much of though was buried by just chatter–the stuff the mutes a community and does not make it grow.

Yeah, $2M for 30 seconds of Superbowl air time and the cost of my $.02 simply priceless.

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Some Social Commentary

Warning-I am going to break format here and offer some social commentary-but not about social media.

Yes, there is no Twitter, FB, MS or Plurk in this post.

Instead, I want to talk about the $4 bagel, supply and demand, and price gouging.

In a not uncommon occurrence, I missed my train this morning, giving me about 40 extra minutes at the train station. Tired, hungry and bored, I set out for some breakfast. There is a DD at the station-but I hate DD.

So, since I had time to kill, I headed over to the bagel place. And for the first time in my life as a New Yorker, I experienced a $4 bagel (granted with coffee).

Now, I understand fully the concept of paying for convenience and simplicity. But as I was thinking about this, and eating an incredibly mediocre bagel–even that argument broke down.

Bagel and coffee from the guy at the top of stairs when I get off the subway $2.25.  That is convenient.

Bagel and coffee from the place I go when there are two or more on line at the coffee cart (I have a problem with lines) $3.25.

Bagel and coffee at the POS LIRR train station–1/4 mile from the station platform $4.00.

There is something terribly wrong with this math–as George Bush would say, its fuzzy math, bordering on voodoo economics.

And now back to your regularly scheduled blogging–don’t worry, I’ll Twitter this to make it seem on point.

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Am I Connecting? Or Re-Channeling

A conversation I had last night keeps reverberating with me-and has had me thinking a lot this morning (was helpful on the treadmill to think about something other than my sore calf muscles).

Sometimes I joke, and sometimes I am serious that I can have a very anti-social streak in me.  Given the choice I would rather sit at home, watch sports and just shut out the world.  Yet, I am pretty active in social media circles, I work for one of the largest media companies in the world, I process 100’s of emails/day-seven days a week.  I am always communicating.

Last night, for the third or fourth time, I took the option to self-scan items at the Stop and Shop.  A)nd I don’t mean in the checkout lane without a cashier. I mean, getting a portable scanning gun when I walk into the store and a handful of bags, and then scanning the items off the shelf as I bag them.

A friend (the person I was talking to last night) and I have dubbed this “anti-social shopping.” And it is.  It keeps me from looking at anyone, chatting with anyone or even interacting with anyone.

Flash that against my Twitter stream-pretty aggressive in two way conversation.  Flash that against my commuting habbits, where generally I can chat away with anyone on the train on the way to or from work.  There is  a disconnect I think.

So, now I am thinking that there is a limit to the amount someone can communicate in a day or week–and rather than expanding my communications channels-I am re-channeling that effort.

Mind you, I am pretty sure the conversations on Twitter, Plurk, Social Median, Digg etc are far better than the idle chitter/chatter I would encounter at Stop and Shop–but I am just not sure how it all fits in.

No changes planned-but perhaps I should find a way to study the communication paths I choose-and figure out which are more effective.; which are more fulfilling and which are simply to pass the time of day.

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News and Social Media Experience

So I am kicking it into gear today after 11 days in Hawaii-followed rule number one and did not take a five day week my first week back, although not sure I should have made the flight from Hawaii to NYC yesterday (a different blog post perhaps). But one of the interesting discoveries I made while vacationing (along with the whales, dolphins and volcanoes) is how beneficial being connected can be.

I was able to dip in and out of what was going on-and not just the usual back and forth banter with friends, "friends" and followers-but truly getting an update while on the go. Start with the first day we were on Ohahu. The national press corp is camped out on the same Waikiki beach we are on:

PE traveling press on the beach

So what, I shared a vacation spot with Barack Obama, right?

But then so much happended as well. Israel and Hamas renewed their long standing rivalry-and it played out in real time on Twitter. And the information-from eye witness accounts, -and eventwitter.com/israelconsulate all updated regularily. Made following and drawing my own conclusions about the events possible.

One of the areas (and its one I can change) that I found unfulfilling was how the major media companies used social media to get word out on the story. Too often it was a headline and a click through to a web site–very unfulfilling and automated. It did not have the feel of something that I needed to take action on. And even worse–being on the go, and living off my iPhone and BB, too many of these "major" media companies have crappy mobile experiences. My BB got locked up opening up a Java filled page. My iPhone took forever to open up full websites–its a crappy experience.

For the major media companies, social media has to be about connecting to users–not driving traffic.  And if you really do need to drive traffic with your Tweets–at least use Tiny URL or something similar–and put more content into the Tweet.

There is a viable and usable flow of information available–and major news organizations are doing some great reporting from Gaza, Capitol Hill and elsewhere where news is happening.  It would be great to sue these tools to share the reporting-and not just drive traffic.

Perhaps we can do both.

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Survival of the Fittest

So, a couple of seemingly random things yesterday got me thinking about the future (seems I have been doing that a lot this month), and it kind of made me think in a lot of ways its no different than ever–survival of the fittest.

The first trigger for this came when a co-worker posted on his Twitter this great little ode to those who have felt the blade in recent weeks. Michelle Chappel tells their story:

Then as the day unfolded, came word out of Moutain VIew that LinkedIn, the "venerable" business networking site was shaking up its management.  Now, I have been on LinkedIn for years, add me if you like, but I am almost never on the site.  And I have had that LinkedIn for years.  I almost never think about it as a resource.  Although, its always a good way to tell which partner is about to have a shakeup, because I get swamped by requests from LinkedIn.

For utility sake, I have been pretty happy with Facebook; go ahead, friend me up.  But lately even that has been well, wonky at best.  Not sure that it is built for speed for the future.

So, I have been checking out some other sites-like Live Journal, Social Median, Twitter, Plurk, Digg, Friend Feed, the site I run CBS Eye Mobile -and others.

And the conclusion I have reached is that we are getting closer, but not quite there yet.  I kind of hope that there is a push now that the field may be thinning out to take a step back and sort out the upsides and downsides of each–and then come up with an ueber social networking experience.

The ease of Twitter to quickly update–and to connect to others.  The simplicity of Eye Mobile to add video and multimedia.  The capability to add a blog like Live Journal.  The abilty to quickly share like Digg and Social Median, and the sense of community that Facebook offers.

Either the beauty of the experience, or the trouble for a business model is that the site can't be just one thing–it has to be all things to all people-and have the utility to be flexible enough.

There are some steps in the right direction–Facebook Connect for instance is rolling out and hitting key sites.  But that is a start. 

What we all have to remember is that we are not in this alone–and we need to make our sites open to one another–because the upside is limitless, but the walls (like fences in a neighborhood) will kill the community.

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