Archive for December, 2008

The Hidden Social Networks Are Most Influential

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2008 by southborough

If you’re a marketer trying to spread an idea through online social networks, you may be better off disregarding people with the greatest number of connections.

That’s according to Daniel Romero, a scientist at the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, and HP Labs, who recently sent me his team’s latest paper on the online social networks that “truly matter.” According to the report, the volume of social network connections a person has is a weak indicator of how prolific a poster someone is. What really matters are actual friends. This was based on an analysis of 309,740 Twitter users, who, on average, published 255 posts, had 85 followers, and followed 80 other users.

The authors explain: “Even when using a very weak definition of ‘friend,’ we find that Twitter users have a very small number of friends compared to the number of followers and followees they declare. (A friend here is defined as anyone who a user has directed a post, or ‘@username,’ to at least twice.) This implies the existence of two different networks: a very dense one made up of followers and followees, and a sparser and simpler network of actual friends. The latter proves to be a more influential network in driving Twitter usage since users with many actual friends tend to post more updates than users with few actual friends. On the other hand, users with many followers or followees post updates more infrequently than those with few followers or followees.”

The authors concluded: “[S]cholars, advertisers and political activists, see online social networks as an opportunity to study the propagation of ideas, the formation of social bonds and viral marketing, among others. This view should be tempered by our findings that a link between any two people does not necessarily imply an interaction between them. As we showed in the case of Twitter, most of the links declared within Twitter were meaningless from an interaction point of view. Thus the need to find the hidden social network; the one that matters when trying to rely on word-of-mouth to spread an idea, a belief, or a trend.”

To me, a marketer observing all sorts of attempts to crack the code of influence and message dispersion, the gem in this report is the statement that “a link between any two people does not necessarily imply an interaction between them.” This presents serious challenges to popular assumptions (and sometimes blind conviction) of influence and link authority. These assumptions have severely informed social-media marketing over the past five years.

To be sure, Twitter is not reflective of all social networks; each has its nuances. However, most are vulnerable to false assumptions that have haunted traditional media venues for years: mainly, that audience and engagement can be implied through opt-in or subscriber status. Think of the dozens of magazines and newspapers piling up on my living room coffee table. I suppose those print publications count me among its followers, and they tout that to advertisers and target me accordingly. But the fact is they have little meaning in my life because I barely pay attention to them; I don’t recall even passively opting into most of them. (However, they do a good job of getting the fireplace roaring.)

And the same goes for Twitter. As of this writing, I have 955 followers, and I have little knowledge about who most are. Conversely, I’m following 584 people, and I pay meaningful attention to around 100. My social connections are not indicative of my merit or propensity to spread an idea. For me, core Twitter value comes mostly from the 50 or so friends with whom I regularly interact. Upwards of 3,000 posts, I write mostly for this group, and they’re most likely to respond to me. That’s the network that resonates — the one that truly matters.

Social Networks: Millions of Users, Not So Many Marketers

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2008 by southborough

Consumers love social networks—but advertisers are still standoffish.

Anyone still questioning the efficacy of social network marketing needs to look only as far as the 2008 presidential election. Barack Obama rode a wave of social media support to the White House—using both established social networks and homegrown networking site to build a database of millions of supporters.

“Sen. Obama’s social media activities were not only grassroots, his campaign also advertised on social networks,” says Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, Social Network Marketing: Slow Growth Ahead for Ad Spending. “Through October 2008, 6% of the campaign’s $8 million in online ad spending went to Facebook—over $450,000, by some calculations. Factoring out Google, which garnered $3.5 million in Obama campaign ad spending, Facebook netted 10% of the online dollars.”

The New York Times’ roadblock ad campaign on Facebook’s home page commemorating Obama’s victory reached 68 million people and tripled the newspaper’s Facebook “fan” count in 24 hours. In addition, 400,000 images of the Times’ front page were sent in the form of virtual “gifts,” and the newspaper generated a return on investment of 4.3 times what it spent.

But despite these and other success stories, the social network ad market is suffering. In fact, eMarketer significantly lowered its forecast for US social network ad spending.

“In 2008, companies will spend $1.2 billion on US social network advertising, down 14% from our previous estimate of $1.4 billion, published in May 2008,” says Ms. Williamson. “Even in 2009, spending will rise barely $100 million to $1.3 billion.”

There are three primary forces driving the lowered forecast:

* The economic recession will hit experimental ad formats especially hard, including the ones on social networks.
* MySpace revenues are growing more slowly than eMarketer had expected.
* Social network sites will start to wane as destinations once networking becomes a feature of Web browsing. However, targeting advertising to Web users based on their online social interactions or “social graph” will be extremely difficult to scale.

“No matter what the obstacles are, however,” says Ms. Williamson, “marketers still need to be where their customers are, and consumers remain heavily involved in social networks.”

Advertising is not the only way for marketers to participate in social networks.

Social Advertising

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2008 by southborough

The development of successful social advertising/marketing programs is not only possible, it will be required. This statement has spawned an industry of social media vendors, tools and experts. The socialization of media is a true shift in control from media outlets to individuals and it is incredibly disruptive. As consumer attention is increasingly directed to nontraditional or social media, consumers using traditional media are getting harder to reach with marketing messages (thanks in no small part to TiVo). But the really interesting part about the shift to social media is that it is forcing marketers to reevaluate their relationships with individuals, in many ways for the better.

In a recent New York Times piece by Jack Hitt titled “Multiscreen Mad Men,” R/GA’s Robert Rasmussen put it pretty succinctly: “[It used to be] a brand could tell people what was cool because there was less freedom of choice in media. A brand could say, ‘This is the latest thing, and everybody’s doing it,’ and if the message was persuasive enough, you might believe it. Now you can check on that on the Internet and see whether everybody actually is doing it. Brands have become transparent, and that’s changed the tone of advertising. Now you have to try to be more authentic — even if it’s just authentically acknowledging that what you’re doing is advertising.”

So we are back at the beginning. Want a successful social marketing campaign? Build a better product. And then use the fact that social media is a two-way dialogue with the people you want to reach to ensure that you continue to outpace your competition in delivering what the market wants.

Then turn right around and use social media to spread the news of superior product and service like a wild fire. And don’t just hope a fire starts on its own and then let it burn itself out; provide the fuel and the match. Give people a reason to spread your message, then make it easy for them to do so.

Finally, use social media to ensure a continued positive brand experience, because people expect that every brand or product they engage with comes with a lot more than the tangible good, or primary service. Know the difference between a widget and an application (widgets are stand-alone content that can be taken anywhere, applications are less portable but tie directly into people’s existing social graphs) and know when your strategy might call for one or the other or both.

I think we can agree “The Widget Is Not A Strategy,” but packaging your content appropriately for social media distribution cannot be ignored. Still, as Bob Garfield pointed out l ast week and Brian Morrissey points out this week, it’s easier said than done.

When you hear people talk about successful and innovative marketing today, it’s most likely marketing that provided a service. Think about the implications of “marketing as a service” to the people it reaches. Marketing is inherently social. Brands are inherently social. There is no reason why they would not belong in social media.

I’ve been hearing that I can come off as though I mean to give agencies a “hard time” in these weekly columns. The reality is, I think the agency is going to hold the answer to meeting marketers’ needs in a world where people are in control of the messages they receive and, more importantly, the messages they share. The problem is that there is something inherent in the marketer-agency relationship making it hard for the agency’s role to evolve the way it should. I’m just here to provide sparks and