Michelle Sullivan Communications

Social media influence: It’s not the number of friends you have … it’s the quality

We race for numbers because they’re easy to … well … quantify. Number of Facebook ‘friends’ or ‘fans’. Number of Twitter followers.

It reminds me of Valentine’s Day in grade school. I picture cute little Lynn, who, I noticed with the wisdom of a 7 year old, had all the little boys falling all over her, chasing her in the schoolyard, hoping for a kiss. On Valentine’s Day, her box floweth over with cut-out and hand-drawn valentines, courtesy of her young admirers. My box? Not so full. I didn’t envy Lynn, I don’t think, but I was fascinated by the phenomenon, viewing it with the detachment of a young anthropologist, trying to figure out a civilisation known as Boy. Maybe the reason envy didn’t raise its ugly head was that even then I recognized that the value of relationships isn’t in quantity, but in quality. And for me, there was this little boy named Sean …

The true richness of social media comes from connecting with people interested in THE thing you’re interested in. If you’re into green glowing snow-ball abacuses, and there’s only a widow in Wales and a teenager in Chile interested in green glowing snow-ball abacuses too, your goal should be to have them in your network. Not their sister-in-law, your corner store butcher and the odd guy from Turkey you’re following only because he follows you and you don’t want to be rude.

Real ROI comes not from numbers, but on what those numbers do for you. If the 250 other people you have listed as Facebook friends can’t trade abacuses with you — if they never exchange a word with you or bring you anything interesting, whether it be conversation or the trade of an antique abacus you’ve been dying to get your hands on — then give yourself a break. The next time you see someone racing to reach 1 million followers, tell yourself you’re better off with your widow and your teenager.

The same goes if you’re a car manufacturer or sell crafts online. What’s important is the conversion – it’s building a network around people who care. Not about attracting a bunch of people with some shiny promotion, and for all the wrong reasons. Yes, by joining your Facebook page they’ll automatically let the 200 people in their network know they have. But when you realize that people surround themselves with people a lot like them, chances are that your page won’t interest those 200 people either. You don’t want dead weight. You want a tribe, not a bunch of meaningly numbers.

Unless you’re trying to break a Guiness record or are a social media guru with a book deal in the works. Then, maybe, numbers count.

Cooks Source’s annus horribilis: a Marley-esque warning for CEOs and Community Managers

Last month, I walked you through the firestorm surrounding Cooks Source. The editor of this food magazine had unleashed the wrath of bloggers (and those who love them) first for copyright infringement, then by mishandling the blogger she had wronged.

Time for an update.

The protest launched by the online community in support of blogger Monica Gaudio and critical of Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs not only bombarded the Cooks Source Facebook page with negative comments, making it virtually unusable, it was picked up as a story by traditional media. Cooks Source began to lose advertisers and, consequently, revenue. In an interview with a far-too-sympathetic journalist from the  Daily Hampshire Gazette, Griggs explains the impact the online campaign has had on her publication as well as on her, personally.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a death knell.

Cooks Source magazine closed mid November. Its Thanksgiving edition was, apparently, its last. Toronto Star/Montreal Gazette contributor Craig Silverman sums it up in his Crunks 2010 : The Year in Media Errors and Corrections piece : Error of the year? Cooks Source Magazine!

While Sarah Lacy of Techcrunch is critical of the online campaign in her « Congrats, Self-Righteous Internet Mob. You killed a magazine » blog post, Caitlan Fitzsimmons of the All Facebook blog has another take on Cooks Source’s disappearance, laying blame squarely on the shoulders of editor Griggs.

What does this dramatic saga tell CEOs and Community Managers?

Big Brother is actually Little Brothers .. and they’re watching you. Orwell warned that Big Brother would be watching. I doubt he imagined that Big Brother would in fact end up being made up of millions of Little Brothers with the power to share information and mobilize online to affect change. Corporate conduct, whether it be from a customer relations point of view, or social engagement point of view, can now be amplified — either positively or negatively — through social media. There’s no such thing as  letting a single disgruntled client go anymore because, after all, how much harm can he do? Angry clients might have complained to their immediate circle ten years ago. Today, they’re complaining to their 600 Facebook friends and Twitter followers. CEOs and Community managers must be aware that poor behaviour is of even greater consequence in a social media world.

The Internet isn’t a huge place. It’s a village. And people talk. Before the average person travelled particularly far, the village he lived in was his world. There was no television, radio or Internet to keep people indoors. Villagers would look for ways to connect with one another, whether it be on the church steps after mass or spending evenings dancing to the music of a single violin at a neighbour’s house. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. Online communities aren’t that different from those villages. Divided into niche groups, they form relatively small circles with tools at their disposal to speak to one another and to share information. CEOs and community managers need to tap into their tribes and listen to them. More than that, they need to join the tribe.

It’s wise not to lose sight of the Wisdom of crowds. James Surowiecki coined the phrase, and it is applicable to the Cooks Source scenario. The crowd not only rallied against Cooks Source’s editor Judith  Griggs, it mobilized to fact check, research, dig up other copyright infringements attributed to Cooks Source and publish a list of its advertisers. The crowd pulled its resources together to make the protest movement a reality. Had Griggs apologized sincerely and humbly, she might have quieted the opposition. Her unfortunate attitude, however, only served to fuel the fire. CEOs and community managers should not underestimate the wisdom of crowds, their ability to self-mediate and, especially, their potential for intelligent mobilisation.

You have to react to a building crisis and react quickly. Cooks Source proves that a situation can turn into a crisis within a matter of hours. CEOs and Community managers need to stay on top of their online reputation by ongoing monitoring. Setting up something as easy as a Google Alerts is a quick way to monitor your brand. More sophisticated tools like Sysomos’ Heartbeat and Radian6 comb social media platforms for you and pull together conversations into buzzgraphs and share of voice. Whichever you choose, know that the key to nipping an impending crisis in the bud is staying ahead of it. Address complaints head on, apologize when appropriate and, if Judith Griggs has taught you anything, always communicate with respect and humility. Arrogance does not go over well, and you’ll end up looking like an ass.

Know your tribe. Really know them. If you don’t already engage with the online community that is interested in your industry or market, you’re missing an opportunity to build goodwill before a crisis can happen. Become a respected member of the community and people will not only give you the benefit of the doubt, they’ll come to your defence. Nothing should please a CEO or Community Manager more than to see that the community has his back.

Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs will certainly consider 2010 as her annus horribilis. The damage she created for her brand not only through her initial mistake but through her mishandling of the online community cause her brand irreparable damage. This all sounds very ominous, but it shouldn’t. The good news for CEOs and Community Manager paying attention to the Cooks Source soap opera? They’ll take it as yet another sign that companies and brands appreciated by consumers, who treat them right, and who engage in dialogue with them, will come out as winners in the social media space. Cultivating and working hard to deserve and maintain a good reputation has never been more important as in the age of social media.

Because I’d never heard of Cooks Source two months ago. Had you? Now it has its own wikipedia page. And not for the right reasons.

Did you know: Griggs is now a verb. As in « Why’d you get an F on that essay? » « I griggs’d the professor’s doctoral thesis from her website, and I even cleaned it up for her and told her she should give me an A, but she failed me anyway. »

Let Judith Griggs be your Jacob Marley. Repent, Scrooge. Repent!

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Et si j’étais séropositive … ?

En cette Journée mondiale du Sida, je vous invite à prendre connaissance d’une campagne que nous lançons au nom d’un client, la COCQ-Sida (Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida).

Si j’étais séropositif … ?

Largement inspirée (avec permission) par une campagne française, nous avons ajouté un élément Facebook à notre initiative québécoise. Il s’agit d’une application Facebook qui vient bonifier les outils de promotion plus traditionnels, tels l’affichage.

Nous profitons de l’appui de personnalités connues, dont Véronique Cloutier, Mario Dumont, Chantal Petitclerc et Josée Lavigueur, qui nous demandent comment on réagirait s’ils déclaraient qu’ils étaient séropositifs. La campagne cherche à sensibiliser le grand public à la discrimination toujours vécue par les personnes atteintes du VIH/Sida.

Cette campagne, lancée l’avant-veille de cette journée de sensibilisation, a déjà capté l’attention de près de 1000 internautes, y compris Guy A. Lepage, Jean-Michel Vanasse et Michelle Blanc et atteint les réseaux de chacun sur Twitter et/ou Facebook. On espère voir toutes les photos de profil de Québécois sur Facebook se transformer en noir et blanc aujourd’hui. Joignez-vous à nous!

Comme le dit si bien cette campagne: Parce que c’est le sida qu’il faut exclure, pas les séropositifs.