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.

NetProspex’s NPSI Score: Business is social south of the border

Interesting report out of the States on how ‘social’ American business really is. The NetProspex team ranked social network activity on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, coming up with something they call the NPSI (NetProspex Social Index) score. It measures things like activity (ex: number of Tweets), connectedness (employees with social media profiles) and friendliness and reach (connections per employee)

Things that caught my eye:

– Banking (3rd) outranked traditional media (4th)

– Pharma ranked a surprising (from a Canadian perspective) 25th – the medical industry didn’t make the top 50

– The tobacco industry isn’t big on Twitter. Neither are funeral homes. They’re more a Facebook industry, apparently.

– Toys & Games = at the top in the consumer category

– CFOs are only slightly more social than admin assistants, payroll and maintenance … meaning not very

– The study ranks companies with the most social employees. HR staff have the most number of “friends”

– B2B employees are social. Non tech B2B businesses aren’t leveraging social media.

– Highest blue collar industry ranked = the trucking, moving and storage industry

… Marketers are more social than HR, which is more social than PR.

The NetProspex Social Index (NPSI) doesn’t include blogging/podcasting. I bet funeral homes would have ranked better if they had 😉

Hat tip to Michelle Blanc for the heads up on this study.

Social Media: gourmet, not fast food

When I think social media, I think five course meal. I think candles. I think cloth napkins. I think extensive wine list and sommelier. I think silverware. I think china. I think digestif. I think gourmet.

I don’t think fast food. I don’t think disposable flatware. I don’t think throw-away containers. I don’t think drive-through. I don’t think pepto-bismol chasers.

We’re living in interesting times. Those of us who were ahead of the wave are now watching it crash down on the beach, and the sound is exhilarating. Companies are convinced and coming to us asking for social media strategies. How do we counsel them?

It seems easy to offer up the fast food solution. Terms like ‘viral’ are bandied around, and the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers seem to be the golden ring everyone is reaching for. But what about community? Social media is at its best when building community ties is the ultimate goal. This requires patience, investment and commitment … not really qualities we’re known for, as a society, here in North America. Or at least not qualities we’ve been known for since our economy was turned upside down in the post-war period. Since we entered into the consumer society era.

Social media is like a gourmet meal. It’s at its best when time is taken in its preparation. When benchmarking studies and influencer audits are done. When listening takes a front seat. Then you choose your wine. You take the time to choose between Bordeaux and Merlot. Blog or Facebook. You decide on vintage. Twitter or podcasting. The first course comes and you savour it. You enjoy sitting at a table with your other dinner guests, discussing common interests and learning about one another. By the time the third course is served, you’ve started to warm up to one another. You build trust. You feel you can lean over and ask for a favour or for advice. By the fourth course, you’re not surprised when the person sitting across from you at the table offers up an apology or a solution to a problem you’re experiencing. By the time dessert has been served and the last digestif enjoyed, and you stand up to leave the table, you’re promising one another that you’ll have to do it again next week. And offering to bring an interesting guest to the next dinner party.

Social media done right takes us back to a time when we relished in long conversation, and trust was earned and then sealed with a handshake. It is life at a slower pace, at a time when our business culture has us moving at breakneck speed.

It is a gourmet meal in fast-food times.

So like I was saying to Tom Foremski …

When I’m invited to speak about social media, my secret (or not so secret) goal is to inspire people to explore it on a deeper level. To understand the power .. . and thrill … of tribes and niches. To realize that we live in an era where we can actually reach out to people we’d never have met, otherwise.

Tom Foremski is someone I invariably cite in my « Media relations in the digital age » presentation, because of his (in)famous 2006 « Die Press Release, Die! Die!Die! » article.

Social media not only helped me discover Tom, but also allowed me to connect to him on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s nice to be able to exchange ideas with someone like Tom. The following exchange between us on Facebook is typical of how social media can help everyone (not only PR professionals) connect with people of interest:

Tom Foremski Protestors with « Deathpads. »
The Wrong Kind Of Killer Marketing: SF Vigil For Dead iPad Workers Thursday Eve At Apple Store – SVW

Michelle Sullivan
Well, my mother refused the gift of an iPad I offered her for her birthday because of these reports. One less client, at least. Sad state of affairs.

Tom Foremski
Wow. Interesting to hear that people are making a choice.

Cool. Social media. What’s not to love?

The Internet and social media: a modern day steam engine?

I took advantage of a recent visit to Quebec City to check out the fine arts museum’s newest exhibit, Paintings from the Reign of Victoria. Mostly landscapes, so not really my cup of tea, but William Powell Frith’s 1862 painting ‘The Railway Station’ caught my eye, not only because of its composition, which is pretty interesting, but because of a quote from a contemporary London News art critic recorded in the curatorial comments of the painting’s identification card:

The iron rails are welded into every life-history … The steam engine is the incarnate spirit of the age — a good genius to many, an evil demon to some.

Naturally, with my 2.0/2.0 vision, I made the leap to the Internet and social media.

Like the steam engine described by the critic from the London News, the Internet in general and social media in particular is not only considered good or evil depending on your point of view, but brings people together, allowing them to ‘travel’ over distances never before accessible to most people. Like the steam engine, the Internet/social media is fast, easy, accessible and ‘transports’ people and products … or at least facilitates it. The social impact in both cases  is unmistakable.

The steam engine was the symbol of the industrial age. The Internet and all of its components .. including social media .. are certainly the symbol of what we’ve come to  call the Information Age, and what some are now calling the Attention Age.

We live in fascinating times.

150 years from now, when someone in a museum leans over to read the identification card next to the work of a net artist like Olia Lialina — presuming identification cards … or museums for that matter … still exist as we know them now — what will their equivalent of 2.0/2.0 vision look like, I wonder?