Wednesday, December 15

Exploring Networks: Two Accounts, One Upside Down

Faux Social NetworksWhen most people look at a social network account, the first thing they notice is numbers. The general assumption is that someone with 10,000 followers is more important than someone with 1,000 followers than someone with 100 followers.

The thought process is so ingrained, some public relations practitioners even subscribe to the idea that bloggers need to have a certain amount of followers before they will work with them. Some social media practitioners claim there is a follower threshold colleagues must reach before becoming experts (as if). And even otherwise bright individuals seem to be locked into their own notions of who ought to rank where and when; the same people who called for others to throw off authority years ago.

Last week, I had an opportunity to look behind the scenes at two social media programs, using Twitter and Facebook. For the purposes of this post, we will call the accounts Program X and Program Y. Both are relatively new, about three months old.

Program X, by the numbers.

Twitter, 201. Facebook, 184. (TwitterGrader, 83. Klout, 32. TweetLevel, 34.)

The account can best be described as moderately active and reasonably responsive, with more than half of its followers seeming to be a logically connected by common interests. It is obviously still in its infancy, doubling in size every few weeks.

Program Y, by the numbers.

Twitter, 2,567. Facebook, 1,539. (TwitterGrader, 98.7. Klout, 36. TweetLevel, 35.)

The account can best be described as more active than average but not always appropriately responsive, with more than half of its followers seeming to be unrelated to any common interest. At a glance, it seems successful, growing in a much more erratic fashion, with brief leaps and long plateaus.

Program X, behind the numbers.

If you shared common interests that the account Tweets about, you might meet other people who have common interests. While small, there seems to be several areas for common ground that all the followers share. And, when the account is mentioned, it responds appropriately and also engages other people about topics you might expect (beyond talking about itself).

When it links to created content, it has an average number of shares. The visitation percentage to the content, however, is much higher (something 'influence' systems do not measure), around 20 percent. Even more telling, as a location-based business, are social check-ins. People seem to check-in with increased frequency, doubling every month since Facebook added the feature. More frequency would probably propel the account forward.

Program Y, behind the numbers.

Even if you shared common interests that the account Tweets about, you might think twice. Assuming you don't look at just numbers, there is almost no common ground between the followers. While the account is also mentioned frequently, some of the mentions seem to ring hollow, almost as if automated accounts are talking to each other.

Likewise, the amount of RTs seems to have no connection to the frequency of tweets, debunking the notion that RTs are necessarily demonstrative of value. In fact, this is probably why there doesn't seem to be any correlation to site visits and network activity. The number of visits to its content site from networks (something 'influence' systems do not measure) is less than .5 percent.

Value Assessment.

While one account seems to be ten times the size, it has roughly the same value, with Program X undermining its own long-term ability unless action is taken now. One of the side effects from an abundance of low-quality followers (spammers, follower chasers, and auto follows) is that the account creates more noise, but that noise is best described as static.

It's also impacting in that the follow rate of new, unsolicited followers is almost 3:1 between the two. In terms of those algorithms, it's even more telling. Twitter Grader falls right in line with the perception and not reality. Klout and TweetLevel overestimate both accounts in terms of what they call "influence." I am not surprised. Both Klout and TweetLevel tend to perform at their weakest toward the lower and higher ends of their scales (lumping most active people in the middle).

There are dozens of accounts that I follow that have much more meaningful engagement but are 'rated' lower by comparison because they are new, less active, or simply have no aspirations to become "popular" on social networks. You know. They are people, with very different uses for Twitter and Facebook than becoming popular.

So where is the real problem between these accounts? My guess is that one is operating on an erred objective — to create a successful social media program (or the perception of one, banking on the idea it will be real one day). There are a few consultants who do this all the time.

Conversely, what the organization would be better off doing is tying its objective to the organization's output/offerings and then communicating that in a creative and meaningful way rather than wish for buzz and awareness. I sometimes wonder what percentage of professionals know the difference. Or their clients for that matter.
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