Social networks vs social networking by Marc Smith

Marc SmithChief Social Scientist, Connected Action Consulting Group (USA), focuses on social media, the conversations themselves, but not the commercial messages displayed (but perhaps often not seen) along side these discussions on advertising and interactions. He will speaking at the Mammoth BI conference on 17 November and conducting a Social Big Data workshop on 18 November 2014.

My focus is on helping clients organically engage with social media content leaders so that their messages are accepted and integrated into a community rather than deflected and rejected.
Social network platforms clearly are powerful and have attracted many people. These platforms now seek to monetize those populations by taxing communication among them. Only a small fraction of posts created by businesses on Facebook are ever seen by their “Friends” or those who “Like” them. Building brands and communicating with communities on these platforms is a perilous affair: as tenants rather than land owners, users of these platforms are always subject to changes in policy and price. An alternative is to cultivate relationships across all relevant platforms while building owned web properties that encourage interaction and content creation. All businesses should now deploy their own parallel platforms for content and social interaction because content deposited in social media systems cannot be assured to be available or visible. All content posted to social media platforms should encourage visits off-site to company run platforms. We often ask ourselves about existing social network platforms: are they data banks or data casinos? If you cannot make a deposit and then withdraw it, with interest, maybe these services are not banks.

In contrast, every person has a social network, and many people now extend that network over many platforms and services.  Businesses can use social network analysis tools to map and navigate these networks. Rather than focus on the assembly of vast audiences, social media engagement allows companies to focus on the cultivation of manageable number of relationships with key people in the community of discussion around a topic, brand, product, candidate, or issue.

The future of social advertising is failure.  Social advertising is about inserting a paid message in the stream of organic discussion.  It will always be out of place and mostly unwelcome. Humans quickly learn to screen out commercial images and become ad blind.  Imagine ads that interrupt a voice call, social ads are about as welcome.

Social network engagement is an alternative approach based on the idea that humans always find other humans with whom they have relationships interesting. A social network engagement approach focuses on interacting with the most highly engaged voices on a topic of relevance to your business.  It is about talking to and with key people who have great power and knowledge in a domain. Engaging a few carefully selected people is different from bombarding a large population with messages that are irrelevant to most who see it.

A social engagement strategy starts by finding the topics of relevance to your stakeholder population; the brands, activities, places, events, people and issues that matter to people who matter to you. The sample of topics can be expanded by selecting high salience hashtags and terms related to the initial set of seed topics.  These topics are the addresses of the people we seek to engage. Using network and content analysis it is possible to find the right topics to discuss with the right people to get your message heard.

A “social media ad campaign” is better thought of as a social conversation campaign. An “ad” is often unwanted while news from a trusted source is not. A systematic effort to get a message through social media requires identifying the key people in relevant topic networks and convincing them that a message is meaningful enough to repeat to their community.

Social advertising on the prominent social network platforms is likely to run up against increasing opposition. Ad targeting that follows users around the web is already making many consumers uncomfortable. Recall tests on ads are remarkably low. In contrast news from friends is recallable and re-tellable.

For many brands the opportunity is to shift away from the one to many model to focus on a one to one connection with a highly select group of influential voices. People have used social media to become the new editors or gatekeepers for media messages, filtering their feeds for relevant and useful information. Since there are relatively few of these people for any given topic or interest space, it is practical to have staff engage in relationship building and maintenance with a few hundred people. These cultivated connections are more effective than mass ads and are the path to get content to “go viral”. In many cases, a set of these influential people have active audiences that are much larger than the direct population any individual brand account can attract.

The challenge for many brands and other advertisers is to reimagine the world of customer relationship management beyond pushing unwanted messages.

Book to learn more about Social Big Data here.

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