8: Connections and Reputation

The chapter introduction promises another amorphous blob of information, vaguely related to the establishment of identity and the nature of interaction on social networks.

Making Sense of Social Networking

The use of "social" in relation to technology is "the phrase of the moment" and "the latest along line of buzzwords." The attention that is automatically granted to any product or service that labels itself as "social" has caused the term to be intentionally misused and made purposefully vague.

To clarify, the term "social" means what it always has, even before technology was applied: connections between people. Social networks are as old as society itself: the computer network did not cause people to interact, but merely supported interactions that were already in place.

The "small world" theorem was considered by sociologists in the 1960's, and the popular term "six degrees of separation" (the notion that everyone is connected to everyone else by a chain of six people) was the title of a play written in 1990. Even before technology, "friendship networks" connected people over vast distances.

The spread of social networking technology was fuelled by the nature of the (human) social network itself: it began with technology hobbyists, spread to younger age groups, then to ubiquity - each time passing from an established user to others whom they knew and wished to interact with online.

(EN: This skips a major step, which is the growth of the Internet prior to social media. In the US alone, it went from a small group of academics and geeks to about 20% of the population in its first two years, broke the 50% mark a few years alter, and became ubiquitous by the year 2000. By the time Facebook started in 2004, most people were already online, and they were already communicating and interacting via a myriad of channels: email, chat, bulletin boards, personal Web sites, etc. So let's not pretend social media created interaction - it merely provided a more convenient channel for doing what was already being done.)

Switching channels, the author discusses some of the behavioural qualities of people who participate in social networking online:

(EN: The author also lists "location" among behaviors, but it's a different concept. While people increasingly wish to tie information they post to a real-world location, this is a quality that pertains to the information that they post, not their motivation and behavior. Not do I think it's as universal as the others, as there are instances in which location is irrelevant or even undesirable in the context of a virtual community.)

Community Connections and Recommendations

This section seems to start with some random observations:

She then lights on the topic of listening: people respond well to firms that listen rather than just pump out marketing messages, and you can gain valuable insight to drive business decisions. You can solicit feedback by asking questions and using "poll" features of social media sites.

You should also demonstrate that you are listening - at the very least, by being responsive to what is said to you and about you.

Common advice to newcomers to an online community is to spend some time lurking. They should read what has been said so that they're not "introducing" a topic that's already been discussed. They should pay attention to the conversation to see what topics are appropriate and how people have reacted (in comments) to the things others have posted. Newcomers who fail to do so risk offending or annoying established members and seeming stupid or foolish themselves.

Companies should follow the same advice: refrain from taking action or pursuing specific objectives until you are familiar with your community so you can assess what is realistic and appropriate when making plans.

She draws a parallel to doctors: when a patient has a problem their own doctor can't fix, they are referred to a specialist, and the patient goes with the recommendation. In that way the people in your first-tier network, your friends and fans, are not new customers, but referrers who will mention or recommend your products to the people they know.

Most people can be counted upon to recommend a product to a friend who seems to need it, but some go further: The "super referrers" are those who are not bashful about the products they use" they tend to be connected to many other people, engage in conspicuous consumption, like to be the first to try something new so they can brag about it to others, and become bush-league celebrities and self-proclaimed experts.

All of this seems very superficial, and while you should be wary of the narcissists and attention seekers, there are also people who are genuine enthusiasts for products they use and have a level of genuine respect and trust from others. These are the though-leaders, people of genuine influence in the community, and valuable people to reach.

In this sense, engaging with people who have the largest number of "apparent connections" is not as valuable as the numbers might seem, because a person with a few thousand online friends has only a superficial relationship with each of them.

To identify a quality follower, look to their own blogs, status updates, and forum entries to see how much influence they have among their connections. It takes a fair amount of effort to discover this, but unless you do so, your body count of followers is a meaningless number. Worse, it can lead you in the wrong direction, appealing to a large number of superficial people with no real influence is a waste of time, and even becomes counterproductive when quality followers consider that your brand is well-received by superficial people.

Switch channels: one of the most important considerations for engaging effectively is your "voice" in social media. The smooth, polished voice of a media spokesperson, which delivers well-polished messages that take the tone of corporate marketing, generally falls flat in social media, where people seek to form connections to genuine people.

Especially avoid automated responses - it's like a form letter sent out to any inbound inquiry that thanks the person for sending an inquiry but refuses to actually address their question. It does not count as a real response, and makes people feel even more ignored and rejected than getting no response at all.

This is where time spent identifying your key followers pays off: you do not have to respond to every comment, aren't expected to do so - but there are certain people with whom you wish to invest time in engaging.

Consolidating Your Approach

The author addresses a common question among the clients for which she consults: Facebook or Twitter? And, do you need to do both? This goes back to the earlier discussion of the various social media tools - each has a specific purpose for a specific audience, and the decision of which tool to use for a given job depends on the nature of your purpose, your audience, and your content.

However, the concept of syndication means that the tool you use to publish information isn't necessarily the some one through which people will receive your content. For example, you can set up your Twitter account to push postings to a Facebook profile, or use settings in LinkedIn to import a feed of articles fro your blog.

While this seems an easy and time-saving method for reaching the broadest possible audience, do not automatically do this. In some instances, it makes sense to do so if the two "feeds" are directed toward the same audience - if Facebook and Twitter are both directed to existing customers, marry them up. In other instances, it makes no sense: if LinkedIn is meant to reach prospective employees and Twitter is sales promotion, it makes no sense and can even seem like reckless disregard to mingle the two.

It's also worth noting the search engines crawl blogs, twitter feeds, and social media sites make your posts available, even to people who do not have social media accounts on the same service. The information gets out in bits, and if people find that you produce sufficient value on a regular basis, they will subscribe to your feeds.

The author mentions the importance of having "fresh" content to get a constant stream of attention. (EN: This strikes me as misapplying a concept. Fresh content keeps your name in front of your subscribers, but good content attracts new subscribers even if it is "old" or evergreen.)

Damaging Your Reputation

The author provides a number of examples of how employees who made indiscreet comments of Facebook about their boss, their coworkers, clients, or customers, and were terminated for doing so. In some instances, it is clearly egregious, and in others, termination seems like a draconian reaction - but whatever the case, it does happen.

There are also instances where employees actions create negative publicity: a specific example is Oxford police who were filmed sledding on their riot shields on a snowy hill. Some say this as "innocent fun" that humanized the police, others felt it was a breach of public trust for on-duty officers to be goofing off. (EN: no indication that there were any repercussions.)

Some of this is indiscretion - if you "friend" your boss and then gripe about your job, it's clearly bad judgment. But even if you're careful about whom you friend and use privacy settings, there's always the potential that someone you know can screenshot and rebroadcast something you posted, innocently or maliciously.

(EN: This goes on a while, and the issue is far too cloudy to arrive at any firm conclusion or general advice. The author's perspective seems uptight, but then, many of the people in positions of authority in the present day are also of an older generation that seems to accept and even advocate that employers own their employees, even off the clock, and that it is proper to be disingenuous in order to present a positive image. However, times are changing, and it's likely that fewer people will be tolerant of an employer who fires a person who makes a passing remark that they had a boring or frustrating day at the office.)

Next is the notion that someone out there will clone your identity by adopting your name or your brand and using it in social media in a way that is damaging to yourself or to others. She mentions hackers who post fake Web sites that resemble legitimate ones, with a goal of getting customers to input sensitive information. The same tactic is often used by those who clone designer merchandise and sell it online through and official-looking site that is some derivative of the firm's legitimate domain name. Social media is simply another venue for the same sorts of behavior.