The Matthew Effect - linking and how things become viral in social media

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Symbol of St Matthew
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

The Matthew Effect dates from the 1960s. It is the theory, first expressed by sociologist Robert K. Merton, that those who possess power and economic or social capital can leverage those resources to gain more power or capital. Put simply: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Or as it is expressed in the Gospel of St Matthew, from which the effect takes its name:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

So what does this have to do with social media? Well this great presentation and video from Torsten Henning Hensel explores the power of linking online and how the Matthew Effect can help us to understand how things become viral and spread online and in social media. As Hensel explains:

Thanks to the Matthew Effect, the already famous get more famous, the often quoted get more and more quoted…

It is easy to see how this transfers into social media - the more something is spread the more it will be spread even further by word of mouth. Imagine two pieces of content of equal quality, interest or importance. It is the content that has been linked to, retweeted, forwarded or otherwise referred to that is more likely to become viral. For Hensel, “Social media is a linking machine” and the more links you can get to a piece of content the more likely that content is to become viral when compared to a similar piece.

This is an interesting theory and a great attempt to deconstruct and to understand what makes something go viral. The presentation is Required Reading this week at FreshNetworks as it reminds us all of the importance of links.

Matthew Effect: The Power of Links
View more presentations from Torsten Henning Hensel.

How to use Twitter Lists as a free social media monitoring tool

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To-do list book.
Image by koalazymonkey via Flickr

We’ve posted before about why Twitter lists are great and some of the uses that can be made with them. Over the last few weeks since they were launched to all users, we have been experimenting with them at FreshNetworks and with our clients. One clear and valuable use for them has become clear - as a free social media monitoring tool. Here’s a guide to how you can use Twitter Lists in this way.

Twitter Lists for social media monitoring

Social media monitoring is the best way for brands to understand who is currently talking about them online, what they are saying, to whom and where. They can analyse the sentiment expressed (are people broadly positive or negative to them) and identify individuals who are promoters or detractors of a brand. Whilst it may not be appropriate to react or respond to their posts, monitoring these people can be a useful exercise. Knowing what your promoters are saying about you and where, and tracking the sentiment of detractors. Are they becoming more positive to your brand or more negative. Who are they talking to and influencing, and what are they saying.

So it’s important that when you identify Detractors, you have a mechanism for keeping track of what they are saying online. This is where Twitter Lists come in useful.

Twitter Lists can make it very easy to group your Promoters and Detractors and have an easy and accessible source to find out what they are saying online. Putting all of your Detractors in a List means that they are in one place. When you find a new Detractor online you can put them in this List, and if somebody stops being a Detractor you can move them from it.

This use of Twitter Lists is effective for two reasons:

  1. As a brand, you can put somebody into a List without having to be following them. If you have an powerful Detractor online, you may not want to follow them from your branded Twitter account, but you may want to keep track of what they say.
  2. Twitter Lists can be private. You probably wouldn’t want a list of your brand’s biggest Detractors to be shared online. All the people who hate you most in one convenient list. Because Twitter Lists can be made private, you can mitigate the risk of people finding this. You know and can monitor who they are, without sharing this information with other people.

So Twitter Lists can be a great, and free, social media monitoring tool. Identify the people who love or hate your brand most, or who write about your brand most online and then put them into Lists. Have a List of Detractors, a List of Promoters and a List of Ones to Watch. Make these Lists private and, if you don’t want to, don’t even follow the people you put into the List.

Then track what they say. Follow the List, read the comments and learn on a daily basis what your Promoters and Detractors think and say about you. Easy! The hard work begins when you try to change opinions or harness those who are positive about your brand.

Getting started 3: Have a go and experiment with social media

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Have a Bite
Image by basheertome via Flickr

There are too many stories of brands having tried and failed to use social media effectively. It may have been a disaster or, more usually, just not have had the impact and return on investment for the brand as it might have had. The most effective way to avoid this is to make sure that when you are getting started in social media you have done some effective planning first. Listen to what people are saying about your brand in social media so that you know what people are saying about you and where they are saying it. Then think about what you want to achieve with your social media strategy. Only by doing this will you be able to develop a clear and focused plan and, perhaps most importantly, measure the benefit your social media efforts are having.

Once you’ve got a clear plan it’s time to start thinking about technology and tools that you can use, and most importantly to start experimenting. This is where it gets fun.

When you are working out how to use social media tools, which to experiment with and how there are four main things to think about to help you get going:

  1. Use your buzz tracking to understand where people are talking about you. Compare this with the people you want to engage in social media, those who will help you meet your aims. This will give you an understanding of where the people you want to engage and the conversations you want to join are. This obviously only gives you half the story as you may also want to engage people in a new place or in your own space online.
  2. Decide which of these tools will help you to meet the aims you have set out. If you want to capture potential new customers, for example, using Twitter or Facebook may not be the most useful tool as these will not give you the contact details you probably want. If you want ideas into your business, there may be better ways of doing it than a forum or blog. Think carefully about what you want to achieve and the full range of tools available to you.
  3. Get cracking. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking and planning so far. Now it’s time to just try some things out. One of the benefits of social media is that it can be relatively low cost to experiment. Start small and try a few tools. If you need blog then put one up quickly and invest time in getting it creating content and encouraging and growing engagement. Experiment with a small number of tools and evaluate how effective these are being, switching on more tools over time.
  4. Work hard to get the engagement. Getting the tools up and running are really just the first step. The tough work starts when you start to engage people in social media, whether that’s in Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, forums and other sites or indeed on your own online community. Engagement is hard and it needs a clear plan and dedication to make it work. The benefit of experimenting and having a go with different tools, and growing your use of social media in a controlled way is that you can see what is working, amend your techniques and try new things. If you have the right measurements in place you will know if you’re reaching your targets and if not you need to evaluate if you are using the right tools and if you are engaging people in the right way.

Once you have tools up and running the final stage for any brand getting started in social media is to make sure you are tracking and measuring your success. That’s what we will look at in the final post in this series.

You can read the full guide here: Getting Started in Social Media

BusinessWeek’s Shirley Brady on online communities and crowdsourcing

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BusinessWeek Names Me As One of Four Social Me...
Image by cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

Guest post by Ben LaMothe

Last week, we posted part one of our interview with Shirley Brady BusinessWeek’s first community editor. In this second part, Shirley explains how she interacts with BusinessWeek’s news desk and how the BusinessWeek community management strategy is changing, including how BusinessWeek utilises crowdsourcing.

How much interaction is there between you at the Community desk and the editors on the content-producing side? Do you advise on what you believe will get the desired reaction from the BusinessWeek community?

I’m constantly interacting with my colleagues to parlay reader feedback and suggestions to editorial. Part of this job involves standing up for the reader and voicing their concerns and desires (enough of them know me by now, and on Twitter, to email or DM me to express their views. My email address is also listed on our featured readers page.

And another part is almost media literacy – involving readers in our journalism, opening up our process while inviting and respecting their opinions on a subject. You’ll see our reporters on their blogs and on Twitter, for example, posing questions and gauging the sentiment on a story as they’re reporting it. They’re not only cultivating sources and building their own communities, but getting more informed about each story, and their beats, in the process. We create hashtags, put up daily polls and ask a lot of questions – it all helps inform editorial decision-making in terms of what will resonate with our readership.

Community management is becoming increasingly important in the news industry as organizations begin crowdsourcing aspects of coverage. How is BusinessWeek’s community management strategy evolving? What’s next?

How BusinessWeek’s community strategy will evolve will depend on the new owner, assuming McGraw-Hill reaches a deal to sell the brand (bids closed on September 15th). Hopefully whoever acquires BusinessWeek will value community-building and reader engagement as much as we do now, if not more. There’s a ton to still be done and ideas to take this to the next level, which I won’t detail for competitive reasons but hinted at above.

As for other news organizations starting to embrace reader engagement: hear, hear! It’s been gratifying to see the New York Times name its first social media editor, Jennifer Preston, earlier this year; and impressive to see the variety and inventiveness of strategies employed by my peers such as Mathew Ingram at the Globe & Mail in Canada, Andrew Nystrom at the Los Angeles Times, or Andy Carvin at NPR, or to see what the Wall Street Journal is doing with Journal Community and the NYT with TimesPeople – all smart media organizations that understand the need to foster their communities in ways that breathe life into their brands, engage people with their content and enhance their mission and value proposition to the reader. Everybody’s trying something different, and while it might not always take off with readers, this inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit is clearly invigorating journalism at news organizations such as the ones I’ve named above and countless others, including beyond North America (I’m inspired by, for instance, the BBC’s Have Your Say and the Guardian’s Comment is Free initiatives).

As for crowdsourcing, as noted above, we actively solicit and value our readers’ involvement and “invite them into our newsroom,” as John Byrne puts it, to inform our news decisions and editorial process. But I also believe that excellent journalism (reporting, writing and editing) has to be at the core of what BusinessWeek and other news organizations do, even as we open our doors to our readers. We’re building community around our content, injecting readers into the mix, and shaking up any old notions (if they ever existed) that journalists have the market cornered on analysis and reporting – the Internet put paid to that idea, gladly.

As John’s fond of saying, it’s about treating each story (blog post, slide show, photo-essay, interactive graphic, podcast, video) as a spark that creates a camp fire, or in John’s words, “the journalism then becomes an intellectual camp fire around which you gather an audience to have a thoughtful conversation about the story’s topic.” I love that metaphor, as it really embodies what I love about journalism – the storytelling.

In addition to being a reporter and writer throughout my career, my first full-time job in journalism was on the TV side of this business as a producer for TVOntario 20 years ago. Even then, I jumped at the opportunity to set up forums and discussions on early BBS platforms (Genie, Prodigy, CompuServe) as I was eager to engage our viewers in what we were producing and get their feedback as we shaped our programming, lined up interviews and planned our on-air schedule. It also helped build buzz and interest in seeing the final product, and always sparked additional ideas for us to pursue.

It’s not far off from what I do now, although the technology has advanced, as the online community is just as lively and eager to get great content and contribute to what you’re doing: they’ll share ownership in your success if you’ll let them in. Give them a stake in your process and they’ll come back, especially if they’re treated as partners and not just pageviews. I think it also helps that I approach this as a journalist, which helps elevate and promote the smart conversations around what’s going on in the news, on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, around the industries and business topics that matter most to our readers.

What to do once your firm’s social media policy is written

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Image by Crystl via Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about how to write your firm’s social media policy. How it was important, first and foremost, for firms to have a social media policy. And  that it is best to involve employees throughout the process of developing and implementing it.

For any firm, a social media policy is sensible. Your employees are already all using social media, they are talking to each other on their, they  might say who they work for, they are giving advice to friends and maybe to customers. Having a vibrant and active set of employees online is great for any firm, but a simple set of guidelines helps both the brand and also the employees.

But once you have your social media policy written, that’s not the end of the story. It should be a living document, and critically one that your employees buy into an believe in. You want use of social media to become part of your employees lives. And you want your brand to benefit from this involvement, from having employees active in social media and from having conversations about them, you and your brand. So writing a policy is just the first step. Below are four steps to help ensure that, once you have it written, your firm’s social media strategy stays relevant and beneficial to your organisation.

1. Make it a visible, shareable document

The main purpose of any social media strategy should be to encourage employees to use social media, to help them do this, and to help them do it in a way that protects them and the brand they work for. As such it isn’t so much a static policy to be filed away somewhere; rather, it should be a living document that is easy for people to find, read and make suggestions for.

2. Have an internal social media champion

Have an internal social media champion in your firm. Or have many. They should be the first port of call for people  if they have a query about what they should, or shouldn’t be doing. They should make sure people know about the policy and help others to understand it. But, perhaps more importantly, they should be be encouraging  people to use social media, to try new things and to innovate. It’s important for your firm to stay abreast of changes in social media, and  to make sure you have a serious and committed presence online. Your employees are your best representatives; get them out there.

3. Talk about social media success

Social media shouldn’t be an add-on; it should be part of what you do. Maybe it helps you to solve customers’ problems more quickly, maybe there’s been a great conversation about your brand, or maybe somebody just had a great idea that you found out about. Make sure you are taking every opportunity to champion success stories and people in your firm using social media well. Talk about it often to reinforce how important it is and to encourage people to try new things.

4. Keep things moving

The worst thing that can happen to your social media policy is that it becomes out-of-date. And as social media and our use of it online is changing so rapidly, this is a real danger. So make sure you keep things moving, work with your champions to keep abreast of what people are doing, and where they are doing it. Allow employees to comment on and make suggestions for your policy. But, perhaps most important, is to make sure your policy is written about behaviours and not specific social media tools. We may all be talking about Twitter  right now, but soon it will be something else.