The end of social

I dislike predictions. But I’m going to make one… there will be no more big social networks. We’ve reached, and passed, a tipping point.

Why?

Because they’re all being strangled at birth by over-eager PR and marketing people, who – for all their impressive-sounding job titles and amazeballs CVs – seem to have completely forgotten all the basics of social.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the social landscape for most of us*. Similarly, they dominate the marketing spend of those brands that advertise on social media.

There’s a clear cause-and-effect thing going on here … first came the platform, then came millions of regular users, then (and only then) came the marketing and PR people.

That’s the way it works. The logic is pretty robust and if you felt like it, you could template it and see that it applies in many other walks of life.

Something has been lost, or forgotten, though.

Because now, when a new social platform launches, before most people have even created an account or downloaded an app there’s a slew of ill-conceived blog pieces and articles from marcomms people all treading the same tired old ground … ‘what brands should do on X…’

Almost none of them say “what brands should do is back off for a while, see if this thing gathers momentum, whether or not people will naturally gravitate to it, and if so what their behaviour can tell us about how we should use this platform – if at all.”

David Meyer wrote a piece on Gigaom which hits the nail on the head as far as the recent launch of Jelly was concerned… “Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you it’s the marketers.”

And he’s right!

I’ve been an active and enthusiastic user of social media since before that term became common parlance – dig around in the archives of the Scotsman and the FT and you might even find me quoted in articles as far back as 2006 on how businesses could use social media for research and recruitment.

But it pains me when I see people in my sphere of work forever caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes outlook.

It really wouldn’t kill any of you to slow down a little, ask a few questions, be intellectually curious and maybe even a little sceptical.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we choose to ignore the old recipe for success, which turned the likes of Facebook and Twitter into the enormous beasts they are, we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice and we’ll eventually be over-taken by events – or smarter thinkers.

Your clients are – or should be – paying you for your consultancy. So be a consultant. If they just wanted to spend time in the company of someone to jump up and down on the spot shrieking excitedly, they’d get a job at a soft-play centre.

 

* – Europe, North America, the Antipodes, etc… ‘the West’ as it’s sometimes called.

Klout, Klout, let it all out

Influence comes in many guises. As a child you will have been influenced by those that raised you – parents, guardians, teachers and so on. When you grow a little older your friends become the biggest influence on you, and in later life influence can come from your colleagues, the people you manage, the people who manage you, your partner. The list goes well beyond that, of course.

By and large, we all know who we are influenced by and to what extent. At least in the realm of the personal.

But identifying who wields influence has lately become a hot topic of considerable proportions in marketing, PR and comms teams the world over. As with most things in life, where there is demand there will surely be supply, and consequently there’s no shortage of people who want to appear to have influence and a growing trade in tools to tell you who has it.

The art critic and columnist Brian Sewell, when asked to comment on class and the English preoccupation with it, said: “You can acquire the trappings, but you can’t buy it.”

Can the same be said of influence? Well, yes and no.

The thing about being influential is that in the main either you are or you’re not. People will read what you write, listen to what you say and click the links you post because they trust you. This is influence.

There’s a whole chapter of a reference book that could be written on paid-for influence, but that’s not what I am concerning myself with here.

If people don’t respond in any of those ways, then – by definition – you lack influence.

However, there are plenty of things you can do to influence the way in which your own influence (can you see what I did there..?) is measured and scored by the likes of Klout, PeerIndex and TweetGrader. Most of these services will even give you tips on how to do it, with some of my favourites coming from PeerIndex who, essentially, advise you to be a person of influence if you want to have a higher rating on PeerIndex. Hard to argue with that logic.

But if you’re after shortcuts to a higher ranking there are a few quick and simple steps you can take. Here are three things you could consider.

  • Take a look at who you are following on Twitter, and have a bit of a clear out. Get rid of dormant accounts, bots, spammers and the like. While your follower numbers will go toward the score you achieve, the quality of those followers and your level of engagement with them is actually far more important.
  • If you are genuinely trying to cultivate an image as an influencer, have some focus. Decide what it is you are trying to be perceived as an expert in and cut your cloth accordingly in terms of the content you create and share as well the kinds of people you share it with. But don’t fall into the trap of creating a social media walled garden. If your tweets, and other content, are only picked up by your colleagues you will never achieve any meaningful amplification and your social media echo will be exactly that – just an echo.
  • Tweet often, but not too often. Sorry, you’re on your own as far as working out what on earth that might mean in terms of actual frequency. But clearly spamming the Bejebus out of everyone is more likely to cost you followers in the longer term, while letting the cobwebs settle won’t help your cause much either.



Having seen my own Klout score leap by almost 20 points since early June I feel pretty confident that some of this works. Even if I’m not entirely sure I know what I mean by “works” in this context.

I’m not advocating any kind of obsession with one’s online influence score. But the issue of who wields influence online isn’t likely to go away soon, so why not take an interest in the factors that determine the way in which others perceive how influential you are, and the part you can play in it.