The network(ing) effect

To paraphrase Metcalfe’s law, the value of a network is proportional to the number of connections, squared (n²). Which is why valuations on social media platforms like Facebook and networking services like LinkedIn are mainly calculated on the number of users and subscribers, based on the volume of transactions and a notional value of each member engagement that can be sold to advertisers and other third parties. But as a user, these networks are largely two-dimensional – you are either “connected” to someone (or not), or you “like” something (or not? – Facebook does not support “dislike”). Whereas, in the real world, our relationships and connections are more multi-faceted, and our preferences are more nuanced than binary.

I was recently reminded of the 1990’s dinner party game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and the notion that we are all connected to each other by no more than six degrees of separation. At a networking event last month, I was talking to a senior executive from a major bank, whom I had just met. Within 5 minutes, we realised we had a number of mutual connections. In fact, when I looked at LinkedIn, I discovered we had more than 20 “1st degree” relationships in common, most of them deep network connections I have maintained over many years. And although LinkedIn was helpful in confirming the “proximity” of our business and personal networks, it was only by meeting in person that these links would have been identified.

Similarly, at lunch last week, a business associate I’ve known for several years’ mentioned names of two people he had been working with this year, in completely separate contexts and in unrelated situations. Turns out that I knew both of them personally. Again, LinkedIn may have been able to “confirm” these relationships, but the “value” was in already being connected.

So, this may suggest that the true network value of Facebook and LinkedIn is overstated, because:

a) the number of potential network connections far outweighs the number of actual connections

b) the limitation of binary classification of relationships does not allow for the depth and complexity inherent in our networks of relationships

c) neither platform allows users to build contextual connections (apart from basic linear profile information).

In the end, the quality of relationships wins out over the number of connections. As Kevin Bacon so aptly put it:

If social media and networking platforms measure success only by the number of “likes” and “followers”, then they devalue the importance of building deeper connections and sustainable network relationships.

Next week: Token Issuance Programs – the new structured finance?

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New – Content in Context checks out for the holidays

In honour of the festive season, Content in Context this week takes the form of a short instrumental that I have composed for Melbourne’s Federation Bells.

Normal service will be resumed after the holidays, but in the meantime, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has taken the time to visit this blog, especially those who have seen fit to “Like” and leave their valuable comments. Particular appreciation goes to those individuals who have offered specific feedback and encouragement (both online and in person), and those who have shared this blog with their own audiences on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and via other social media platforms and networks.

“Theme for Saturnalia” refers to the Roman festival, usually held from December 17 – December 23, and from which it is thought, Christmas derives many of its customs such as feasting and giving gifts. And while I do not adhere to any particular religious creed or spiritual beliefs, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the significance of the season. So, as 2013 draws to a close, and as we brace ourselves for whatever 2014 will throw at us, I would like to close the inaugural year of Content in Context by quoting the Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who ended his TV shows with the immortal words, “Goodnight, thank you and may your God go with you”.

Will Social Media Eat Itself?

The Internet has shortened the use-by date of most content. Even our attention spans are getting shorter, in inverse proportion to the amount of content we consume and length of time we spend engaging in Social Media and other platforms. Paradoxically, some stuff grabs our attention, and goes viral as everyone posts, shares, likes, blogs and Tweets the same content. Which brings me to this infamous “infographic” on donuts as a signifier for Social Media:

Donuts_SocialMedia_ThreeShipsMedia

Content by Three Ships Media – Photo by Doug Ray

Recently, I saw this image appear as a status update and a “like” by the person posting it. There was no obvious acknowledgement, giving the impression it was an original piece of work. But I recalled having seen it before (more of which later), so I was intrigued as to the true source and provenance. On closer inspection, there was a reference to a third-party website, but this was a dead-end leading to an anonymous blog post.

After a brief search, I located what I believe is the original source for the infographic, Three Ships Media, as well as the photographer who captured the image, Doug Ray. Not that difficult to uncover, given that the post has been “liked” and Tweeted about well over 100,000 times, and written up in Three Ship Media’s own blog (about how this innocuous image had gone viral….).

Now, I don’t believe that the person who posted this image was trying to claim the content as their own work. And I doubt they were deliberately seeking to violate anyone’s intellectual property rights. Yet, the failure to acknowledge our sources (regardless of whether we are exploiting them for personal commercial gain or simply invoking the fair use provisions) threatens to undermine our credibility as commentators, critics and thought leaders. If we keep recycling other people’s work without attribution, the risk is that social media will simply implode as it chases itself in ever-diminishing circles.

Ironically, I realised that I had first seen this infographic at a seminar on the legal and practical aspects of Social Media. It was used by a lawyer to introduce his presentation on copyright issues and the Internet. All very well, except that he insinuated that he had come up with the infographic, and he certainly didn’t cite the original source….

Footnote: The title of this blog was inspired by the writer, David Quantick who coined the phrase “pop will eat itself” in the mid-1980’s, to describe the way modern music is self-referencing itself into oblivion.

Building a Personal Brand via Social Media – or the AAA Guide to Blogging

I’ve been working with content since I was a teenager – from writing articles for school magazines, to contributing gig reviews to a leading Manchester music magazine; from working for global media and information brands, to freelance editorial and writing projects.

Even now, as a business coach and consultant, I continue to focus on my clients’ content strategies – whether developing new products and services, managing IP, or capturing and commercialising in-house knowledge.

I have to admit to being an early sceptic about Social Media – but I soon recognised its importance, especially when building a personal brand on-line. Now it’s just another communication channel. I sometimes reflect on our ancestors who resisted the telephone, radio and television, and wonder if my own suspicions about Social Media will seem unfounded in retrospect.

About a year ago, I started this blog as a personal brand for my consulting work, as well as giving me a license to write about “Exploring the Information Age”, however tangential it might be to my professional work.*

After 12 months, I think I have found the essence to building a personal brand through social media – otherwise known as the AAA Guide to Blogging. Those elements are: Authenticity, Awareness and Attribution.

Authenticity

In an on-line environment where people hide behind avatars and aliases, you need to find the appropriate level of authenticity if you are going to be taken seriously by or establish trust with your audience. Being authentic means finding your “voice” to express yourself in any given situation, and to be true to yourself in that particular context.

I will admit to having several on-line profiles. For example, when connecting with my family and close friends, I am very circumspect about which Social Media platforms I use, and how I use them. My profile is extremely locked down and tightly controlled – you won’t be able to find me because I won’t let you in.

For my activities as a musician, I have another profile for self-promotion, sales and distribution, community engagement and beta testing new apps. You probably won’t find me because I use an alias, unless I am inviting you in.

Finally, in my professional life, I am very pro-active, interacting via an increasingly interconnected multi-channel strategy.

Does having multiple profiles mean I am being inauthentic? I would say no, because I am being authentic to who I am in those particular situations, and I don’t believe it is unreasonable to keep my private life, my personal interests, and my professional profile separate from one another. That’s why, even though I have a public profile on Facebook as part of my professional brand, I won’t be sharing my musical tastes because it’s not relevant (unless I might be going to a karaoke sessions with my clients?).

Awareness

Just as you need to be aware of the possibilities and limitations of different Social Media tools, you also need to understand your “character” when blogging, sharing and providing status updates. I see this as a natural extension to being authentic – in my professional life, should I really be sharing selfies (especially not at the client karaoke night…)?

There are 4 main categories of Social Media protagonists and bloggers:

1) Enthusiasts – personal stuff, “what I ate for breakfast”, no real purpose
beyond “sharing” or “look at me

2) Broad Experts – know their Yammers from their Spammers, their Blogrolls from their Facebook Trolls – understand how and where they need to engage, they know what works for them (they have found their own level)

3) Niche Specialists – the Twitterati (Stephen Fry), the star fashion bloggers, the political and media pundits, viral cat videos, and the quirky (@God) – NOT Katy Perry – she probably has people to do that for her, namely….

4) Professionals – so-called “prosumers” who use Social Media as part of their job or about their work, or it’s part of their public and personal profile, and the boundaries are increasingly blurred.

Attribution

As far as possible, I always attribute third party content or references I use in my blogs, even if they are deemed to be in the public domain, and I endeavour to acknowledge the original sources as far as possible.

Not only can this create reciprocal links and traffic to my blog, I just believe it is more ethical, rather than “sharing” content with no attribution. It’s not just about copyright law, or respecting IP, I happen to think it is more intellectually honest to acknowledge original ideas, rather than imply they are our own.

I came across a good example recently on LinkedIn, where a connection “shared” an infographic on social media, without providing the original source. In fact, it almost looked as if it was an original post. However, I was sure I had seen the same content elsewhere, and after a short Internet search, I was able to locate the original post and the author very easily. Maybe it’s laziness, or lack of consideration, but this common failure to attribute sources risks undermining your work and devaluing your creativity.

Final thoughts on blogging and Social Media

• No-one gets it right 100% of the time – and even when we do, we don’t always know why
• Conversely, everyone gets it a little bit wrong, so the real learning is in that collective experience
• Prospective employers, clients, customers all expect to find evidence of your Social Media and online presence – even if you are only engaged in Social Media in a professional/work capacity, you still need to develop a personal profile

*See previous blog 10 Rules for Effective Blogging. I recently did some analysis of my blog traffic, to see where my readers are coming from. I don’t use Google Adwords, and I don’t have any paid-for SEO – so I rely on my WordPress stats:

  • Nearly half of all traffic is coming from social networks
  • One third comes from search engines (of which Google accounts for 90%)
  • 10% comes from Reddit

Search results for my blog always come in the top 10 (plus it helps to have an unusual first and last name – always #1 search result!)

Footnote A slightly different version of this article was given as a presentation at the Australian chapter of PR over Coffee earlier this month