I’ve been thinking about my presence on the internet from the early days, from my time at Argonne National Labs near Chicago in 1988-1989 and from my graduate school days at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1989-1992. That was even before the web browser days, which didn’t come out till 1993-94. Mosaic browser was first released in 1993. And I remember the excitement we had at work when we installed an early version of Netscape browser in 1994.
There was internet of course even before the browser. In addition to the worldwide email which primarily linked major universities and research labs, there were numerous user groups — virtual discussion groups — that I used to take part in and contribute to. I suppose that was the equivalent of today’s social networking. Amazingly enough, after all these years most of that information exchange and communication lives on and Google easily finds it. For example, here is a post of mine from Aug. 1991 on soc.culture.iranian, where I have translated a rubai (a form of Persian poem consisting of two lines each made up of two segments) by the ancient Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer, Omar Khayyam. From the URL you can see that it has been archived on a server at MIT. Also note that those groups are still active under Google Groups.
So over the years I have produced a lot of digital content. Thousands of emails in my Yahoo! and Gmail accounts Sent folders (not counting nearly 100,000 emails just in my personal inboxes as I have not written those), over 4,000 photos on Flickr, three different blogs with tens of posts, some of which are syndicated on other sites such as Ulitzer.com, and numerous technical papers and presentations published online or residing on various employers’ repositories.
In keeping up with the Web 2.0 and social media era, I also have thousands of status updates, shares, wall posts, and messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo! Updates, Google Buzz and Twitter, and hundreds of bookmarks on Delicious. Besides all this digital content that I have produced, there is also the more important digital asset that I have: the people in my online communities, social networks and groups. Nearly 1,500 contacts in my Yahoo address book, more than 2,000 people in a Yahoo Group email list, more than a thousand friends on Facebook, almost 600 contacts on LinkedIn, and the thousands that I follow or follow me on my three Twitter accounts, just to name a few.
In an attempt to formalize the above discussion, I want to introduce a couple of terms. The first is Digital Footprint (DF), by which I mean all the digital content that one has produced and that resides on the internet, including text, image, audio, and video. An important element that accounts for DF is blogs and the frequency of posts on them. Digital footprint also includes one’s presence on the internet and membership in various internet services including various forms of social networks.
Virtual Social Influence
The second and the more important term is Virtual Social Influence (VSI), by which I mean one’s influence on others on the internet especially in the social networks such as those on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and Ning, and in the context of social media in general such as blogs. There are many factors that play into VSI.
The number of visitors to your blogs, comments on your blog posts, subscriptions to your blogs, online newsletters (if any); retweets, buzz, mentions, potential downloads and social bookmarks (e.g. Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg) on your digital content.
The size of your networks, e.g. friends on Facebook, contacts on LinkedIn, following and especially followers on Twitter, other specialized social networks that you may belong to such as those on Ning. Note that the number of followers alone on Twitter is hardly an accurate measure of one’s influence. There are Twitter users with thousands followers (using automated Twitter tools) who have only a handful of tweets. That is no influence at all.
The number and the size of the groups that you belong to within your social networks.
How active you are in these networks and groups within; i.e. how often you post information and updates on them, such as status updates and tweets, link sharing, photo and video uploads, and one-on-one communication. In addition to the quantity, the quality of updates and tweets also matters. This is not as straight-forward but the number of retweets, shares, comments, social bookmarks, etc. are indications of the quality of one’s updates or tweets.
How active and influential others in your networks and groups are. People in your networks who have dormant accounts and hardly log in or use the networks, should count very little if at all. Alternatively if you have people of influence connected to you, then that would increase your social influence.
How powerful and influential are your networks. The collective power and influence of the people in any network may define how influential a group is as a whole. The higher the influence of your networks, the higher should be your social influence.
Last but not least, how influential you are in your networks. For example, how often the information you post on Facebook gets shared, liked, or commented on. On Twitter it is how often your tweets get retweeted, and the number of mentions, especially follow recommendations you get, how many lists (public or private) you are listed on, and the follower/following ratio. The idea is that the bigger this number, the bigger is the VSI.
I am no sociologist, but I suspected that the term Social Influence would have some meaning in sociology, and it certainly has. According to Sociology Encyclopedia:
“Social influence is defined as change in an individual’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, or behaviors that results from interaction with another individual or a group. Social influence is distinct from conformity, power, and authority.”
Wikipedia also has an entry for social influence, which says it “occurs when an individual’s thoughts or actions are affected by other people.” It goes on to discuss three stages of social influence: compliance (people agree with others but keep it private), identification (people are influenced by someone who is liked and respected), and internalization (people accept a belief or behavior publicly).
These definitions are right on, but they are general and not tied to the internet. By adding virtual I mean to restrict it to online presence, specifically in the context of the virtual social networks that one belongs to and social media that one plays a role in. However the internet is such an integral part of our lives nowadays that VSI most likely (but not necessarily) also means social influence outside of the internet in real life. And probably vice versa.
How do they relate to each other?
Presumably the larger one’s digital footprint, the bigger may be her or his virtual social influence. And if someone has a large VSI, then he or she may also have a large digital footprint. But in general DF and VSI are independent of one another. One can have very large social networks (and potentially a large VSI) without necessarily producing large volume of digital content. VSI is primarily tied to the number of influential people in your networks, the extent of your interaction with them, and your influence on them.
On the other hand, a prolific author, scientist, graphic designer, a musician, or a film director may have a very large digital footprint, while not being active or even present in any online social network. In fact such a person, as unlikely as it may seem, may not even be an internet-savvy person. But his or her content most likely will be digitized and uploaded to the internet by various third-parties.
How do we measure them?
To get a rough idea of what your digital footprint is, you can google yourself and see how many references there are to your name. This is not entirely accurate and it does not necessarily mean that the larger the number of references to you, the bigger is your digital footprint. For example, there may be a lot of news about a celebrity, an artist, a traditional author, even a dictator or a criminal who has little or nothing to do directly with the internet and the digital/virtual world we live in.
In general I think it is not easy to measure one’s digital footprint and virtual social influence, because there are many variables, some subjective, to take into consideration. In terms of DF it may seem easy to quantify the digital content that one has produced, but even that gets complicated. For one thing, different type of content (e.g. text vs. audio/video) would need different weights to normalize them. Also if someone’s non-digital work gets digitized and becomes available on the internet through a third party, it should get lesser of a consideration (i.e. get a lower weight than a native digital work) because the original work was not in digital form.
Despite these challenges one can certainly devise formulas and analytics to come up with numerical or graphical representation for these terms. Though I am not aware of an aggregate and overall metrics or scoring for DF and VSI across the internet, there have been a number of attempts to quantify one’s presence and influence on specific social networks. I discuss two such methods below.
Grader.com provides a set of tools for rating and scoring various things such as web sites, press releases, and Facebook and Twitter accounts. The last two are of interest for this discussion. Twitter.grader.com grades a given user on Twitter. It comes up with a rank (among those graded), and a numeric score on a scale of 100. For example my Twitter rank on my main Twitter account (farshidk) as of this writing is 270,461 out of 6,349,313 users ranked, and my Twitter grade is 95.7 out of 100. Grader does not disclose how the exact formula for how this grade is computed but the key factors (most of which I have discussed above) are mentioned here. Obviously the usual suspects such as the number of followers, following and tweets play into the algorithm, as well as a number of other not so obvious factors.
Facebook.grader.com does a similar scoring for Facebook users as well as Facebook business pages. As of this writing, my Facebook (farshidk) rank is 1,945 out of 48,080 users ranked. My Facebook grade is 96.1 out of 100. A few of obvious variables that are accounted for are the number of friends, groups, and wall posts. But it should also consider the interaction in those group. Grader also considers the completeness of a Facebook profile in computing its grade.
KloutScore.com defines a Klout Score (or Kscore for short), a numerical score 1-100 that measures the size and strength of a Twitter user’s “sphere of influence”. The size is based on “true reach” (engaged followers and friends), the strength is measured based on one’s interactions in his or her network. Similar to the definitions of social influence and inline with my VSI, Kloutscore.com considers influence the ability to drive people to action, which on Twitter may be a reply/mention, retweet, or a click on a link in a tweet. Other variables such as follower/following ratio, follow back percent, and list count are also taken into consideration. It also considers a network score, which has to do with how influential the people who interact with you are. Apparently 25+ variables are used to compute a Kscore. You can see more details on this here.
Kloutscore.com also provides more detailed analytics and statistics on various Twitter related variables which I think are useful and insightful. If you are a serious Twitter user you should check out your Kscore. HootSuite which I consider to be one of the better Twitter clients, uses Klout Score for each follower and following. My Kscore on my main Twitter account (farshidk) is a mere 8! A big discrepancy between my Twitter Grade (95.7) and Kscore, but I believe the latter is more accurate. For one thing, I am pretty particular about my tweets and I do not necessarily engage in casual conversations on Twitter publicly. For example, I don’t consider tweets like “Good morning everyone” or “@Joe thanks for follow” of any value to any one.
Digital footprint and virtual social influence for your business
My discussion here has been focused on primarily an individual’s presence and influence on the internet and in social media. But this discussion equally applies to any business and brand(s). The DF and VSI for your business and brand especially for consumer-oriented products and services should be a good indicator of the success of your brand and business. The keyword that we typically use in this context is engagement — how engaged are your customers with your site, brand, etc. The ultimate social influence metric for your business of course is that your target audience buys your products or services.
Apple and its brands such as iPhone and iTunes are good examples of powerful and socially influential products and brands. I used to use BlackBerry for years but I recently switched to iPhone. And I am very happy with my decision which was partially influenced by friends, family and colleagues.
Having good metrics and analytics around people’s and business’ presence and influence on the internet and especially on various social networks will be increasingly more important as the emerging era of social computing takes shape. I’ve defined a couple of terms — digital footprint and virtual social influence — towards formalizing such concepts. Social influence is a well-defined concept in sociology and it carries over nicely to our virtual communities and social networks as virtual social influence. I’ve described a couple of existing scoring tools for Facebook and Twitter. I am sure that we will see more of these in the future.
In my last post I explained that before you embark on using social media for your business, you need to first determine your objectives and define your strategy. And this strategic planning does not and probably should not involve any specific social media channel at the outset.
A good article that outlines the steps for the planning and strategic upfront work is “10 steps to a practical social media business strategy” by Allen Bonde, where he describes the fundamental and basic steps that must be done upfront, such as creating a mission statement and a marketing plan, assigning ownership and defining policies, all before getting to specific social media channels.
Now assuming that you have done your strategy homework, let’s take a look at how we can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.
In the previous post I referenced a number of blog posts and articles from others on this topic that provide good information. Another good article is “30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business” published in Inc. It also includes examples for each tip of how specific businesses use social media. It also points out the caveats and pitfalls of misusing social media and how it can harm the reputation of a business or even get it in legal trouble. What I have here is somewhat different and in a way complementary to what is covered in those articles.
Needless to say that it is critical to have a good up-to-date dynamic website as most other elements (including social media) plug into it. To be able to easily change and expand the website, it may be best to invest in a web content management system. There are numerous providers for such software from small business to enterprise. Such systems may also include blogging module as well that can be used to host the company blogs.
In a large organization with multiple product lines and several content providers it may be necessary to implement processes and workflows for review and approval of the content before it is published on the public site. Such software may provide the means for implementing customized edit/review/approve/publish workflows.
This website becomes the primary container for various other social media elements that I will discuss below, such as blogs and Twitter feed. These may get plugged into the home page, product pages, or the news page of the corporate website.
Having active blogs with one or more subject matter expert (SME) writer is of utmost importance. Blogs should not be commercials for the offerings, but they can provide thought leadership and news about the relevant markets and industries. There may be dedicated blogs to each product line and industry in the target market. Again, it may be necessary to implement marcom and legal review and approval workflows to ensure that what is written is in line with corporate and legal guidelines, before they get published.
Having presence on Twitter is a must for any business. You may in fact want to have multiple accounts for various products and services or even various departments (e.g. customer support) depending on the size and the nature of your business and offerings. Cisco Systems has over 30 Twitter accounts dedicated to various product lines as well as departments such as support. For effective tweeting it is also important to create the right hashtags associated with the brand names, product lines and other topics. For example if your company has its own conference or public event, you should create a hashtag dedicated to that event. Those tags then should be used with the appropriate tweets consistently.
The tweet streams (feeds) should be pushed onto the appropriate pages of the website. For example if you have a dedicated Twitter account for a particular product line, then tweets from that account may show up on the corresponding product page. While tweets from an overall corporate Twitter account should go to the news page.
I am a big fan of Facebook and am actively on it with well over 1,000 friends. But I primarily use it for personal and community social networking and not for business use. My primary social media channels for business and professional use are LinkedIn and Twitter.
However nowadays even serious large high-tech companies like Cisco,Oracle, and Intel have fan pages on Facebook. Some host multiple pages that may be dedicated to particular organizations or specific products and services. I think this make sense for companies with consumer products. For B2B companies it is questionable how effective it is, but it doesn’t take much to set up a fan page so why not do it?
Cisco main fan page has over 38,000 members and provides continuous updates and news about its products and services. Oracle main fan page has over 27,000 members and it includes the latest news from Oracle. I just viewed Larry Ellison’s video talking about the closing of Sun’s acquisition on that page.
Facebook presence may help with establishing and promoting the company brand name and recruiting good top young talent. I venture to say that more people know about Cisco and Oracle because of their Facebook fan pages than they would otherwise.
LinkedIn is the premier business networking site. There are two primary ways that a business can use LinkedIn services. One is creating and managing the appropriate Linked groups as well as having presence and participating in the relevant industry and technology groups. LinkedIn groups have many features such as subgroups, news and discussions that may be utilized. LinkedIn has also emerged as a serious job site. If you want top talent for your business you probably should use LinkedIn job services.
It is a good idea to set up a Youtube channel under the company or product brand name and populate it with videos that can cover various product and industry related topics. For example the videos may be product demos, talks, or interviews. The Youtube channel should then be linked to the website.
Enable syndication & social bookmarking
It is also useful to enable your customers and visitors to easily share and receive content from your website. For example you can facilitate setting up a feed for your press releases so that one can receive them in their Google Reader. You may also want to use page sharing and bookmarking services such as AddThis so that a visitor to your site can easily bookmark and share a particular page of interest using social bookmarking services such as Delicious.
Let your customers participate and listen
So far all I have covered are various methods for broadcasting, publishing, and sharing information with your audience. But social media is not just about you telling others about yourself and your business. It is conversation.
The important and differentiating factor in social media is the notion of community where participants (you, your customers and partners, and your employees) are enabled, empowered and encouraged to participate, collaborate, share information, and help each other. And Web 2.0 technology has readily enabled this notion of community. Concepts such as rating and comments are available for most of such social content.
You can for example comment on blog posts and Youtube videos. On Facebook you can flag any content with Like/unlike and comment on it. Your support/help content should include means for the reader to rate the usefulness of such content. You should monitor what people are saying about you and your offerings on the internet at large beyond your website. For example you should monitor sites such as Twitter and Yelp about your business and products.
Putting it all together
As you can see there are many elements and channels to social media. Needless to say that it is important to have an orchestrated and coordinated effort on using them. You want to have a consistent and timely messaging across all these channels. The frequency of tweets, updates to the relevant LinkedIn groups, Facebook fan page, blog posts, etc. all must be appropriately timed and coordinated. For large companies like Cisco with major social media initiative, it is necessary to have full-time people dedicated to social media to successfully implement and execute their social media plan.
Social media guidelines & policies
It is also a good idea to define, publish and socialize a social media policy and guidelines to ensure proper usage, avoid misuse and ensure consistent messaging. Many companies have already defined their own and some are in fact public so you can view them and base yours based on their best practices. For example here is IBM’s “Social Computing Guidelines”. And here is Intel’s “Social Media Guidelines”. There are numerous other examples of such guidelines and policies online. In “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy“, Sharlyn Lauby discusses general elements of such a policy.
A while ago I read a blog post from a marketing executive who wrote that he had prohibited the use of certain words in his strategy and planning meetings. Among those words there where many popular social networking and media words such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Though that might seem odd at first, it makes a lot of sense. The point is that while social media may serve as an effective method of promoting your business, it is only a set of tools and channels that you may use to execute against your business plan and strategy. It is part of the tactical stuff that you do after you have figured out your strategy.
This may seem in contrast to all the talk on “social media strategies”. Well, one can certainly strategize on how to use social media for a business. But it remains a fact that social media is a vehicle to carry out business or marketing strategies. Here are a few relevant articles and blog posts on this topic.
In “The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration” Brian Solis refers to social media as “transformative”. That certainly is true. He outlines insightful stages of adoption and guidelines for social media in business. Some are strategic such as “finding a voice and a sense of purpose” where he highlights the importance of “strategic communication and engagement” as opposed to “chatter” or “aimless broadcast”. He also points out under “social Darwinism” that social media is only one part of an “overall integrated strategy”.
Sharlyn Lauby in “HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy” discusses some strategic work that must be done before implementing specific social media methods. She outlines five steps (such as “determine your objective” and “find an internal evangelist”) that are in fact general and equally apply to any large project across a sizable organization. For example implementing a business application or some infrastructure software such as BPM or SOA in an enterprise also requires the same disciplined rigor.
Edward Boches in “10 Ways a Start-Up Can Use Social Media to Market Itself” outlines useful advice for small and start-up businesses (who may have limited resources) on using social media. They range from fundamental and general marketing advice such as “craft a brand position rooted in a customer benefits” (which is independent of social media) to basic tactical stuff such as “get on Twitter and use it actively” to an interesting concept that he calls “crowdsourcing”.
And in “13 Tactics to Make Social Media Work Harder” Heidi Cohen provides sound advice on using social media, such as providing content that meets your customers’ needs and allowing them and your employees to share content and take part in social media. I like her explicit use of the word “tactics” as opposed to strategies, even though her advice is mostly general and not specific to any particular social media channel.
So before you start tweeting away on your business, loading up videos to Youtube, creating groups on LinkedIn and fan pages on Facebook, etc. it is advisable that you do some strategic thinking and come up with an overall plan that may (and should) include social media as channels but it does not (and should not) include specific mentions of any of the above.
In a follow-up article, I will discuss how you can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.
One of the great and unique things about Twitter is that it is a fairly simple and easy service to use. From an end-user perspective, setting up an account at twitter.com and starting to tweet, is a couple of minutes of work. I can describe the concept of Twitter and its features to any internet-savvy person in 5 minutes. The basic functions on twitter.com can be summarized as follows:
Create an account/profile
Search or look up users
Follow/un-follow a user
Tweet — post an update
Send a direct message to a follower
Reply to a user or mention users
I suppose Twitter will evolve and may become more sophisticated as more features are added. For example, Twitter recently added a couple of new features. One is Lists where you can define a global list (accessible by twitter.com/<user-id>/<list-name>) and add to it anyone that you follow. For example, I have lists such as “enterprise”, “socialmedia” and “friends”. And twitter.com/farshidk/socialmedia is a public link that shows tweets from the people I have in my “socialmedia” list. You can easily configure a list to be private.
The other new feature is Retweet where Twitter provides you with a single click retweet of a tweet that you are viewing. I don’t particularly like this feature because it is a single click operation that doesn’t allow you to edit the tweet or add anything to it. When I reteweet I often like to edit the tweet and use “via” to acknowledge the source.
Compare this with setting up a complete account on Facebook or LinkedIn, where to have a complete profile one must provide a great deal of input data. Even in terms of feature set of Facebook once the account and profile is set up, there is a lot to learn.
Furthermore, to properly and thoroughly be able to use Facebook, you need to use facebook.com. Though there are mobile clients for Facebook, they mostly provide limited functionality. On the web, when you want to use Facebook, you pretty much have to go to Facebook.com.
What this means is that there is a proliferation of Twitter clients from providers other than Twitter itself that you can use to interface with Twitter. From thick clients such as TweetDeck to thin web-based clients such as HootSuite to mobile and smart phone clients such as Tweetie for iPhone and UberTwitter for BlackBerry, there are many options. You can also tweet via basic text/SMS to 40404; that is, post updates to the cell phone you have registered with a Twitter account.
And if you don’t like any of these options and can program, you can always write your own Twitter client using the Twitter APIs. Any active Twitter user most likely has his or her own favorite ways of tweeting. In fact if you look at any tweet, it shows how it was sent, such as TweetDeck, web, and txt. Below I cover the two Twitter clients that I like and use often when I am online.
TweetDeck is a thick Twitter client for tweeting with link shortening, viewing tweets from the people you follow (i.e. your timeline) as well as mentions and direct messages, defining and managing groups, and more. It provides support for multiple accounts so that you can manage several accounts from a single tool with a single login so you do not have to log in and out for different Twitter accounts. This is very important for people like me who have multiple Twitter accounts for various purposes. I have three accounts and without a tool such as TweetDeck that supports multiple accounts, it is not practical at all to tweet actively. Keep in mind that from twitter.com you can only work only with one twitter account at any time.
TweetDeck recently broadened its scope and reach by adding support for Facebook and LinkedIn, so you can configure columns for Facebook and LinkedIn, receive updates from your friends and connections and post updates to those channels. Figure 1 below shows a typical TweetDeck configuration with simultaneous access to two Twitter accounts.
Figure 1: TweetDeck with access to two twitter accounts
The window scrolls horizontally so you can add columns for various purposes. For example I have columns showing tweets from people I follow, direct messages, and mentions, for each account. There are also columns for my groups. Or you may define a column for a particular search term. One can easily add and remove columns.
One potential problem with TweetDeck is that it is not web based. What that means is that you cannot use it on a public computer. Also if you have multiple machines (e.g. a home laptop and a work computer) and have configured your TweetDeck clients with multiple accounts and columns) then you will have to do the same on every machine you use. Otherwise they will have different configurations.
At the same time TweetDeck has interesting features that I like. For example, it runs on the background and pushes tweets with an optional chirping sound to a corner of your monitor with in a temporary pop-up. Some may find it annoying, but whether I am in front of my laptops or not, I usually have it running and almost take comfort in hearing the sound of tweets coming in.
HootSuite provides Tabs that consists of columns. A tab represents a Twitter account, as well as Facebook or LinkedIn accounts. For example I have a tab for each of my three Twitter accounts as well as my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. A tab may also be used for Groups, or as a Tracker. A tracker takes keywords including hashtags and monitors tweets with those terms. For example I have a Tracker with the search criteria “BPM or e-discovery”.
If you configure Facebook on HootSuite, then you can view the posts from your friends, and you can post updates to your wall and status. The same holds true for LinkedIn. That is, if you configure LinkedIn on HootSuite then you will get status updates from the people you are linked with, and you can push updates to LinkedIn right from HootSuite. Figure 2 below shows a particular HootSuite configuration with two accounts, and four tabs.
Figure 2: HootSuite configured for two Twitter accounts
HootSuite also provides stats and reports for how often your tweets are viewed and clicked on. Another interesting and unique feature of HootSuite is that it allows you to schedule a tweet or post for a particular time in the future.
If you know of other interesting Twitter clients, let me know. Thanks.