How to build a succesful Social Network

In my post Social Media Campaign Fundamentals I spoke about how to start the journey and how to monitor the success of that journey. Enhancing the chances of success of that journey is the purpose of this blog post. A journey in social media is as succesful as one’s “social” capabilities – the art of living together or enjoying life in communities or organized groups[1].

Let’s figure that you start a Facebook page and start posting interesting content. Naturally, you will speak about with your friends and they will come and visit. They will like your page. And they will return every now and again to monitor what you’re saying, because your activity alerts others when you post. This is presumably not the only thing you want because as we go along in time only the friends who are really interested in your area of activity will come and visit.

What you want is social networking and thus, to put together the largest possible following from the extended community around you. This is where your friends, and then their friends, bring others and your online community extends beyond those people that know you directly. Use your activity in the community to indirectly bring in members of that community to you by linking to your page and building your own succesful social network:

  1. Do not spam or harass people as this is counterproductive.
  2. If you are active in the online community already, it’s easier. But if you aren’t, you will easily integrate especially if you are already known offline. Join the online communities that matter – ask yourself and your friends which are the relevant existing pages or groups on Facebook; people you should link with on LinkedIn and Twitter; blogs that already discuss the subject.
  3. Become active by commenting positively on other people’s activity, contributing useful content you find on the web, and posting links to your blog (if you set one up). You may be recognised as an expert in your physical community and this gives you an edge on a newcomer to the area because you will know how to tackle an argument and building a followup. It will be a challenge to extend or replicate this on the Internet, just like building a community of followers on any open broadcast medium like TV. Be selective and sensitive to the nature of a blog when deciding what to say in your contribution to it because you are doing this to attract (not push away) people to your own page or blog.

Good luck building your social network!


[1] Definition thanks to Princeton WorldNet – a lexical database for English

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Saved by the Web!

As the Berlin wall was coming down 20 years ago, my grandfather encouraged me to keep my first newspaper cutting. In the eighties, cuttings were the standard way to keep a memento of a news item.

I bought the Economist (17 October) because I wanted to read what it had to say about cloud computing. It coincidentally took me until the 9 November to stumble upon the article that speaks about press freedom and the internet, and thus the link I am making with the fall of the wall. The move to greater openness, that the Western world celebrated on 9 November 1989, still finds obstacles to this day.

But there is no wall to stop bloggers from writing about anything and Google from finding it.

The Economist reported how a British court granted a “super-injunction” at the request of an oil company that wanted to keep the press off the story that it was allegedly found dumping toxic waste off the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

On the 12 October, Labour MP Paul Farrelly put a related parliamentary question to the Justice secretary. On the same day, the Guardian published on its website that it was being “prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech”. By the following morning the Guardian editor was using Twitter to encourage listeners to watch his space and that the paper was “hoping to get into court today to challenge ban by Carter-Ruck on reporting parliament”.  Bloggers speculated online and according to a Wikipedia article it was Guido Fawkes’ blog that broke the news. The same Wikipedia article states that, in 2007, the oil company’s press officer “attempted to alter the Dutch Wikipedia article “Probo Koala” on three separate occasions, with intent to clear the company’s name”.

The gag was lifted on the following day when the firm’s solicitors withdrew their opposition to the Guardian.

The injunction had been obtained on the 11 September 2009. Political will to guarantee freedom of information, the existence of a persistent press and the sheer force of social media freed, in two days, what had been under cover for over a month.

Press release v.s the online media

Ragan Communications and Pollstream conducted a study and recently published a report about the importance of press releases. Ragan quote Vanessa Horwell, chief visibility officer for ThinkInk saying that between 55 percent to 97 percent of press releases sent to media outlets are never acted upon. Horwell observes that “we need to create interest first, but people keep pushing out press releases because companies think that the more they’re sending out, something’s going to stick”. The observation about creating interest is what is truly interesting in the context of the hype around social networking.

The press is undoubtedly a very important player in the formation of public opinion about anything! But, can it be argued that the demand for a particular news is now also affected by what bloggers and Facebookers are pushing? A Consumer Intelligence report published by market research organisation MRI shows that 16.1% of those aged 25-34 have visited a blog in the last 30 days. This is a very relevant portion, considering that 74.1% of the U.S. population uses the Internet. But blogs and social media generally also have a captive audience with a steady decrease in activity amongst higher age groups. Does the press pay attention to what’s going on in the online channels before deciding what goes to print? Should communications offices be more intelligent in combining press releases with research of what’s being said online and through active blogging?

And a word about how this fits in Gov 2.0!

Governments worldwide are blamed for not interacting enough – communication is seen to be one way (as with a press release!). The European Commission’s webpage about the eParticipation Information Day which took place in July hints that “perhaps voters feel … that their concerns and opinions are not being listened to or acted upon.” In a society where Governments are striving to give voters the right degree of involvement in the policy-shaping process, how should Governments use the press in best combination with the online social media? There is never one magic formula. But what makes a news item interesting is definitely that it is credible, well targeted and articulated in a way that makes its content valuable to its recipient.

The abovementioned Ragan report states that the study also shows that 45 percent of respondents believe that press releases are losing relevance because of the growth of social media. Furthermore, 23 percent blamed the decline on the demand for a more trustworthy and/or engaging information source. Does that mean that if Government communications offices used the social media better, they would recapture a sizeable portion of those who are hooked to newer media? Is social media more engaging? Does its open, interactive nature make it more trustworthy?

The press release is not dead and it won’t die but communication certainly needs to change!