Is it a numbers game…?

So Google Plus / Google + has been launched and so most people are feeling good about it’s potential. Overall, they do not think it will be a Facebook killer, but there are some murmurs about it taking some of Twitter’s momentum. Personally, I like it and appreciate the clean UI and how Circles works. It ain’t perfect, but you can see its potential.

But the release of G+ has highlighted another interesting phenomenon among early adopters (and a few other folks). It reminds me of the cold war when the Russians and the US engaged in a nuclear arms race. It seems that when Facebook  launched, Twitter launched, LinkedIn launched and now Google Plus, there’s a mad dash to accumulate as many friends, and followers as fast as possible.

When Facebook launched, I was swept up in this game because it made me feel like the most popular kid in the class. Or maybe it was to reassure someone that I had a lot of friends. I ignored Dunbar’s law that I could only have a 150 friends and tried to explain that I knew all of my 2000 Facebook friends. Yes, I know that measuring a friend and someone you can influence is different. But I think the two often get confused.

One of the agencies I worked with even measured influence by the number of ‘Like’ and ‘Followers.’

As I get a bit older and wiser, I wonder if this is really the best way to measure influence. Recent research by Psychologist Antonius Cillessen of the University of Connecticut showed that the kids who are considered popular are often just as friendly as these universally liked kids, but with one difference. The popular kids draw a boundary around themselves, and exclude a few “outcasts” from their circle. Professor Antonius found that you can’t become popular unless you learn to exclude.

So what does this say about our social networks? First of all, people are mixing up the terms popular and influence.

BUT..what is it about the mad dash we go through every time a new service launches. These days, you can even pay a third party to get you more Twitter followers. And if most people measure influence by the number of friends and followers you have, what does that say about Influence? I do see a few posts out there talking about quality vs. quantity, but just the so – called experts seem to ignore that approach and just build out their following as quickly as possible.

Why would I want someone to follow me if I didn’t have some sort of relationship with them. This is where I give Google credit — for enabling me to easily classify the people I know. This makes more sense then how some of the other services are approaching this.

So what is a better way to measure influence? Especially if you are a company trying to spread the gospel about your products? You can definitely focus on people writing about a certain topic, such as analysts and bloggers. Unfortunately, those folks — while important — are being bombarded by your competitors and other companies interested in your space.

So what are our other options? It’s time to get past the numbers game and listen, record and study the conversations that go on within different communities AND within tribes of those communities. In doing so, you can ask yourself about the type of language these people use (the novice vs. the advanced users is one simple division), the rituals they experience, and what their specific reasons are for engaging with others. These few questions are just the tip of the iceberg, but present a nice place to start.

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