Everywhere you go in social media you find people practicing the commonly recommended strategies: win followers, promote yourself relentlessly, leverage SEO strategies, use the magic words, always comment on trendy topics, keep it short, simple, easy and engaging, share repeatedly at different times, and so on. These strategies have confused influence with rank.
Is Social just Multi-level Marketing 2.0?
If your social network is not social, in the sense of supporting human interaction, then it is simply an advertising and sales network. We know how those work. They are multi-level marketing schemes like Amway, Avon, Herbalife, and so on.
Most people have had an experience of meeting a multi-level marketer. In general, we find multi-level marketing to be something we would prefer to avoid. Multi-level marketing schemes are network sales and marketing systems designed to reward people for their rank in accumulating followers. The bigger your downstream the more money you have a chance to make. In multi-level marketing it doesn’t matter if a person in the downstream actually know you, it just matters that they are in your downstream. Value comes from volume. The negative experiences that most people have from multi-level marketing come from this relentless drive for volume. Value to followers and human relationships are completely lost in the need to pump the numbers.
The commonly recommended social media strategies are turning social media into multi-level marketing where everything is a numbers game so that you can sell your rank in the system, not to your followers, but to advertisers for return.
Saving Social: Influence over Rank
In my work in collaboration inside organisations, I have been a passionate champion of the reality that numbers of employees using a platform alone is not a goal. The strategies to win the numbers game distract from a business focus on value creation opportunities and can at times even be be counterproductive to the focus on work and value for users and the organisation. In this work, I need to reiterate to organisational leaders that what matters more than rank or follower counts is influence. Influence in networks is the currency that enables a leader to create value.
We need to remember the same principles in social media. Influence comes from relationships, trust and conversations. There’s no guarantee that scale delivers influence. I have seen plenty of people with hundreds of thousands of twitter followers who get no response to their tweets. There are no magic set of topics, words or phrases to create influence. Influence comes from connecting personally with people and helping them achieve something that matters to them.
Kevin Kelly has written about the idea that all we need for success is 1000 True Fans, people who we deeply influence. This lowers the necessary rank for success to a much more human scale in social media. Importantly, it also focuses our attention on the extent of our influence and our relationships with others. The best way to save social from the numbers game is to continue to build the niches where networks create real human relationships of influence and avoid the multi-level marketing. If those playing the numbers and rank game end up playing on their own, their influence & value will collapse.