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The Social Network: Ecosystem vs. Egosystem

Of all the social networks competing for our online persona and social graph, Twitter is special. The culture and self-governing rules of engagement shaped by the “me” in social media, create a personalized  experience that looks and feels less like a “social” network and instead, creates an empowering information exchange.

Twitter is at the heart of the Web’s evolving egosystem and its archetype is powerful and quite understated.  For better or worse, Twitter introduces the notion of notion of popularity, whereby the numbers of followers and also the friend to follower ratio we possess indicate ones stature within Twitterverse. As I’ve said over the years, popularity does not beget influence, but the egosystem and all who define it, do in fact reward and nurture it. The true promise of Twitter is revealed not in the size of our social graph, but instead how we influence digital culture shaped by tweets, responses, retweets, trending topics, and the evolving patterns of connectivity we explore as both individuals and as denizens of a global community. Eventually, what happens on Twitter will influence behavior offline as well.

The Illusion of Control and Influence

In business, the illusion of influence is often measured by the quantity of followers and as such, the success of social campaigns is routinely defined by the volume of responses and retweets we trigger and the overall share of voice we earn through participation. As numbers factor into metrics, programs must include strategies for expanding visibility and reach. Brands then look to those individuals with remarkable social graphs to represent products and services much in the same way celebrities endorse products in traditional media today.  As a result, businesses are targeting individuals with substantial connections and rewarding them with incentives and also compensation for introducing a series of paid or sponsored tweets, updates, and posts to their audiences.

While social media presents a wonderful opportunity for individuals to define their “15 minutes” and ultimately their online legacy, brands and individuals must take responsibility for their streams and their valued networks. We are now venturing into domains where “eyeballs” and “audiences” transform into relationships and each are curated and cultivated to mean something deeply personal. Here, people are the masters of their experiences and they are defined by those to whom they’re connected.


Actions speak louder than words and as such, we earn and retain the relationships we deserve.

Influence is the ability to inspire and measure action. Awareness counts, but if social activity can cause action or change or impact sentiment or perception, we begin to understand the transformative and powerful attributes of true influence.

For example, if we align a group of undeniably popular Twitter users who are recognized for their celebrity and not necessarily recurring topics, passion, and interests, broad reach is certainly an inherent benefit of the alliance. But does reach equate to influence? I don’t believe so. Followers don’t equal influence.

If anything, reach contributes to awareness and buzz.

Twitter is unique in that its most active users, to some extent, are developing their own dedicated audiences. And just because they follow a popular person on Twitter, these campaigns don’t necessarily translate into desired actions or outcomes. They do, however, succeed in spreading the word and most commonly done so via retweets as followers of notable personalities also have followers of their own, which are as important to them and therefore require constant feeding of valuable and interesting information and content. Essentially, followers aren’t really followers at all. They’re collections of “interest graphs” where individuals are not bound by social relationships as much as they’re tied through context, common interests and goals, and shared experiences.

In a recent study entitled “The Million Follower Fallacy,” author Adi Avnit observed, “The act of retweeting (based on my personal experience), typically indicates that the receiver reads the tweet carefully, found it interesting, and deemed it to be of sufficient interest and value to forward it further to her followers. In some sense, retweets capture the content value of the tweet.”

In relation to the number of followers one earns in Twitter, Avnit concluded, “Popular users who have a high indegree [number of followers] are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions.”

As an organization, how would you test the value of these connections? What if our goal was to raise donations for a particular cause or increase pre-orders or registrations related to a soon-to-be released product? Retweets are a necessary step in spreading information, but in the end, it’s the resulting clickthrough and donation, purchase, or registration that tests influence and defines the success of the campaign.

Perhaps the answer resides in the following statement, “we are defined by our associations.”

Brands seeking reach, presence, and connectivity must look beyond popularity and focus on aligning with the influential beacons who serve as the hubs for contextual networks or nicheworks.

The Conversation Quotient

Conversions are already a key metric in other forms of sales and marketing and eventually, it will permeate social media as well. Formulas exist to measure conversion ratios and if we analyze the performance of conversations, we can then not only assess influence, but also identify how to improve or increase conversation to action ratios. If a campaign earns 100,000 tweets and retweets and elicits 600 donations, purchases or registrations, the conversation quotient represents a .6% conversation rate. In this case, it can be assumed that for every 100,000 tweets, we can potentially expect 600 actions.

In the simple example above, conversations contribute to presence, but it is conversions that measure the effects of awareness. It’s imperative that we introduce a click to action, one that evokes response and also a measurable and meaningful event. However, as attention is increasingly thinning and information competes against itself, we must be mindful that multiple factors exist that are already working against you. While popularity factors into the likelihood for visibility, the design of the tweet contributes to whether it’s read, read and retweeted, or read, retweeted, and activated.

The Growing Popularity and Prominence of Nicheworks

Users on Twitter are already forging social graphs based on context. As such, Twitter will eventually base its Promoted Tweets advertising program on frames of reference. For instance, if you tweet about coffee on a regular basis and build a small, but dedicated audience around the subject, you are building a network of influence based on an identifiable topic. While I refer to these contextual networks as nicheworks, Twitter views the relationships formed around subject matter as interest graphs. Accordingly, these interest graphs will then receive advertisements in their streams, in this case, coffee.

Starbucks is already experimenting with Promoted Tweets tied to interests. The company also recently partnered with Klout to run a test campaign whereby “influencers” identified to related keywords were given a special offer. Applying the conversation quotient would immediately measure the performance of the campaign. And if Starbucks experimented with certain variations to test conversion ratios, the company could then introduce an awareness component to the program where the influencer is then empowered to extend the offer to their audiences. The campaign then focuses on context and influence rather than popularity, which will most likely result in a significant increase in clicks to action and ultimately greater conversions.

You Get One Tweet to Make a First Impression

You only get one shot at a desired outcome and one-click to make a first impression. Plan accordingly and ensure that the series of crafted tweets are optimized to incite desired behavior. It is for this reason that we look beyond popularity towards those individuals and organizations that have established influence within relevant subject matters. Thoughtfulness, strategy, research, rewards, and context are critical ingredients of our programming recipe. The consistent introduction of value linked to interests and influence, sets the stage for the establishment and cultivation of active, dedicated, and beneficial social nicheworks.

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154 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Social Network: Ecosystem vs. Egosystem”

  1. Mark Drapeau says:

    Brian – Really good post. And good timing. I just added a mention of it to a big post I have coming out tomorrow (Tue) on SECTOR: PUBLIC.

  2. danperez says:

    After reading this post, I've finally figured out what a “thought leader” is – someone who introduces a bunch of hollow theories that make people “think” that it's actually something when it's really just a bunch of big words mixed in with the obvious. The good news is there's always a book at the end they could buy that will “solve” all the riddles.

    Egosystems, nicheworks, influence…lions, tigers and bears, oh my!

    • Digipendent says:

      Brian has never once said the book will “solve” all your problems…in fact, in bold red it says that it can “help”.

      If you don't find any value in Brian's posts then thats awesome for you, but myself and tons of people do so please :

      go troll somewhere else.

    • danperez says:

      You must be one of those “thought leader” followers, yes?

    • briansolis says:

      Hey Dan, no need to take it down this path. After your comment, I spent some time looking at your work, posts, and comments across the web. I can appreciate your view…

    • danperez says:

      He started 😉

    • Joel Don says:

      Sometimes you need to reach a certain altitude to gain a new or different perspective. Brian certainly does view the revolution in communications through a sociological and anthropological prism. But that's often a welcome balance to writings that focus on the bit and bytes of our day-to-day jobs and professions. If you read Brian’s other posts or books, he’s pretty upfront about his 40,000-foot approach. It’s not unlike the spectrum of views and styles in your business, from the street-level Entertainment Weekly to the loftier heights of Film Comment. It’s all part of the mix.

  3. danperez says:

    After reading this post, I've finally figured out what a “thought leader” is – someone who introduces a bunch of hollow theories that make people “think” that it's actually something when it's really just a bunch of big words mixed in with the obvious. The good news is there's always a book at the end they could buy that will “solve” all the riddles.

    Egosystems, nicheworks, influence…lions, tigers and bears, oh my!

  4. joeldon says:

    Well-thought post, pointing to a more mature and evolved future for Twitter. Most companies today are still caught up in headcounts. Measuring things like influence and relationships for a PR status report is going to take a bit of education, time and acceptance.

  5. Elise Lopez says:

    @Dan, respectfully, I disagree with you. People in the social media marketing space often throw around the word “influencer” without defining it. I'm glad Brian has taken a crack at getting to the heart of the matter. What's more, he has a lot of success to back up his claims.

    Some distinctions that I really appreciated-
    -Influence does not equal popularity- This is true. Context is so important- If I'm trying to get early adopters for a new technology, I need to reach out to the TECH INFLUENCERS, not any person who has a good following to follower ratio.
    -Brand awareness vs. conversions- While brand awareness is excellent, at some point we need to measure ROI. Retweets and Likes does not a successful campaign make.

  6. ajleon says:

    Brian, thanks for the thoughtful post. You elucidated quite a few interesting items. What's of particular interest is this statement, ” the friend to follower ratio we possess indicate ones stature within Twitterverse.”. While I think this is true, there is an implied “importance” associated with someone who if followed more than follows, I also that there is an element of elitism there. Its a throwback to high school, where the pretty, blond cheerleader knowingly possesses greater social status, simply because more people want her than she wants. I think new media in general, and social media in specific are opportunities to change that because it becomes so easy yo “follow back”. I think this is one of the great verities of Chris Brogan. He understand that by simply following everyone who decides to follow him, he deflects the notion of elitism. The Twitterspehere is so interesting because our social scripts remain in tact, ie in real life if I ask you a question and you act as if I don't exist, I think you're a jerk. That dynamic doesn't change on twitter.

    Thanks for making us think, and don't worry about Dan. Most of us appreciate your attempts to press further into this horizon. 🙂

  7. bsimi says:

    It is seems important for the user to understand their own 'influence' as well. Chris Brogan says this in his post this morning “I have 150,000+ Twitter followers at the time of this post. But if I ask them to take action, only about 200-300 take action at any given request.” I like the humbleness that is conveyed, the understanding of how and who we all influence.
    Well done, great read.

  8. Great post. Lots of great food for thought.

  9. danperez says:

    Elise, I'm just gonna bite my tongue on this one and take a pass…unless provoked further 😉

  10. Hi Brian,

    @Cristianisdaman recommended I c'mon over to your blog and take a look at this post. I say post, but really I feel like that's a misnomer. This is like reading 5-7 brilliant posts in one fell swoop. Phew. A lot to digest.

    Right now, all I can say is that I really like the term Nicheworks. Just that word is pretty thought provoking, really. What are the ramifications of having a “Nichework?” Is a Nichework the same thing as saying “I don't need 5,000 followers to feel successful?”

    Great post!

  11. danperez says:

    Joel, you sound like a nice guy so I'm also gonna be nice and not go into detail about my thoughts on Mr. Solis (who I'm sure is also a very nice guy) and other “thought leaders”. You see one thing, I see another – so let's just agree to disagree on this one, yes?

    “But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd…”

  12. Seiji Kato says:

    Wonderful post! Quite a load to digest at first, but very nice. Just because people retweet doesnt mean that they are actually doing anything involving the topic. Perhaps business's will take more care when they next try a tweet strategy, though it depends how crafty they are. But then again, would people find the topic as interesting or reTweet it as much if it was very much a 'help us' or 'buy this' topic?

  13. Thos003 says:

    Wow, well done.

  14. seasalt says:

    do you have a link for a great infographic on online communities. little different slice to your twitter verse or conversation prism.

    I was wanting to see the ecosystem of online communities. P2P. like
    – professional communities that have been around for ages (pre-social media hoo-haa and still some are mainly accessed through discussion boards)
    – medium sharing communities e.g. book sharing, media sharing (pre-social media these existed but mainly about share of medium versus conversation going on). Now there are ones with conversation
    – qnA communities e.g. Quora. What other groovy QnA are out there?

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