Tag Archives: the tipping point

Beware of confusing a social network’s weak mojo with Gladwell’s powerful Mavens

Is someone who blabs about a brand on Facebook or another social network site any more valuable to a retailer than the passive “fan” of that product? And if yes, what is that new value? This was discussed at an Email Insider Summit earlier this week. It’s an important question. But as panelists used the format to think aloud, they began confusing two phenomena. One is the real-but-weak power of social network influence. The other is the strong-but-possibly-nonexistent “Gladwellian” Maven.

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point talked about Mavens as hubs of influence. These folks are strong connections in a social ecosystem. As mavens on this subject or that, their opinion means much in persuading others. Gladwell based much of his book on the research by Duncan J. Watts, described in his book Six Degrees of Separation: The Science of a Connected Age.

This research, which was itself predicated on Stanley Milgram’s small world experiment, suggested that strong ties do most of the work in spreading a message.

The only catch: When the actual pathways were traced in Watts’ experiment, he found that only 5% of the work was actually done by these supposed hubs. He finally concluded that messages can be spread nearly as efficiently without hubs (i.e., Gladwell’s Mavens), and in fact, these myriad weak connections are the key to a social network’s real power to influence.

Can I Endorse Some Tupperware?

The marketers on the panel at the Summit should have kept this in mind. If MediaPost reported their collective thoughts correctly, they were crowded together on thin ice indeed. According to the MediaPost account (free registeration required), “They agree that a person who simply visits a ‘fan’ page and is a static follower is of minimal value. But people who can be tagged as influencers — who forward information to friends or other contacts that result in transactions — have tremendous value.”

When I first read this, my thought was, “Sure, of course people who refer other people to a brand and get them to buy are valuable.” But it sounds like the power of a pass-along is being highly overvalued. Continuing from this account of the discussion:

Email marketers are working hard on algorithms to quantify the worth of those influencers operating via social media outlets. Tim Schigel of ShareThis.com, who spoke on a panel at the MediaPost Email Insider Summit on Wednesday, said: “We’ll see a better understanding of that (soon) … the industry is trying to figure it out.”

Also on the panel was Craig Swerdloff, CEO of LeadSpend, who said the value of a social-media influencer should be “another variable that you put into your algorithm to determine the lifetime value of a customer.”

What is that amount? A back-of-the-envelope calculation could be as follows: If a Netflix customer is worth $9 alone, but that person has 500 Facebook friends, and is able to drive even 1% of them (5) to make a purchase, that individual’s value could be as high as $54.

Yow! That $54 would confer my full value in Netflix’ eyes to everyone else who also becomes a Netflix subscriber. I see the following flaws with even approaching such a calculation:

  1. Lifetime value is a predictive number. It’s a break-even cost of finding someone else to replace me if I should stop using Netflix. That value was probably calculated over a year’s worth of use of the service — probably more. Could these five friends each be as loyal from Day One? And if we waited a year, would I be able to cough up five more Facebook friends who join the service?
  2. How can my friends’ association with me — or even their consideration of an endorsement I send their way — be given credit for their conversion into customers? Are they not Facebook friends of other people who are fans or active ambassadors for the brand? I would guess that they are. And if so, do I get full credit just because I messaged these five about the service? What about the force of these weak connections? Are these many mutual friends who are fans worth nothing?

The value equation being discussed certainly works if I was actively recruiting and selling for a pyramid marketing business (example: “How’d you like to host a Tupperware party and keep half the profits?”) But for something as passive as “You should consider this product,” it would be hard to value an active Maven much higher than the passive fan.

Maybe not any higher at all.

In a world where many weak connections can trump a few strong ones, a better value equation may be an aggregate of all passive fans — where they are also Mavens or not.

ProjectStars CEO describes how this new site blends job board with social networking

I’m returning from a holiday hiatus with recharged batteries and major content changes to Digital Solid. Come back often or subscribe to find exclusive interviews with online news-makers, plus more news and tips you’ve told me you appreciate as marketers in an increasingly technological world.

Michael Beddows - CEO - ProjectStarsTo kick things off in 2008, I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Michael Beddows, CEO of the new projectstars b-to-b online social network. This site is part project board, part social network and part blogging cooperative. It’s a novel mix that has already attracted an impressive critical mass of participants.

Q: projectstars has been around for almost four months. Has the growth you’ve seen in that time surprised you, or was it about what you were expecting?

MB: Considering that our marketing over the past few months has consisted entirely of word-of-mouth, we’re very pleased with both the quantity and quality of our membership growth. This organic growth has also provided us with some great feedback on how we can refine our equity blogging approach.

Q: In a blog entry you mention that there are generally three types of online communities, and they mirror the Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point connector types. Of the three, projectstars is a “Maven” network, where you’ve written, “Content is king … For those who are knowledgeable, these [Maven] sites are a great place to showcase expertise and get discovered.” Can you name other communities that follow this “maven model,” where members are encouraged to promote themselves and their expertise?

MB: LinkedIn has an Answers section where members can vie to be nominated as the “Top Expert.” The difference with projectstars is that our members are not restricted to a Q&A format and can participate in more engaging conversations. projectstars is also more amenable to search engine optimization, which means that our member contributions are more discoverable in search engines. It’s one thing to be seen as an expert within the confines of LinkedIn, quite another to be seen as an expert on the Internet at large.

Q: Your site says that you’re “blurring the line” between job sites and business/social communities. This is extraordinary enough, in that I’ve never seen another site that is certifiably both, as yours is. But what has struck me as more novel is that your business model sounds a lot like a cooperative. A week ago you conducted your first share giveaway, where 100 members with the most earned points receive their shares in the business. This sounds unique for a social network site. Is there any other community that you’ve modeled this against?

MB: We believe we are the first social network to offer members shares. We think this is the way any online community should operate as it’s the members who make the community. It’s quite possible that someday, many social networks and blog communities will become equity blogs, where members band together to form a cooperative.

Q: Speaking of blurred lines, I like the Facebook login feature, which allows anyone who is already part of Facebook to register with projectstars from a page within Facebook. I was curious how the tie-in would benefit me, and saw that friends in Facebook who are also on projectstars are immediately identified and added as a projectstars buddy. What a cool way to tie the two communities together. Has this Facebook connection helped spread the word about projectstars?

MB: With so many sites out there, anything which makes registration easier is good in our books, so the Facebook login helps in that respect. We are also developing a Facebook application so that your projectstars blogs will show up on your profile and others can vote on them – once this is completed we do expect that will help spread the word.

Q: Are you optimistic about future tie-ins with other social networks through OpenSocial? How is this work progressing?

MB: We are members of the OpenSocial development lists and are tracking progress closely, however OpenSocial specifications are still in development so we expect it will be later in Q1 2008 before we see anything from projectstars on this front. We are also investigating the possibility of projectstars itself being an OpenSocial container. projectstars members can already set up their own personalized page of projectstars content, RSS feeds, and widgets at my.projectstars.com so this would be an ideal place to host OpenSocial apps.

Q: Blogging is a great way for domain experts to show off their knowledge. On the other hand, many of these same people already have one or more blogs. Are you looking at ways to port “outside” blog content into your site, or do you simply want to encourage bloggers to move their tent within the walls of projectstars?

MB: We did investigate linking members blogs to the system, however there were two problems with this. First, the projectstars community structure means that automating where posts appear is not easily possible, and second we realize that although people do have their own blogs, they don’t always blog about one subject, and sometimes blog about personal/life issues. As we want to keep projectstars content focused on the topics provided by the 300 communities, we decided to enable blogging within the system.

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