It seems years ago, but Search Engines has recognized the importance of the Social Signals as ranking factors less than one year ago. And that announcement has to be considered a milestone in the history of Search, officially opening what we could define as the birth of Social SEO (or SEOcial as we say in Spain).
Because of this I believe that us SEOs need to understand the theory behind Social Media, and not just limit ourselves in becoming social media tools experts.
When it comes to Social Media as a marketing tactic, what really matters in most cases is to interpret the users action in an online context with the people who they are socially connected to and how they influence each other. Undoubtedly, the social influence in its purest essence is what leads us to use this type of services that most of our friends are already using; we succumb to that social pressure and move our interactions online.
In this sense, the influence our friends have on us (and vice versa), is amplified to a new horizons of contacts. The influence our environment has on us, for instance, leads us to buy a product because one of our friends recently purchased a product. Moved to the online life, the influence would lead us to consider the recommendations on a particular brand, campaign, product, service, etc., our contacts/friends or those people who we believe are experts do.
The influence that certain people have on us in our digital life, push us also in shaping a certain circle of friends, circle based on common affinities. In this sense, to identify the situations in which the social influence is the cause of this correlation is crucial. The social influence determines that an idea, a behavior or a product are virally disseminated through the social networks.
The key is to not underestimate the power of the social nature of the human being in favor of the social network platforms themselves. In its broadest sense, as stated by Nicholas A. Christiakis and James H. Fowler in their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives: Social networks spread happiness, generosity and love. They are always there, exerting a subtle influence while determining our choices, actions, thoughts and feelings. And our desires too. Moreover, these connections do not end up in the people we know. Beyond our social horizons, friends of friends of our friends can promote chain reactions that ultimately reach, like waves, coming from foreign lands, and break into our beaches.
Here I share a Ted Talk by Nicholas Christakis to better understand his vision of social networks:
Before delving into the concept of influence is therefore necessary to really understand what “social networks” mean in the field of human relations and what elements make them up, because understanding that we will understand better the basis of the concept of influence.
Communities are defined by structural connections and not necessarily for any particular trait that can connect its members. Stated very simply, a social network is an organized group of people formed by two types of elements. However, the organization of natural social networks is not imposed from above. Social networks evolve organically from the natural tendency of everyone to establish relationships and make few or many friends, to have a large family or small… (again from “Connected…”)
For the authors, the social networks have two aspects:
- Connection, which has to do with who is connected with whom;
- Contagion, which flows into the social network.
Thus, they identify some basic rules:
- It is we who give shape to our network. Humans organize and reorganize social networks continuously. As an example, homophily, the tendency to consciously or unconsciously associate with people like us. We also choose the structure of our networks:
- Deciding how many people we are connected to;
- Modifing the way our family and our friends are connected;
- Controlling where in the social network we are: to the center or toward the margins of the Graph (if you want to know more about the graph theory check the Wikipedia entry on social network).
- Our network determines our way of being;
- Our friends influence us. The shape of the network that surrounds us is not the only important thing; what flows through the connections is also crucial. One of the things that determine the flow is the tendency of humans to influence and copy one each other;
- The friends of the friends of our friends influence us too. For instance, if we want to transmit to a group of people to quit smoking, we wouldn’t put them in a row and ask the first one to quit smoking and pass the message to one following her. On the contrary, we would ask a lot of people who do not smoke to surround a smoker. This is the real basis of all real influence certain people have in the social networks: sometimes it is not the volume or the distribution medium what draws the influence, but the contacts someone has within the network as a whole that determine the success of a message, a content flow, a product is spread on the net;
- The network has its own life. Social networks can have properties and functions its members neither control or perceive. To understand these properties we must study the entire group and its structure, not just isolated individuals.
Thus it is obvious that the influence others have on us to act similarly, whether in fashion, in the adoption of a technology, in a viral marketing action, in a word of mouth sequence…
And few have expressed so clearly this series of concepts such as Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, which does an excellent analysis the nature of “social epidemics”. For him, the answer is that the success of a social epidemic depends greatly on the participation in a certain type of person, endowed with some special and unusual features.
Sometimes we place great emphasis on content and forget that what matters for its propagation is a number of elements and fundamental rules as:
- The law of specials or class of persons who play a crucial role in the spread of any information:
- Connectors: They are very adept at bringing the world together. Knows a lot of people who believe in him, the right people, and influential people belonging to different groups. He has great imagination and likes to check things out for himself. Often gregarious and friendly. He is very sociable and likes being in the center of events.
- Mavens: They are information specialists. They are the kind of people you turn to when you have a problem. The “insiders” are constantly seeking and sharing information. They are very sociable and all everything entices their curiosity. The characteristics of the mavens are:
- they consume information and content,
- they love to give advice without expecting anything in return,
- they take seriously the challenge of providing good advice,
- they are motivated in helping and teaching.
- Sellers: They are the ones who convince all the world. The “sellers” want others to do as they recommended. An effective salesperson is naturally exuberant, fun people find and listen. Enjoys helping others. He is charming and charismatic. He is passionate and loves his job. Knows how to use all his skills and techniques of persuasion. It is very expressive: knows how to transmit ideas and thoughts. He is gregarious and friendly.
- Connectors, Mavens and Sellers are required to trigger a social epidemic.
- The bait factor: the importance of what is catchy and what not. To cause an epidemic, the ideas must be memorable and prompt us to act.
- The power of context: any social epidemic is subject to the conditions and circumstances of the time and place at which it occurs. In this sense, we are extremely sensitive to what happens around us.
With that, we approach significantly to the factors we must take into account when measuring the influence of certain people in social networks, something strategic for our actions also as an SEO. Factors which go far beyond the number of followers on Twitter and Facebook.
As suggested by framework established to date, we should not worry so much about the number of followers but about those who are following us and how to take care of spreading our messages. In social networks, as in life in general, relationships and take care of them is everything.
Social media has revolutionized many things, but one of their greatest impact has been, without doubt, to enhance the influence and role certain people play over others. Through the process of democratization, the transition to the self-mass or our role as micro media, the role of authority of certain individuals has grown to a limit not previously considered . What is important is to try to understand how messages are filtered and transferred to several people and what role each one of them plays within the social network (not as service but understood in its sociological concept). We need, therefore, to understand the map of the influence aura.
To this I would add this other series of fundamental ideas:
- The influence without context is irrelevant;
- Popularity is not the same as influence;
- Connecting and chatting has nothing to do with the activity and management of the various social web tools and platforms.
To this I’d add four key areas identified by Ian Delaney:
- The nature of influencers;
- The nature of the audience;
- The nature of the network or the media through which the information is moving;
- The nature of the information and the content itself.
In this scenario are emerging interesting specific tools that allow measuring the degree of influence of people on the social web. Of these, one is growing significantly above the rest: Klout ( with more than 100 million active accounts ), a service which originally was created to measure the influence of the Twitter accounts and has been adding platforms to integrate Facebook and YouTube, among others.
Following its steps other services have started to appear, which include various specific platforms or are specific to just one, and existing tools have evolved to measure and provide statistics to help put a value on our “Social Score”.
Some of them are:
- Booshaka : specific to Facebook.
- PlusClout : Google + specific.
- PeerIndex : analyzes the user profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Twentyfeet : cross-platform monitoring tool that calculates influence.
- Crowdbooster : an interesting monitoring tool that is actually hype.
- MyWebCareer : more oriented towards the labor market, as it analyzes the potential of employees based on their social networking profiles (your digital identity)
- PostRank : more oriented to measure the influence of a certain website or blog based on content, relevance, author, history …
- Twitter Grader, specific for Twitter
- Followerwonk, a twitter bio search engine that also include a fantastic followers analyzer;
- TweetStats, specific for Twitter.
- Twylah : adds value to Twitter selected topics based on users and their influence.