Sometimes It IS About The Technology

You know when the technology itself makes the most difference to how much engagement you get on the social web? In the very beginning, when it’s brand new to everyone. That’s when the alpha geeks, the 1% of  the people that produce the most content online, temporarily ignore their other social networks to focus all their attention on the shiny new object. For just a few weeks following any major launch, you can build lasting relationships with the true online influencers by being a part of the action as they congregate on the new service in an excited feeding frenzy. If you’re there, and you’re as enthusiastic, helpful and engaging as they are, you’re seen as part of the tribe.

scobleizer google buzz

The engagement cycle is almost always the same on new social networks with a lot of hype (Google Buzz is a perfect example). The alpha geeks “follow”, listen and interact a lot early on when the community is still a small, tight-knit group of early adopters. They amass large followings quickly, and while they develop dense networks of influence, they are also less discriminating about who they interact with and “friend” because the frenzy is highly social.

Eventually they all hit a saturation point, though. The numbers get too big, their sense of true community dissipates and the initial excitement wears off. The second the enthusiasm for the shiny object disappears, they start spreading their attention out evenly again on the tried-and-true social spaces where they get a real sense of intimacy and personal connection. That’s why, in the long run at least, the technology doesn’t matter much and why focusing relationships to achieve long-term social goals is so important.

I’ve made these observations from interacting online and joining and leaving social networks for years, but I don’t have any hard data to back this up. It’s just a hunch, so I’m really interested to hear other people’s opinions and ideas on this or get pointers to any good examples. It’s sound long-term strategy to focus on relationships over technology, but if it’s the early adopter crowd you want to notice to you, there doesn’t seem to be a better time to get their attention than on someone else’s launch day. What are your thoughts?

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8 Comments

  1. You mean to say that bulk following a mass of individuals in hopes of them returning the favor to a) inflate your social network stats and b) eventually SPAM them down the road isn't a good tactic?

    I think you make a lot of good points, however, to generalize all social networks into the same interacting behavior is, in my eyes, an over simplification. The way people use Facebook is different from Twitter is different from YouTube and will most likely end up being different from Buzz (although the dust has yet to settle, it could end up being a Twitter clone with a Google Reader sidekick).

    I still think you can tap into the early adopter crowd by building genuine relationships and not just following them and reposting all of their content. The key is real, thoughtful, engagement- no matter how new or old a tool may be.

    -My two cents-

    Zach

    1. Zack -

      I absolutely agree with this – “The key is real, thoughtful, engagement- no
      matter how new or old a tool may be.”

      I don't think I ever said mass follow and spam, and if I implied it, I
      didn't do it intentionally. What I'm saying is that if you want to build
      relationships (through real, thoughtful engagement) with the early adopter
      crowd, joining in and engaging them meaningfully when they're all schooling
      in one place is a good way to make good friends.

      And you're absolutely right, I have over simplified a lot in this post to
      its detriment. I was thinking about it and rushed to get my thoughts down
      for the purposes of having a discussion while the thought was still
      peculating.

      It's really more about finding, helping and engaging people when everything
      is new to everyone – it's a clean slate and everyone's on equal footing in a
      hyper social mode. It's a lot easier to build rapport with someone and
      engage them in a meaningful way if they've got 5 connections and open to
      engagement than when they're connected to 10,000 and sick of a platform.
      Does that make sense?

  2. Sorry I also failed in not being clear enough in my comment. I didn't mean to imply that you were endorsing mass following techniques, conversely, I was agreeing with your motto of “building relationships” as the most effective method for building a community. Sorry for the misunderstanding…

    “It's a lot easier to build rapport with someone and
    engage them in a meaningful way if they've got 5 connections and open to
    engagement than when they're connected to 10,000 and sick of a platform.” I think the last sentence of your comment is the best synopsis of the point of this post, it's a valid point to which I agree with.

    I just don't know much more room there is for Twitter-like social media services. Buzz obviously had an extreme advantage of 1) being tied to the Google brand and 2) tapping the immense GMail contact database. It could be a lack of foresight on my behalf, but I think it'll be a while before we see another Twitter/Buzz type service.

    With that said, predicting the future of the social media landscape has never been a strength. I need a new magic 8 ball I guess. Do you foresee a trend in new SM services with such similar uses as Twitter and Buzz?

    Thanks for your reply.

    1. Awesome – so we actually do agree. Yeah…intimacy is really lacking on
      public social media outlets like Twitter (which is why Twitter's growth has
      seen a sharp drop off in the last 6 months. Check out the HubSpot graph half
      way down this post by Brian Solis -
      http://www.briansolis.com/2010/03/the-state-of-

      If you want a great tap on what's next for the web and social media – Check
      out this book (link below). Hands down the best resource I've read on what's
      coming. It covers all the major trends we're seeing now, and some that we're
      just on the fringes of…

      http://www.amazon.com/Futuretainment-Yesterday-

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment.

  3. Steffan -
    You hit on one of the big reasons the “middle” has such trouble with the new social networks: it's really hard to build meaningful engagement in a network where either 1) your friends haven't yet signed up or 2) the noise from everyone else makes it really hard to have meaningful engagement.

    Do you think it's a design flaw (and therefore fixable) or something that is a deeper structural problem with the way the newest social networks (twitter, buzz, et al) are established?

    What I really like about Buzz is the integration with my email contacts. It's enabled me to build a network organically of the people I already email with and I'm friends with. However, my friends are not alpha geeks :-) So it has been a little quiet for me on Buzz. My guess though, is Buzz has the right way forward in terms of establishing networks. I think most of the mass adopter crowd is more interested in strengthening ties with people they already know, rather than people they don't know.

    -Tony

    1. @Tony – I think that solving the problem of making people feel instantly
      well connected ragardless of when they join a social network is both a
      design challenge (you can improve it) and an issue of human nature (you have
      to understand how people connect). I think Facebook actually has a much
      better handle on how people actually connect in real life and how to connect
      you quickly when you join. While email is a social network and there's a lot
      of evidence that could back up the theory that the people you communicate
      with the most are the people you know the best, it leads to some problems -
      What if I email people I work with a lot but don't like? What if I use my
      gmail for work (a lot of startups do)? What if someone emailed their ex the
      most in the past 6 months but just broke up with them and doesn't want to
      have contact? There's no context for the relationship there – only a
      communication volume. A lot of people had a problem with that in finding
      contacts. Facebook tends to find people who are connected to people who are
      connected to you and surfacing the clusters for you in recommendations. That
      seems to work a lot better.

      I haven't gotten into buzz too much because none of my close friends are
      into it. We don't email anymore – we Facebook. That's another problem…when
      you use something OTHER than email to do all your primary communication with
      friends and family, Google's not so good at finding who you really care
      about.

      Thoughts on this?

  4. Steffan -
    You hit on one of the big reasons the “middle” has such trouble with the new social networks: it's really hard to build meaningful engagement in a network where either 1) your friends haven't yet signed up or 2) the noise from everyone else makes it really hard to have meaningful engagement.

    Do you think it's a design flaw (and therefore fixable) or something that is a deeper structural problem with the way the newest social networks (twitter, buzz, et al) are established?

    What I really like about Buzz is the integration with my email contacts. It's enabled me to build a network organically of the people I already email with and I'm friends with. However, my friends are not alpha geeks :-) So it has been a little quiet for me on Buzz. My guess though, is Buzz has the right way forward in terms of establishing networks. I think most of the mass adopter crowd is more interested in strengthening ties with people they already know, rather than people they don't know.

    -Tony

  5. @Tony – I think that solving the problem of making people feel instantly
    well connected ragardless of when they join a social network is both a
    design challenge (you can improve it) and an issue of human nature (you have
    to understand how people connect). I think Facebook actually has a much
    better handle on how people actually connect in real life and how to connect
    you quickly when you join. While email is a social network and there's a lot
    of evidence that could back up the theory that the people you communicate
    with the most are the people you know the best, it leads to some problems -
    What if I email people I work with a lot but don't like? What if I use my
    gmail for work (a lot of startups do)? What if someone emailed their ex the
    most in the past 6 months but just broke up with them and doesn't want to
    have contact? There's no context for the relationship there – only a
    communication volume. A lot of people had a problem with that in finding
    contacts. Facebook tends to find people who are connected to people who are
    connected to you and surfacing the clusters for you in recommendations. That
    seems to work a lot better.

    I haven't gotten into buzz too much because none of my close friends are
    into it. We don't email anymore – we Facebook. That's another problem…when
    you use something OTHER than email to do all your primary communication with
    friends and family, Google's not so good at finding who you really care
    about.

    Thoughts on this?

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