You might already be familiar with the book by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else (2003). He explains that the fundamental principles behind network growth and maintenance are universal. These principles are at work, not only in social media, but also in technology and the natural world as well.
Understanding these principles will help you make effective decisions for your social media strategies.
The basics of network theory are quite simple.
Networks are made of nodes. Nodes can be thought of as people. In social media, they would include our Twitter followers, Facebook fans etc. When nodes connect, they form clusters or hubs. The entire network is held together by the connections (i.e.interactions) between the nodes.
A collection of non-interacting nodes does not constitute a network.
Strong Networks versus Weak Networks
Strong and weak networks are defined by the number and strength of their connections. Strong networks have lots of strong connections among members. Weak networks can have lots of weak connections.
Weak networks, made of casual connections with many individuals, yields more value to members because more information can be shared. (i.e. the strength of weak ties, Granovetter 1973). In other words, it’s more advantageous to be connected to lots of people who aren’t necessarily your closest, dearest friends.
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The Value of Influencers
In network theory, certain people (nodes) are more influential than others. As influencers, they are connected to lots of other people. Familiar examples might include mom- bloggers, celebrities and high profile organizations. These types of individuals add immense value to networks. Not only do they have large audiences, but also their messages have a higher degree of impact on their followers.
What this all means
Building a network of people around your brand or idea is a way to build loyalty and trust. People are more likely to be receptive and share your messaging.
Forming a network is not solely about collecting numbers of followers, fans and friends. As we learned from network theory, connectivity is what drives value.
Network building is more dimensional in nature as opposed to the linear strategy of aggregating quantity x to yield outcome y. It’s like building a house ( a three dimensional form), where you are proactively constructing a desired environment. A home is one example of an environment. But it can also be thought of as a set of conditions that fosters particular outcomes. In social media, having the right set of conditions will enable positive outcomes such as word of mouth dynamics and conversions.
Simplicity and Strategy
Network theory is deceptively simple. The fundamental ideas are easy to grasp. The real challenge lies in the actual creation of thriving networks, which is contingent on interaction. Strategic actions might include:
- reaching out to more influencers
- becoming an influencer
- combining offline and online tactics (e.g. events)
- enhancing the level of your offerings (giving people more to share and talk about)
Numbers and marketing are always going to be inseparable. I’m not saying that you should spend your entire work day aimlessly socializing online. However, there needs to be a balance between quantitative goals and qualitative strategies that contribute to overall brand growth.