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A few days ago, I read an article citing a recently published study by the Harvard Business School which concluded that only ten per cent of Twitter’s six million subscribers are active posters. This led many commentators to muse that influence amongst typical Twitter users is extremely top heavy and concentrated in the hands of a few users. However, the influence of infrequent users, or weak links to use network analysis terminology, was dramatically brought to the fore in the widespread protests over the Iranian elections yesterday. The unique power of Twitter to provide real-time information from vast numbers of people including activists, demonstrators and journalists on the ground was astonishing. Reports indicated that certain hash tags, including #iranelection and #gr88 generated over 30 Tweets per minute at its apogee.

Watching the vast number of Tweets emerge on my TweetDeck yesterday, I could not help but think that perhaps the findings of the Harvard study needed to be questioned. The study, which polled over 300,000 users, concluded, amongst other things, that the top ten per cent of “prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical social network, the top 10% of users accounted for 30% of all production”. Significant social events such as the G20 riots and the Mumbai terrorist attacks, when vast numbers of people used the service to both disseminate and receive information, surely demonstrated that there is no such thing as a “typical” Twitter user and, more importantly, that the categorisation of “influential” users on this social network platform needs to be reconsidered.

Having helped companies and organisations both create and implement their social media and online stakeholder engagement programmes for some years now, one of the first things I stress is the need to adapt to the constantly shifting social media landscape. Stakeholder communities change very quickly, as seen above, and companies that understand and adapt their online communications strategies accordingly more often than not reap benefits. Looking for some examples of that point, I was impressed by the social media strategies of the US Army and US Air Force, which have yielded demonstrable returns on investment such as increases in recruits and better relations with their stakeholders. When taking the time to understand the composition of their online stakeholders, both organisations devised social media strategies which focused on building relationships with various communities.

If Twitter and the Iranian election reminded me that online groups and communities are not static, but dynamic and ever-changing, these organisations highlighted that a bottom-up approach to PR using conversational media which focuses on adaptation and engagement, can yield success.

News as a Platform


The blogosphere is abuzz with the news that The Guardian has launched an open platform. This enables third-party developers to create unique applications that have near-unfettered access to its content and combine with other technology. The announcement has been so well-received that after scanning the numerous Tweets and blog posts on the topic over the past few days, I was hard-pressed to find any negative sentiment directed towards The Guardian’s new initiative. Indeed, many commentators eulogised that the venture is “The Future of Publishing”  and “…a well-received move”.

Now of course, the use of third party developers to drive the dissemination of online content is not novel. The much-lauded Apple App Store, and similar offerings by Nokia, Microsoft and Google, have ushered in a sea change in the way that third party developers drive the dissemination of content to ever more specific groups of users. However The Guardian is certainly one of the few newspapers to adopt this new model. Indeed, the main talking point for media professionals is the news that the Guardian has decided to offer its content free of charge. Newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have long been reticent to freely offering their content as a business model and it is unclear at the moment if this open platform will generate the same amount of revenue as traditional newspaper sales. This trend has not been lost on other major mainstream newspapers as both the BBC and the New York Times are engaging in similar open platform ventures.

Abundantly clear to media analysts like Metrica is that the open platform is a unique way of further engaging with a greater number of users who will consume news content from either a PC or, as is more likely, a Web-enabled mobile phone.

The introduction of these technologies raises significantly more questions than answers. Will open platforms for newspapers really change the way news is consumed? How will other major players in the newspaper industry respond? Will open platforms provide new challenges to media evaluators?

The Guardian’s open platform certainly raises profound questions to other newspapers which lock their content behind a subscription charge, like the NYT and the FT. Can they continue to charge subscription fees to access premium content and simultaneously compete with the Guardian? It certainly shows how content distribution is evolving away from Web sites to people, a strong indication that Web 3.0 is about to take up the baton from Web 2.0.

The unlocking of news content for users to manipulate is a great move for the industry and opens up a mouth-watering array of possibilities for Web users as Metrica’s Measurement Matters has blogged about before. It’s already got us in the office here wondering what could possibly happen, as it has the rest of the blogosphere it seems!

Location-based news updated live on your iPhone mashing up Google Earth and Guardian content anyone?


We had a demo from Radian 6 today on sourcing and measuring social media and I have to say that it’s a pretty impressive piece of kit. You can derive all sorts of metrics from it, such as Twitter followers, forum posters, and the number of unique commentators on a given thread. Thinking about it, it’s only really useful for quantifying metrics – anything else and it’s well and truly screwed.  Some of my other posts have gone on about the need to understand what an organisation is trying to measure before analysing social media for them, but the more I look at this, the more I think that there’s little to be gleaned from simply adding up the number of hits, unique viewers or even number of posts when measuring the success of online and offline communications. Using qualitative methodologies may indeed be slower, but it isn’t that much more expensive and the results are certainly much more insightful.

I’m quite sure that my voice does not need to be added to the already lively debate on the different ways that the measurement of online media should be conducted in a way that provides the most insight to companies, organisations and governments. Without doubt, the person that devises a way to accurately measure the impact of online media in relation to a brand, campaign, policy would be an incredibly influential person.

However, such thinking leads us to seek that mythical magic-bullet in online analysis – the idea that one particular technique, methodology or set of metrics will provide us with unequivocal evidence of the effectiveness (or not thereof) of online engagement.

At present, the most useful way of assessing the efficacy of online engagement is analyse Internet communities in relation to an individual organisation’s Key Performance Inicators (KPI) or barometers of success. If we consider the KPIs for Human Rights Watch’s  online campaign against the use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is essentially an awareness-building campaign,  and that for Live 8 which largely sought to attract donations from the public, we can see that a number of different methodologies are needed to gauge the success of the online campaigns in question.

However, one paper I came across recently which provided an extremely interesting addendum to the measurement of online media debate was this one by HP Labs. The fact that it analysed the presence of social networks on Twitter is not groundbreaking, but its conclusion of the emergence of different kinds of social networks, particularly social networks that matter was something that struck me as particularly important.

It claimed that the number of “friends” a given user has is often misleading as an indicator of the importance of that particular network. This is because people who lead busy lives tend to interact with people who reciprocate their attention – therefore a more accurate measure of the importance of a social network is the activity within that network and not the amount of users.

This is really important as it suggests that while the activity in a network is limited to a few influential users, the posts themselves are watched and consumed by any number of users. Therefore a second, more dense, and hidden network emerges as a result of the conversation between a set of users. This phenomenon becomes important if we measure the reach of a message or brand or policy and the extent to which it influences those who consume the message.

While there is no magic-bullet in accurately assessing the impact of online media, the emergence and mapping of hidden networks is a really useful way of measuring the return on investment (ROI) for an organisation and in these times when communications budgets are being squeezed, is a cheap and effective way to justify the efficacy of a campaign or online engagement strategy.

Ijust came across this Ted Talk by James Surowiecki on the way in which social media attained the same relevance as traditional media as a source of up-to-date, accurate news. Using the 2005 Asian Tsunami as his example, he claims that blog posts that included videos shot on mobile phones were viewed on the Web by millions of people much quicker than mainstream media was able to broadcast details.

This point of course is already well known, and contrasts strongly with another debate I recently heard on the BBC about the relevance of Social Media.  Andrew Keen noted that with the plethora of blogs and social media available, it is much harder to get trusted and accurate information. This is especially more pronounced as people are able to publish as much material as they want for free.

I guess Surowiecki and Keen aren’t adding anything new to the debate, but it is interesting to know that we’re still at the point where the relevance of the information available in social and conversational media is questioned. Face it, there is a lot of information out there and in order to fully understand the debate one is going to have to read a lot of different viewpoints to arrive at anything close to resembling the truth. Traditional media outlets are still coming to terms on how best to deal with contemporay news generation and consumption. I’m therefore more inclined to side with Surowiecki’s position that information on blogs and other social media gives us as readers a much closer and immediate appreciation of a given situation and places the power of choice back in the hands of individual users and away from traditional media conglomerates.

PhD Comics

Now anyone who has undertaken any kind of studying will know that it’s a pretty alienating process: if you want to get good grades you have to study for hours on end, forego spontaneous events with friends if they happen to clash with your all-important schedule and even after you graduate it’s amazingly difficult to get a half-decent job.

Well in the world of social media new networks and communities are made all the time and this one in particular caught my eye. PhD Comics paints a decidedly breezier and lighthearted picture of completing a doctorate than many people would actually believe. Although the forum is a lively place where actual doctorate students can meet and greet, I particularly like the regularly updated comic strip which goes a long way to presenting doctorate students “normal”.

Onwards and Upwards…

After much deliberation and procrastination my blog is finally underway. This is largely going to be a space where I will present the different issues that interlace to comprise my life including my research interests, daily happenings in the world of social media, my very experimental podcast and other general things that have interested me during the day.

Although I’ll use this site as a platform to sound off about all manner of issues, it’s also a space where I can keep developments in my research in particular up-to-date.

So thanks for stopping by, I hope you find the writing interesting.