Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the Metrics of Social Networks

Less and less things in life surprise me any more. But this new craze of "let's all follow each other on [insert your favorite network here]" has amazed me. Apparently there is still room for surprises and I have gladly taken it as "I am not that old after all." Fine! Let us dissect and analyze this 'following phenomenon'.

What makes the number of followers valuable as a metric? For instance, Matt Bacak of Twitter fame claims he has so many followers that he is the third tweeted??? man in the Tweetland. He thinks it is valuable so he markets it:

First Facebook, now Twitter. The Powerful Promoter, Matt Bacak, has taken himself to the top of the social media networks yet again, this time beating out 99.9% of the fastest growing site's members.
[...]
Turn your income-generating ideas into handfuls of cold hard cash.
[...]
By Matt Bacak, the Powerful Promoter and author of Powerful Promoting Tips newsletter. "If I could show you a proven, but little-known system to tap into your niche market, bring in more leads, sell more product and explode your Internet sales, would you be interested?" I'm not talking about some old ideas you already heard before. I'm talking about closely guarded secrets that I've only shared with a few select people.

First off, I must confess that reaching such numbers is a remarkable event on its own although some may argue how empty his life should have been for he had found the time to do all that tweeting and facebooking. But what does that figure say without the followers' data? Suppose 1000 of his followers also follow 500 others, another 1000 follow 200, third 1000 batch 100, so and so forth. How do you follow 100 people, let alone 1000? Has it any significance?

Unlike computers, we humans have tragically low thresholds. We can read limited number of books in a day, watch three or four movies in a row, etc. Likewise, we can visit 10-15 blogs and have 20 or maybe 30 friends that we communicate regularly. It is not that we do not want to do more, it is only that much we can achieve with our limited abilities in a shell of flesh and bone. So the significant segment of those followers is the ones following less than say, 30 people. These are the probably real followers of Mr Bacak.

I hope you have found my argument plausible. If you have, then you can bet the management of those social networks also agree with you, too. They will filter out those inflated numbers and track who really follows who and how many. After all, advertisers and marketing companies are not in the business of distributing cash for nothing.

Hence, we have two metrics, the one you see, a raw but inflated number which does not say much, and a hidden but real one. So, stop wasting your time and do something. Write a post or, I don't know!

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