Social Distortion


By Samuel Greengard
The power of social media is indisputable. It has changed the way people act--and interact. It has empowered consumers and created new challenges and opportunities for businesses.

On the other hand, about 99.9 percent of what flies by these days is white noise. Even using filters for Twitter and creating special friends categories for Facebook, it's increasingly difficult to establish order from the chaos and keep up with a treadmill that just keeps moving faster. LinkedIn and other services heap on additional pain and suffering.

Nowadays, it's fairly easy to spot someone with 5,000 Facebook friends or hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Unfortunately, numbers for the sake of numbers is a zero sum game. How it's possible to have a meaningful interaction with all these people--even a small percentage of them--is murky at best. The basic laws of social physics dictate that value doesn't simply accrue. The energy you put in determines what you get out.

It's certainly not difficult to fathom why celebrities and faux-celebrities--whose egos and pocketbooks swell and shrink with the latest fan numbers on TwitterCounter--would want to chalk up big fat numbers. The question is what actual value does an individual or a company realize from simply watching the counter spin upward?

"Social networking is really about the authentic exchange of valuable content between people," observes Barry Libert, Chairman and CEO of social software, services and analytics firm Mzinga. "It's about the quality of the community, authenticity of the content, and depth of the conversations among people."

Sooner or later, both individuals and businesses must face the music: a carpet-bombing approach to social media is ineffective. There's a near-zero correlation between the number of "Likes" or followers a person or business has and the value of the relationship with them. Clearly, a couple of hundred avid supporters--or heavy influencers--are more valuable than 10,000 people that click the Like button but never buy anything.

In the end, it's all about connecting to the right people and creating a two-way value proposition. Turn down the signal-to-noise ratio and you will likely send a powerful message to others in your social circle.