A campaigners practical guide to exploring social networks, the blogsphere and using such tools to develop your campaign on-line. Below are notes from a workshop given to a select audience of communications and campaign professionals at Felix Meritis (Amsterdam, Netherlands) on the 31st August 2007.
Understanding social networking
In 1929 Karithy published a paper called "Everything is different" which is widely regarded as the source for the "six degrees of separation" principle; the idea that we are all six people away anyone else. 44 yearly later Mark Granovetter published "the strength of weak ties". Think of a "tie" as a link between you and a friend. You have strong ties (marriage, close friendship etc) and weak ties (met once at a party). He argued that people close to you (strong ties) tend to talk about the same stuff whilst weak ties introduce new conversation and opportunities, hence job opportunities are more liable to come through weak ties. These two principles led to the rise of Internet based "circle of friends" social networks such as LinkedIn, Friendster and Facebook.
As a campaigner I recommend that you explore each of these social networks looking at the audience and the tools available to you. Facebook offers you the chance to develop tools that people can use to share stuff within their networks; an ideal opportunity for a campaign facing young adults, but 45% of professionals say that Facebook is banned from the office unlike LinkedIn, so picking the social network that best matches your target audience whilst researching any obstacles will save you later pain.
MySpace had its 100 millionth account created on the 9th August 2006. At that time it was getting 230,000 new accounts daily. Each person had the opportunity to create their own profile "space"; an HTML page with a unique URL.
The Humane society (USA) used MySpace for their "Stop seal cull in Canada" campaign. They create a page for Sunny the harp seal. The page attracted 14,000 views in 3 weeks with 2,000 adding themselves to Sunny's friends list. This led to approximately 500 new sign-ups for their email list. Broken down this is an average of 14.28% conversation rate from visitor to friend and 3.57% conversation rate from visitor to subscriber.
We can measure campaigns like this but I see little real benefit other than proving to your organisation that stuff happened. Was the organisation trying to save Sunny and if so is he alive or dead (success or failure)? Or was the objective to create an emotional relationship between people and Sunny that leads them to want to stop seal hunting. In that case did you activate them?
I mentioned above to do your research. There has been questions aired about MySpace. A video entitled "The Unauthorized History of Myspace.com" (Part 1 / Part 2) gives insight into the background of some of these companies which should be checked out to ensure that your campaign is not polluted by a company scandal.
You and blogging
Blogging is an essential part of many campaign strategies, however little work goes into building trust behind the blog, hence the blog fails even though the core content is good.
Most people talk of usability as a person interacting with an interface. With human networks and information it is about accessing knowledge and trusting it. Here are some usability tips for you should you wish to create a blog.
You will get comments against your work and you will see your work syndicated (shared) which will give you a feedback loop. Listen to this and encourage it – you may learn something.
Who are you? Anonymous blogs have little value. Add a page with information about you because I want to know who I am dealing with. Include a photo because it connects on-line to real world (if I see you at a conference for instance) and it builds upon trust (you have nothing to hide).Remember that you write for your future boss (and potentially to your current boss).
Titles along with the first few lines of your blog appear in search engines and RSS feeds. Write a clear title (people often only look at the first 3 or 4 words of the title when looking down a list). At the top of the blog entry write an abstract that summarises the article.
Make links understandable. I should understand where the link will take me BEFORE I click on it.
Write for the public. Insider syndrome (writing things that only people inside your office) will drive people away. Avoid or explain buzzwords.
Try to publish regularly and try not to water down your blog with poor postings. It is good to hold back a few ideas just in case you you get a dry spell.Keep focused (mixing topics) - The more focused your content, the more focused your readers.
Never assume someone read your last blog.
Use tagging wisely.
Blogging is essential for communicating view points and spreading opinionated content. If you are trying to capture and record activity video still has the edge over text especially if you equate in youth and viral spread of video content.
With free hosting of video content and affordable video camera "video blogging" or "vlogging" is now a reality for most people. The Sanyo Xacti E1 is ideal for grass roots video work. Currently it is on sale in the US for around 450USD.
I mentioned above the importance of tagging your blog entries. By tagging you are using words to describe your work. I can click on one of these words to highlight all the entries you have tagged with the same word.
Beyond blog tagging sites such as del.icio.us and digg allowed people to share content that they thought was good. The content is voted on and the good stuff rises to the top.
Make sure everything you do includes option for your content to get rated like this, then hint to your loyal reads that they can spread the word on the quality of your work. Look at any article from BBC news and you'll see the option to share the article through such services.
Your organisation and campaign (a resource for me)
I want to do three things, learn, help and take action. But I want to learn from a wider knowledge base than just you. Feature and highlight good blogs (not your own) and lead me to good sources of information. Provide me with information and especially important, provide bloggers with statistical information that they can link to. Spread it into places where people look such as wikipedia. Be supportive of bloggers – they are your front line. Ensure that all your licenses allow them to use your work without having to contact you or ask your permission. Provide material (pictures, videos, reports) that they can use to spread the word. Take me on an educational ride. I never start a game in expert mode!
Engaging me in action
Tell me what I can do. Do you want me to Digg your stuff? Do you want me to use your video on my blog? Do you want to know if I do do something? Tell me what your feedback loop is.
Shortcuts, cheating and penalties
It may have occurred to you that you can write code to Digg your work 1000 times a day and a robot that can raise your blog to the top of Google. Don't even think about this and never ever let some communications agency tell you to do this. You will get caught and your brand will bleed, besides you will have learnt nothing about Internet campaigning.
...The rest is up to you and your creativity. If you would like me to act as a creative or technical resource to help you start the process of Internet campaigning then feel free to contact me. I hope this was helpful.
Tom Calthrop, Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines