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  • 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.

    Spaces

    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.

    Vlogging

    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.

    Social Bookmarking

    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.

  • A lecture on Internet identity, social networking, trust networks and the rise of citizen publishing on the web. The lecture was given to a select audience of communications and campaign professionals at Felix Meritis (Amsterdam, Netherlands) on the 27th August 2007.


    Introduction

    I have been a technologist since 1986 and working exclusively with the Internet since 1996. When asked about this lecture I realized that I have not been affected on the Internet by a single campaign so I set out to discover why. This lecture will I hope introduce you to another "space" on the Internet; a space in which I and many others occupy.

    Who am I?

    Sounds like a mid life crisis question doesn't it. Who am I? I suppose to answer that we must first look at my identity. In the dictionary "identity" is defined as "the condition of being oneself and not another". I think of identity is a combination of who I am and what I like, so...

    ...my name is Tom Calthrop, I was born in Amersham in England, I now live in Stockholm and I work as a social innovator with an organisation called Barnraiser. I was born in 1967 which makes me 39 years old and I am the current holder of a 25M swimming certificate. I like books. I like films, I'm addicted to Internet news services, I prefer Linux to any other operating system, I love cycling... oh and Swimming (now over the 25M mark).

    Identity was historically verbal. I say who I am, you say who you are, we shake hands (or equivalent) and a trust relationship is formed. We progressed to paper and trust was enabled on a global scale so that I can prove who I am and how old I am.

    So identity is what I say about me and what others say about me, which of course is more trusted so identity is also reputation. Reputation comes from trust and trust comes from knowing me.

    How does that translate to the Internet? Well I register with a site, then I am let in, then I go to another site, then I register, then I get let in, then I go to another web site, then I register, then I get lets in, then I return to the original site, forget my password, so I press the "lost password" button, then I get an email, then I get let back in, then I forget the reset my password so I forget the password by which time I've forgotten where the other two web sites were – lame isn't it.

    When I invest time and energy in a site I gain trust within it which in tern leads to my gaining reputation, but I cannot take my reputation from site A to site B so my reputation and trust is not really mine is it? It is a web sites record of my trust with them; so it's theirs not mine.

    Identity standards such as OpenID allow me to take ownership of my identity on the Internet giving developers the chance to build software that can manage my trust and my reputation on-line.

    Individualism and me

    The Internet has empowered me. I have a voice, I have freedom of speech and the freedom to express myself. I can now write my blogs, publish my videos, upload my music and create galleries of pictures for my friends... and I'm not the only one....

    Blogging

    The blogosphere is now 70 million blogs worldwide. That's about 120,000 new blogs created daily, or 1.5 million posts per day. 1.4 new blogs are created every second and 17 posts are made every second.1 Never before have we seen information amassed and shared on such a scale and it's not just text either.

    Videos

    As of August 2006, YouTube was hosting over six million videos, growing at about 20 percent every month. The total time up to August 2006 that people spent watching YouTube since it started in February 2005 is 9,305 years.

    3 out of 4 American young adults watch video online or download it. More than half share the links with others. 73% have said that they have watched videos with others.2

    Pictures

    As of the end of August 2006 Flickr has 4.5 million registered users with 17 million unique visitors per month. They have just under 230 million total photos uploaded and 900,000 new photos are uploaded daily on average.3

    Music

    The music industry has been busy over the last few years. Whilst music companies continue to issue lawsuits while watching their business erode artists such as "Enter Shakali" flourish as 100% Internet based distribution. They have just been nominated for best British band, best live band, best album and best single at the Kerrang music award

    LastFM internet radio and music community website, founded in 2002. It is one of the world's largest social music platforms with over 15 million active users sharing their tastes in music.

    ...yes we, my friends are on a role for we are empowered individuals......

    ...oh, but are you my friends aren't you?

    Me and my friends

    According to the dictionary a friend is defined as "a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard". Mid life crisis part II; I seem to have less friends - shouldn't I be popular by now? I am an individual, but I want friends and thus web based social networks flourished...

    Asia has 437 million Internet users, Europe 322, North America 233, Latin America 110, Africa 34, The Middle East 20 and Australia and Oceania 19, which if you are into social networks means 1.175 billion potential new friends! The reality is that most of us have on-line friends lists that match our real world friendships.

    See, I want new friends but I want control of information beyond those people, after all I am leaving my trust network if I step outside this. It is one thing publishing a video to my friends and another publishing to 1.175 billion people, so I'm empowered, but within my network and I still have fear as I step out from that (empowerment sort of). A survey of American youth revealed that 81% of youth would blog if they could guarantee that only their friends would see it.

    My trusted network

    So I've created a "trusted wall" around my Internet world, a world that is centered around my Identity, my trust and my reputation amongst friends – a trusted network in which I can build reputation with my friends; a network in which I can share information and trade using videos and alike for collateral.

    So my network is like a closed group then? No, my friends are a network which is not a group. See Groups require unity, networks require diversity. Groups require coherence, networks require autonomy. Groups require privacy or segregation, networks require openness. Groups require focus of voice, networks require interaction.

    So how does this work for you?

    If over half of people share videos then you have a mechanism by which to spread your message. If people want to trade then you have a mechanism to create currency that will spread through trusted relationships (which with reputation has high value). I am an empowered individual, capable of making my own decisions with influence from my network. If you affect me in a positive way so that I adopt your campaign as mine, then it is mine to take to my network, mine to spread. I will gain trust and reputation from it, so convince me, empower me and give me tools so that I may share my campaign with my network....

    But first, in order to affect the digital world one must build reputation, which requires trust. To achieve this the first step is to take a presence within social networks; something only you can do; hence the first question you need to ask yourself is - Who am I?

    Big thanks to Dick Hardt for his presentation at OSCON which was the trigger for much of the thoughts behind this blog entry.