Social Media Overload

148.7 – That’s the maximum number of social relationships any average human being can handle, according to research by anthropologist Robin Dunbar (1998) and others.
29,074,287 – The number of people following Lady GaGa on Twitter when I wrote this post ( 4th September 2012)
Clearly this is an extreme – and Lady Gaga is more of a brand these days than an individual, you may argue…

How many Twitter Followers do you “need”?

However, with many people preaching that big numbers are key, and a common obsession with the size of the boat rather than the motion of the ocean in many quarters, it often seems to be all about the Quantity not the Quality. And if that’s the case, are we wasting our time with social networking?
Charles Blakeman quotes Craig Harrell in his opening statement in his article for business
“A rubber-banded stack of business cards is not a sales strategy – We have transferred the impulse to gather stacks of business cards from local networking events, to gathering stacks of “followers” on the internet”
And all to what end?

Large numbers of friends, followers and fans.

The immediate imperative is often to go out and find 10’s of thousands of friends and followers.
Our take on that? No point… Your followers and fans need to be meaningfully engaged with your subject matter. It has to be important to them, it has to be USEFUL & RELEVANT. The business that simply follows for the sake of large numbers will enjoy a poor return on their social media and Digital Marketing activity and time investment.
Other key take aways from Charles Blakeman’s article…
“We’ve been taught that the best way to grow our business is to go WIDE, when actually the best way is to go DEEP. The fact is that hundreds to thousands of tepid contacts (these aren’t relationships) online or at a networking event don’t hold a candle to one strategic alliance partner who will feed us business on an ongoing basis. Go deep, not wide.”
Yep – that’s the way forward. Mass Marketing is dead. Long Live Pinpoint!
Can you go deep and still have a wide digital set of “followers”. You bet.
“It’s the difference between just networking and actually building a network, the difference between collecting contacts like butterflies, and developing meaningful and useful connections.
It’s not easy to find a friend. You sift through hundreds if not thousands of people in your life over many years to come up with those few people you feel comfortable letting your hair down around. It’s no easier to find a strategic alliance partner, and we don’t have years in business to do it. That’s where a WIDE reach can lead to a few DEEP relationships that will increase the revenue in your business.”
Having a zillion and eleven followers on Twitter is, by itself, largely meaningless, but with a very powerful potential. As in the real world, it is what we do that determines whether anything will come out of this stack of contacts to make us more money in less time. It’s how we IMPLEMENT.
It’s worth asking yourself this question –  Which of these business contacts can I truly serve by connecting them to others or to resources that will help their business? Zero in on those few relationships at a time and see where they take you. Then go back and dive into the pile of contacts and zero in on a few more. Keep doing this until you find those few people who you can really become partners with.
The other advantage of having a gazillion people following you is that if you want to introduce a new product or service or ask questions about your existing products or services, this is the best place to start – with people who already have a passing familiarity with you. It’s not cold.
We recommend that you develop a following. Get it as big as you can organically – it’s much better than untargeted advertising to a mass audience that are too remote to want to listen to you. Use this growing group of followers to find the few that you can really listen to, and serve – the ones you can send clients or customers to regularly. They will be able to do the same for you (hint – the best way to train them to help you is to help them first.)
Thanks to Steve Downes’ blog at Juice Digital I can tell you that it was British anthropologist Robin Dunbar who suggested that there is a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. He postulated that this was somewhere between 100 and 230, with the common value being 150. That became known as Dunbar’s number.
Further research by anthropologists has given the theory much credibility with community sizes of tribes in the Neolithic period, through villages in the Domesday Book and settlements in the 16th Century conforming remarkably consistently to the theory.
The number has been taken into military and business organisation planning as the maximum size for effective control of operating units. It even correlated to the average number of Christmas cards people sent and received!
Online social media networks are no different. Enormous amounts of time, energy and money are being expended to create huge networks with the aim of exploiting them for various objectives – personal, commercial and political. While lip-service is paid to measuring the influence of these communities, the eye keeps returning to the prize of the huge and growing network. Starbucks’ millions Facebook fans and the viral video that got 10 million views is the Holy Grail.
But what does Dunbar’s number tell us about what these huge networks can be used for? They can be leveraged in lots of very useful and valuable ways – building or creating brand /product awareness, promotions, getting real-time customer feedback, CRM, idea-sourcing, market research, demographic analysis. All extremely valuable outcomes and well worth building a network for.
But are the numbers the important factor in influencing through engagement? Dunbar’s number implies not. To achieve a change in attitude or sentiment towards a brand you need a deep relationship. And it’s difficult to have that with thousands of people.
Think about your own online networks. If you’ve got a significant number of followers/friends on your channels, how many of them do you actually engage with on anything like a regular-enough basis to influence their thinking? I’ll have a bet it’s not much more than 150, if it’s that many!
But if their 150 truly engaged connections are equally influential the numbers start to work – 150², 150³ and you start to see how your message, visibility and influence might spread.
So the lesson is to focus more on analysing the influence of your network and target your resources and efforts accordingly. Yes, grow your network and use it to your advantage, but find out who your potential 150 human marketing channels are and talk to them. A lot.
Oh, and just to throw in a couple of spanners here – maybe spend some time talking to the people you actually like. That will also pay dividends on many more levels. Depending on what those levels are for you. The universe has a habit of giving you back what you put out there. So perhaps there’s more to this “social” business than it first apears.