I'll admit it, I was a bit slow to "get" social media. Intellectually, I understood the viral and interconnected nature of the media. But I was schooled in mainstream media. When I started in radio we still spun records and spliced tape with a razor blade. I read the articles and heard the mantra: it's not simply the number of your followers that count on Twitter, but who is following you, and how much influence they have. This lesson hit home for me during a recent trip to San Francisco.
I was doing a presentation in a building known as "Silicon Alley" or SOMA Central. Edgy part of town near the new baseball stadium. It's a great old office building which now is the home of dozens of social media start ups. The room was like something from a movie set. Big open space, takeout food in the corner, lots of beanbag chairs and sofas for meetings. My patron, Marci Harris, former congressional staffer and CEO of PopVox, had made arrangements through one of the occupant companies ShortForm. (BTW: Check out the companies and their apps – pretty interesting.)
For sixty minutes I presented findings from CMF's survey of congressional staff on their views and opinions of social media. The entire time in this room, 50 people are tapping away on their keyboards tweeting everything I say.
The guy who introduced me was Tim O'Reilly founder of O'Reilly Media, which publishes some of the best books ever written on computers and the Internet. Now, if you're on Capitol Hill, the name might not ring your bell. But if you are an Internet start-up person or any sort of techie, right about now you'd say, "Tim O'Reilly... that's cool." (He's credited with creating the phrase, "Web 2.0.") And as our Director of Research and Publications, Nicole Folk Cooper, told me the next day, he was also tweeting about my presentation. To his 1.4 million followers.
So here's the point. I gave my presentation to a room full of about 50 people, and tweeted to our 300 followers. But through them, our research was able to reach over a million more. That's the power of social media.
It's easy to see how many people you are following and who's following you. But if you're a congressional office, or a nonprofit, or a trade association, is your Member of Congress or CEO measuring your performance by how many followers your organization has, or by how much influence and impact you're having? Are 5 followers who you've never interacted with more important than 1 retweeting your story? Social media has changed the metrics. Mainstream media ratings and circulation don't apply.
As you measure your social media efforts, consider new methods for assessing your performance. And, before you give a speech in San Francisco, be sure to get the invite list and have someone check the list with Twitter. You might be talking to a lot more people than you think.
To get you started on the path to measuring your influence, the standard at the moment seems to be Klout: http://klout.com/home