Why are people buying and selling Twitter followers on eBay? Because in a networked economy, size matters.
Is professional success all about “who you know” or how many you know? Should we prioritize quantity over quality when building our networks? Ideally not, but in fact the quantity (size) and quality (value) of our network connections are becoming increasingly synonymous in the emerging trust economy.
Today it’s naive to deny that size matters when it comes to evaluating someone’s personal impact. We may resent it, but the reality is that questioning someone’s place in the social economy means asking questions about their quantifiable reach. How many Facebook and Foursquare friends do you have? Slideshare downloads? Twitter and Tumblr followers? Postcast listeners? Vimeo likes? LinkedIn and Buzz contacts? Blog readers and YouTube channel subscribers? This kind of number crunching likely seems insulting, reductionist, misguided and pointless to many of us. It may be the crudest of all metrics for measuring someone’s contributions, thought leadership, potential, influence, or expertise. That does not mean many folks aren’t playing the numbers game, including HR recruiters, and in a glance economy, when there is a surplus of talent, information, and options on the table, your “digits” may be the only numbers that matter in personal branding.
Of course, this emphasis on numbers is both overstating and oversimplifying the issue of personal branding. It’s your contributions, consistency, and communicative skill that are truer indicators of your social networking talent. But having said that, if I had a dollar for every time I am asked (by students and professionals alike, with equal frequency) how to quickly amass a BIG network to make content go viral, find a BIG audience so as to push publicity for an event, or to get noticed/elected/hired as a BIG digital media savvy person, I’d be considerably richer. My advice is always some version of, build your network before you think you “need” it, grow and develop your contacts through genuine acts of value and reciprocity, every day.
Authentic participation in social networks requires giving back, paying forward, and a lot of listening. There is no quick way to do this, since buying autofollowers on Facebook, Twitter or any other network has it’s own risks, including lost credibility and reputation crash. To paraphrase the advice of Drew McLellan from The Marketing Minute blog, network creation is not a sprint but a marathon—it takes time and there may not be instantaneous results, but instead of giving up, you keep up the steady pace of hand crafting your personal web.
Long before computers, people were judged by the size of their personal network of affiliations. Today, in the age of social media, nothing much has changed except the sheer publicity of your social graph. “Your network is visible for the first time in history,” writes personal branding guru Dan Schawbel. “I can review your social accounts to find out how connected you are.” This is about living social, forging our connections out in the open. Our network is cultural currency in a Web 2.0 economy.
And like it or not, alongside value and authenticity, where networks are concerned size does matter. Schawbel states his perspective clearly and with characteristic bluntness: “Those with the most robust networks will be the most successful. A recruiter that stumbles upon two equal candidates will take the candidate with the larger network every single time.” Why? No surprise here, because “companies understand the correlation between network size/strength and productivity/business development. Someone with a relatively small network can’t open up as many doors.” In the Darwinesque evolution of socnet culture, only the most connected class have any chance to remain visibly ascendant it seems. Having amazing talent isn’t enough if you don’t know how to amplify your voice and communicate your unique value across a robust social network. So pick your platform from among the many social media communication tools available, or better yet, pick three, and set to the task of network building.
The bottom line is that personal SEO is connected to the size of your digital footprint. It has often been said that Google is your resume—and that the top few links on a SERP are the most likely factors defining your business or personal brand/identity online. Participation on social networks impacts SEO—not only through your own content creation but as others share and link to your content. The question then becomes, just how competitive are you? If it is your goal to be an industry expert, thought leader, or influencer, “Would knowing a competitor appears in the top level of search results ahead of you because they use Twitter or have a YouTube channel be reason enough to enlarge your social media footprint?”
Embiggen your social media impact, jump in, create and connect to other creatives. Grow your network.