Tag Archives: social network

A Brief Primer on Human Social Networks, or How to Keep $16 Billion In Your Pocket

1. Listen to social scientists. 2. Don’t reinvent sociology 101. 3. … 4. Keep $16 billion in your pocket

Over at The New York Times, Jenna Wortham wonders whether Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp points to a resurgence of small social networks. The article is titled “ WhatsApp Deal Bets on a Few Fewer ‘Friends’” and she asks a lot of good questions:

In buying WhatsApp this week, Facebook is betting that the future of social networking will depend not just on broadcasting to the masses but also the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate with your family and closest confidants — those people you care enough about to have their numbers saved on your smartphone. … Facebook has long defined the digital social network, and the average adult Facebook user has more than 300 friends. But the average adult has far fewer friends — perhaps just a couple in many cases, researchers say — whom they talk to regularly in their real-world social network. ..

Whether the two kinds of social networks can coexist and thrive remains to be seen.

tl,dr: The “two kinds of social networks” of primary and secondary ties can and will coexist and thrive because they have always co-existed and thrived.

For details, read on.

Let’s start by unpacking the word “friend” here because Facebook’s use of the word of “friend” to describe everyone to whom you connect with on Facebook has caused a lot of confusion in this space. We all know that a “friend” is not a “friend” is not a “friend,” so let’s not use one word.

In fact, sociologists have long known and talked about “two kinds of social networks,” and refer to them alternatively as primary and secondary ties, or weak and strong ties. The concept can be found in every introductory sociology textbook because it is foundational to human social interaction. When I used to teach introduction to sociology, it would come up in the first or second week of the class.

Humans are embedded in social networks, and always have been. In fact, research on hunter-gatherer tribes shows that even those early social networks have resembled ours. Human social ties, however, come in a range of strength and intimacy, and always have and always will.

Technology will not alter these basic realities because technology doesn’t make us into new kinds of humans; rather, it just alters the environment in which we act.

Primary social ties, or strong ties, refer to the close, often face-to-face (though not necessarily in today’s world) connections of close, intimate and strong relations with other people. These are the people whose shoulder you expect to cry on in difficult times, and perhaps the first people with whom you share good news. Without primary ties, people tend to feel lost and isolated. Such ties are of great importance to many aspects of a person’s health and well-being. In general, weak ties, no matter how numerous, cannot make up for lack of primary ties. (This is not to be confused with the statement that weak ties are unnecessary or irrelevant. The point is that these are not either/or).

Secondary or weak social ties tend to be the ties that form the larger social networks that humans are embedded in. (Theses are not to be confused with bridge ties, which connect otherwise disparate social networks and tend to be weaker ties but are not the same concept). In the modern world, these can range from workplace acquaintances to former and current classmates, to more distant kin and other non-kin. As far as we can tell, even hunter-gatherers had such weaker ties in their social networks, so these have always been with us. Weaker ties are important for a variety of reasons: they provide people with company, information, access to resources in other social networks, entertainment, and a pool from which one can draw stronger ties. Research shows that weak-tie networks are essential in many regards, including access to information and opportunity.

At this point, you might be wondering whether the so-called Dunbar’s number, positing a theoretical upper limit of about 150 people in natural human social networks, refers to weaker or stronger ties. Neither, actually. Not in the modern world, at least.

Dunbar’s number is a conjecture about the natural upper bound on the unassisted cognitive processing of information about reciprocal relationships in a social network by the people in them. Dunbar’s calculation is based on the relationship between the size of the primate neocortex and primate group sizes projected onto human social networks. It is an important insight but one that has been applied too widely without understanding what it actually means.

Maintaining a social network requires a lot of heavy cognitive processing. To whom do you owe favors, and who double-crossed whom last? If you grab that fruit from that ape, who will come to his aid, and who can you count on to come to your aid? Who had responded positively to your attempt to flirt and who was your competitor? Remember, the information you need to keep in your head is exponential to the group size: in a group of five, you potentially have five factorial (5!) or 120 groupings. Just double that to a group of 10 and now you potentially have 3,628,800 groupings. Of course, in reality, not every grouping makes sense, so the numbers in practice are much smaller; but the point is that as groups get larger, the information entropy grows very fast. It’s harder to cooperate, scheme and thrive effectively in larger groups.

Dunbar’s key insight is that as human social networks grew in size, human language (which other primates don’t have) likely developed for us to better keep track of such complexities of group interaction (derided as “gossip” but key to survival in a social group—call it “group informatics” if you want to avoid the judgmentalism). That’s why Dunbar’s seminal book is called “Grooming, Gossip and Language.” (Grooming is how other primates interact to convey social information —they are not really after eating each other’s lice, it’s a social behavior—while we, as humans, talk, or gossip if you will).

Dunbar also predicted that the size of our neocortex, in comparison with other primates, means that we can likely keep track of a maximum of 150 people and the relationships between them all in our head—if (and this is a big if) our social cognitive processing works the same way as primates. As you can see, there are a lot of ifs and constraints in his proposal that don’t necessarily apply universally. Dunbar’s number is a conjecture about a world without writing, let alone modern technology, both of which aid in social network maintenance. It should be clear to anyone that tools such as Facebook make it easier to keep in touch with larger social networks, as did postal letters and the telephone. Dunbar’s number is best thought of as a suggestion about the size of a social group that has to function together to get something done—say, a company in the military—rather than an upper limit to the size of human social networks in general.

In fact, research finds no such small upper limit on human social network size in the modern era. However, research also finds that most of us are truly intimate with only a few people. Hence, my interpretation of research in this field is that primary social network size is fairly constant for most humans throughout history and is in the single-digits, while weak-tie networks in modern era show a much greater variation than posited by the Dunbar number and likely did for millennia. Research suggests that modern Americans’ total social network size can be as big as 500-600 people.

Finally, weak and strong ties are not in some binary dichotomy, opposed to each other and necessarily displacing each other. Tie strength is a continuum, and not all weak ties are equally weak. Neither is tie-strength static: some weak ties will become closer over time and some strong ties will drop from circles of intimacy. Such is life, and has likely been the case even in hunter-gatherer tribes. All that said, of course, there is more variation and fluidity to social networks with industrialization, migration, urbanization and globalization.

Finally let’s come to the final quote:

Chiqui Matthew, 35, who works in finance, said he preferred services like WhatsApp. “I fear all communication in the digital age is being reduced to shouting in a crowded theater,” he said in an email. “Everything is absolute, declarative, exclaimed, public and generally lacking in the nuance of face-to-face conversation. I like the digital version of a ‘cocktail party whisper.’ An intimation meant to be intimate.”

What this person is getting at is that our communication needs change depending on the type of tie. An engagement or a new baby may well be best announced to a large group of weaker ties, whereas most day-to-day conversation is carried out with our smaller, primary social networks. (Yep, Facebook newsfeed versus WhatsApp). This is not an either/or statement. Both types of conversations and interactions are primal, important and central to human social interaction.

Facebook’s key problem for many people has been what academics sometimes call “context-collapse,” which is the sense that Facebook sometimes feels like an extended Thanksgiving dinner where everyone you have ever known is at the table. This is an identity-constraining environment as it’s hard to know how to address such a large crowd at the same time. People have been grappling with this for a long time and have come up with a variety of solutions, including fleeing to Twitter & Instagram and, yes, Whatsapp.

Social scientists have long been trying to communicate this to technology companies: it is normal, natural and healthy to have different communication needs at different levels of one’s social network. One wonders if, early on, Mark Zuckerberg had listened to social scientists rather than declaring “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”, would he now have $16 billion more in his pocket?

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Hyper Social is Dying

We’re in an era on the web I think of as “hyper social.”

In their current form, social networks extend our ability to “maintain” relationships. A social network is essentially a digital filing cabinet that you fill with your relationships.

In theory, the cabinet should help you stay thoughtfully organized and get the most out of your relationships. In practice, however, the cabinet really becomes a messy destination for social news that you only visit when looking for distraction.

These hyper social networks have peaked and are on their way out. Here are a few reasons why.

Who Are These People?

Networks like Twitter and Facebook are built with the intention of extending our natural social networks to literally superhuman capacity. 900 friends? I mean c’mon. Not to be morbid, but some of my Facebook friends could literally die and I wouldn’t hear about it (let alone be invited to the funeral).

Right now we’re in an age of social networks where numbers win. Your follower and friend count are the numbers by which you’re measured and evaluated on social media. The more people you have in your network, the better you’re doing.

We’ve been trying the relationship volume out on these social networks and we’ve been turning it up to 11. These networks are simply too large to extend meaningful human interaction or maintain interpersonal relevance (especially on a one to one basis).

Feeds Get Noisy

The central mechanic and experience of these networks, the feed, becomes worse as the network connections increase. This is a huge problem. As more friends enter your new feed the strength and relevance of relationships decreases. The experience should be getting better the more you use it.

If you want to maintain a relevant and useful feed on current social networks you have to manually edit your relationships. I have to go through my 900 Facebook friends and decide who’s relevant to me. Not only is this against the point of the service (to extend your network) but it’s simply no fun. I won’t take the time to do it.

Relationships Get Stale

As your relationships age so does the network in which you’re storing them. Every connection is from a given time in your life but weighted equally*. As you fall out of touch with some of your college friends, you accordingly fall out of interest with your newsfeed because it’s a representation of them.

*I’m sure Facebook incorporates a relationship’s age in their newsfeed algorithm, but with a finite amount of content it’s still limited in its flexibility.

The whole point of Facebook is to provide a way to keep track of people who you feel are socially relevant in your life. Unfortunately, when time passes and isn’t properly accounted for, the model starts breaking.

Core vs Circumstantial Relationships

Think about the last 20 friends you’ve text messaged. Think about the last 20 friends you’ve grabbed a coffee or beer with. Think of the people you’ve skyped or called (non-professionally) in the last 6 months. I’d say this is your current social network.

Would this group be the same if I asked you the same question a year ago? How about 4 years ago?

In all likelihood the group would be different. I would bet by around 20% per year. It’s an estimate but if even close to true, then your true social network changes significantly every five years.

I’d argue that your true social network is made up of two groups: the core and the circumstantial. The core is in your life in perpetuity (family, true close friends) while the circumstantial changes throughout your life (work friends, school friends, location-based friends, hobby-based friends).

Facebook is almost 10 years old now. They’ve consistently mixed the core relationships with the circumstantial and it’s starting to hurt the experience.

The Next Social Framework Will Be Dynamic

The next great social network will provide its users with an experience that values friendships and relationships dynamically.

In fact, I’d contend that the friend and follower models can be elegantly replaced by a frequency and engagement model. Based on current smartphone technology, social networks can and should leverage location, time, frequency of interaction, and behavioral similarities.

Fundamentally, the power of social networks lies in that they unlock or extend profoundly human social behaviors. If we had social networks in the time of the first humans, Pinterest would be the cave where you keep things, Twitter would be gossip, and Facebook would be your village.

What none of these networks capture is the human nature of personal growth and movement. A fundamental characteristic of humans is our ability to change. Relationships are not exempt from our ability to change. In fact, they may be the first casualties of a changed lifestyle. The next great social network will have an ability to change with us and not lose a step.

Newspapers are being put out of business partially due to the speed with which news travels on the web — notably on Twitter and Facebook. Newspapers forgot that they’re in the news business and not the paper business.

Similarly, I don’t think Facebook and Twitter in their current form can keep up with the speed of our changing relationships and interests. The question is whether they’ll remember that they’re in the relationships business before it’s too late.

Looks like a discussion popped up on Hacker News.

If you want to check out our take on the next era of social, request early access to our app Hollerback.

Let me know if I can be helpful.

will@hollerback.co // @willydennis

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Secret revealed: inside the most scandalous social network

Article Original URL: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/17/5419814/open-secret-how-two-google-refugees-built-the-next-big-thing-in

Will anonymity make Secret essential reading — or become its undoing?

By Casey Newton on February 17, 2014 02:58 pm Email @CaseyNewton 61Comments

Late on a Saturday evening in San Francisco, at a party filled with tech workers, people keep retreating to odd corners to stare at their phones. This happens at every party these days, of course, but what’s different here is that the partygoers are all staring at, and talking about, an app called Secret. Lately it’s been topic number one among Silicon Valley tech workers, venture capitalists, and the media who cover them. All around San Francisco, people are devouring their Secret feeds, with their unpredictable mix of sex, drugs, and industry gossip. Valentine’s Day threesomes, photos of your best weed, blow jobs in the restaurant kitchen — it’s all here, maybe true and maybe not, but guaranteed to get you guessing about who posted it.

The secrets have all been posted by your friends, though you’ll never know which friend: Secret is “anonymish.” It’s a feed of gossip created by the contacts in your iPhone, but labeled only as being from a “friend” or “friend of a friend.” (Popular secrets from elsewhere around the world also surface, labeled only by their point of geographic origin.) Who said this? Is it true? I think I might know who this is talking about. Secret is Facebook as a masquerade ball, Twitter without the self-promotion, Google+’s private sharing done right. It’s the curiosity gap as a social network, and it also serves as a critique of all the others. Elsewhere you are inauthentic and dull, it seems to say. Secret is a place to be yourself.

Secret is a place to be yourself

Originally, Secret wasn’t supposed to be a social network at all. David Byttow, who previously built software at Google and Square, was originally interested in the idea of anonymous feedback. How do you chide someone for bringing a cellphone to a meeting, for example, without attaching your name to it?

For fun, Byttow sent an anonymous love note via text message to his girlfriend, who was then living in Paris. She called him immediately. What is this? Is this you? The anonymity of the message had given it an unusual power. “I knew there was something there,” he says. Soon after, Byttow sent an email to his friend Chrys Bader, who would soon become his co-founder. “It said I had a secret,” Bader recalls. He clicked a link that took him to a simple black web page. White text faded in. It read: “A new form of communication is blossoming in your hands.”

But anonymity is a double-edged sword. It brings out the best in people, as when nameless donors give millions to worthy causes. But it can also bring out the worst, as it has in a number of social-networking apps that users have turned into weapons for cyberbullying. Whether Secret proves to be more than a fad rests largely on how its founders manage that tension. “What we like to say is, we want our users to be on the edge — but not cross the line,” Byttow says.

It may be easier said than done.

A perfect circle

Secret’s co-founders worked on traditional social media networks for years before deciding to embrace sub rosa sharing. Bader previously developed Fliggo, a social network for video, and Treehouse, an early take on mobile photo sharing. Byttow helped build the original version of Google+, where he built the +1 button. They began working together at Google after the company recruited Bader from Treehouse to work on photo tools for Google+.

Like Secret, Google+ launched as an effort to make people feel more comfortable in sharing more privately. Its idea was to ask users to build lists (called Circles) of friends and acquaintances, and choose which lists to share with each time they posted. “The problem is that it doesn’t work that way,” Byttow says. “Social circles and social norms are ever-expanding, changing, moving around. It’s very fluid.” To make the average person truly comfortable sharing more private thoughts, you had to let them do so without letting the post follow them around forever.

‘Anonymish’ apps are gaining momentum

It’s a realization that has been gathering momentum in Silicon Valley since the surprise success of Snapchat, which popularized the idea of sending picture and video messages that self-destruct after a few seconds. Fast-growing Whisper, which drew inspiration from the old PostSecret website, created an app where anyone could post a confession anonymously and interact with the person who posted it; the company raised $21 million last year, and users reportedly spend 30 minutes per day using it. Whisper, like Secret, has proven surprisingly addictive: it’s especially popular with teenagers, which helps explain why its feed is so earnest. “I have always wanted to date a girl who thinks badly of herself to show her that she’s perfect,” goes one popular recent Whisper. “I got kicked out of Barnes & Noble for putting all the Bibles in the fictional section,” goes another.

The fact that Secret posts come from your friends lends it the immediacy of Snapchat while preserving the anonymity that has made Whisper successful. But it only turned out that way after Byttow’s original idea — one-to-one messaging — proved too limited.

Byttow and Bader began working in earnest on the app in August 2013, just after Bader left Google. The original version limited users to sending anonymous, self-destructing messages via text message and email. But beta testers found few occasions to send those messages, and the founders were determined to create an app that people would open every day. One day while walking through San Francisco’s South Park neighborhood, Bader and Byttow hit upon the idea of letting users broadcast their secrets to all of their friends. The app would use your contacts to match you with other people you had shared your phone number with, sparing you from having to add friends. “It kind of clicked,” Bader says.

On November 15th, the founders looked at data from the new app they had given their friends and found that they were opening it every day, spending far more time browsing secrets than they had sending messages. “There was a clear difference,” Bader says. They polished the new app over the holidays, and put it in the App Store on January 30th. In the days that followed, it reached as high as no. 2 in the social networking category, all without ever being featured by Apple.


The thing about superpowers

Content is king, as the saying goes, and the content on Secret is more compelling than most. It’s hypnotic in the way Facebook once was, before it became crowded with advertising and posts from distant acquaintances. Browsing through the feed each day, I’ve seen credible rumors’ about tech founders’ infidelity and workplace behavior. I’ve seen paeans to marijuana and cocaine that would be unimaginable on any other social network. I’ve seen patently false rumors of impending company acquisitions, and oddly sweet mash notes to anonymous friends and lovers. Over the weekend an unknown friend confessed to having oral sex in a bar that I go to sometimes, and immediately I drew up a list of suspects in my mind. I narrowed the list to two, and texted one of them. “It’s true one of us posted the secret, but no blow jobs were actually had,” came the reply. I didn’t know whether to believe him or the original secret.

Secret can also be mean-spirited

But Secret can also be mean-spirited, in the way that anonymous messaging often leads to. PostSecret killed off its own app in 2012 after developers found it impossible to manage the malicious posts. Last year, the Latvia-based question-and-answer site Ask.fm caused an uproar after one of its users committed suicide and her father attributed the death in part to bullying she faced from anonymous users. Ask.fm had replicated the experience of its model, Formspring, which also had encouraged anonymous messaging only to see a spate of users commit suicide.

Secret likely would not be the first choice of a would-be cyberbully: there’s no way to message a user directly, or even know for certain that a target has seen your post. Still, several Silicon Valley personalities have already come in for abuse on the site. The social network Path and its founder, Dave Morin, were frequent early targets. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, and the investor Shervin Pishevar have also been subjects of abuse. “Anonymity breeds meanness — the internet has proven this time and time again,” the investor Sam Altman wrote last week in a post about why he had already deleted Secret from his phone. “Anonymous social networks have been (thus far, anyway) in the category of services that get worse as they get bigger — unlike services like Facebook or Twitter that get better as they get bigger.”

The founders’ thinking aligns with that of Chris Poole, aka moot, the founder of the anonymous message board 4chan. Poole recently posted on his blog that anonymity “enables creativity like none other.”

“It’s ideas, not reputations, that shine here,” he wrote of 4chan — and the same could be said of Secret.

“It’s not really a superpower if it can’t also be used for evil.”

The founders believe that if they keep users’ worst impulses under control, the network will thrive. “Any good product should feel like, to the person who receives it, that they have a superpower,” Byttow says. “But by my definition, it’s not really a superpower if it can’t also be used for evil.” Secret is aggressive about removing flagged content, and will only get better at it over time, he says. “We take a lot of measures to make people feel safe in this environment. They can say what they mean, they can be themselves — but don’t make other people not feel safe. Don’t be a jerk.”

On to Austin

The perils of anonymously posted content is only one of the challenges that Secret faces as it grows. The founders say they their top priority is to break out of the Silicon Valley bubble. To that end, Byttow and Bader will be taking Secret to this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival, which previously helped Twitter and Foursquare break out to a national audience. What are they doing, exactly? “It’s a secret,” Byttow says.

Secret is working on unspecified new tools that they say will make users feel more confident about what they post. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is raising a new round of venture capital. And it’s working on ways to let users be more expressive when they post, adding to the colors and textures that are available now.

And like any Secret power user, the founders are spending hours a day glued to the feed. “I had a no-cell-phones-in-meetings rule until I invented Secret,” Byttow laughs. He looks down at his phone, and keeps scrolling.


Is There Social Network Overload? Yes, and No…

Days after the major social networks reported earnings and membership numbers, the media began wondering whether social network overload is starting to set in. To some degree, it is. But it’s nothing to worry about: this is a story we’ve seen plenty of times before.





Above: This chart from BI Intelligence shows that Facebook and Twitter are still growing, but at a slower rate than in years past. LinkedIn has actually increased its user growth in the past year.

With any new technology, there is initially a lot of hype. Everyone wants to play with the shiny new toy and show it off to friends. As an increasing number of people get pulled in, the media catches on and publishes a volley of sensational articles about the new technology: “Will it kill all the old ways of doing business? Is this the future of everything?”

But eventually, reality sets in. We enter a trough of disillusionment, where the technology doesn’t live up to the impossible expectations we set for it.

When people first got telephones, they would always answer when it rang. The technology ruled them instead of the other way around. Ten years ago, the same thing happened with BlackBerrys. Many of us were (maybe still are) guilty of immediately checking our messages whenever the BlackBerry buzzed. Today, we are at least trying to hold off and check on our own terms. The same is becoming true for social media.

Above: The Hype Cycle developed by technology research firm Gartner.

Where We Are Today: The Plateau of Productivity

As the novelty effect wears off and the media moves onto the next buzzy story, evolving technologies enter a new phase where it either dies off (like MySpace or Second Life), or its long-term value begins to emerge.

Over time, people will stop being on social for social’s sake (this is already happening, hence the doomsday articles). Rather, we’ll use social to meet specific needs for which it is best suited, and as we are already seeing, different social sites will emerge to serve different purposes.

Above: A funny cartoon from Marketoonist pokes fun at businesses using social media with no clear goals. Below: A 2012 study from SMB Group demonstrates that small and medium businesses are going social with much more sophistication.



If we’re looking for a restaurant in the area, we’ll open up Yelp. If we’re wondering about what’s happening in the world at any given moment, we’ll check Twitter. If we’re looking for a new job or working on business development, we’ll turn to LinkedIn.

An Evolving Space

By the same token, social networking is very clearly still a growing and evolving space. Every year (sometimes it seems every month) we see a new network appearing suddenly with a completely different take on connecting people. With LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter already laying claim to the broad purposes of connecting people professionally, personally, and with information (respectively), newer social networks have cropped up to allow for more nuanced purposes.

Snapchat, for example, lets close friends send each other photos and videos which expire and self-destruct after a few seconds, adding an element of spontaneity and freedom without the social pressure of permanence or wondering how many likes and comments you will get. Secret, which recently took Silicon Valley by storm, encourages friends and acquaintances to share secrets with each other–entirely anonymously. The list–Instagram, Pinterest, Whisper, Jelly–goes on and on, demonstrating a clear demand from consumers for more kinds of social networks.

Though its novelty has worn off, social plays important roles across our business and personal lives and is therefore here to stay.


Photo: sompop u-kong / shutterstock

Posted by:Clara Shih

How to Start a Company at 35k Feet

There is no such thing as a boring person: everyone has stories and insights worth sharing. While on the road, we let our phones or laptops take up our attention. By doing that, we might miss out on the chance to learn and absorb ideas and inspiration from an unexpected source: our fellow travelers.

I’m reminded of this because Virgin America has partnered with Here on Biz, a new mobile app for business travelers to ‘check in’ to a social network on flights. Instead of leaving it to chance, entrepreneurs can learn who else is on board to connect, chat, and perhaps even start a company at 35k ft.

I’ve had my share of purposeful business flights. When Virgin Radio tried to recruit popular British radio personality Chris Evans to join its roster in the 1990s, I jumped on his British Airways Concorde flight to New York in an attempt to win him over. We had just taken BA to court and won against its agressive ‘dirty tricks’ campaign and so taking its premier plane was a big leap for me.

With his agent trapped a few rows back and the crew fussing over the two of us, I was able to woo Chris and he agreed a deal on the back of a Concorde napkin. In the end Chris not only signed to do the breakfast show for us, he ended up buying Virgin Radio off Virgin and its partners.

This is not to say that stalking is encouraged! If you keep an open mind, inspiration and ideas that change your life are bound to occur while traveling. On a recent Virgin America flight, I met Somaly Mam, a courageous former sex slave who has opened shelters for other sex trafficking victims in Cambodia. She has helped inform my awareness of the terrible global sex trafficking problem.

On another flight, I found myself chatting with the CEO of one social network while we were running a campaign for another: all’s fair in love and social media!

A lost bet with AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes meant having to dress as a female cabin crew member and serve drinks on one of his flights. Besides raising money for a good cause, the flight resulted in meeting quite a number of business pitches and making interesting business connections.

If insights or new contacts aren’t happening to you on trips, stay open to the possibility. You never know who you are sitting next to: they might be your next star employee or future partner or someone who shares a powerful insight or idea that changes your life.

Have you started a company at 35k feet, on a train ride, or another travel environment? What was the last unexpected thing you learned from a fellow passenger while on the road?

Posted by:Richard Branson

Search Engine Ranking Is All About Social

Google loves awesome content, it’s always been a massive part of how their search algorithm works. Years ago, linking would be a massive part of whether your site appeared high in search rankings or not, it was critical. This was based on the simple automation premise that good content gets links back to other sites. That unfortunately was not always the case, as many SEO’s found out and exploited over a period of years. Google realised this (we all knew they would eventually).

They’re passionate about bringing the best possible results to you through search, they’ve invested bucket loads of cash and time into making search a better experience both in terms of quality of results and the whole user experience. Since Google+ there have been a lot of predictions into how google+ will integrate into search and vice versa. Will +1’s count to a sites search position? Will google+ brand pages get placed ahead of facebook or twitter profiles?

Googles had a few issues with social network developers too — with the amount of content being restricted from google search results.

They’ve also been working on answering questions directly in search.

What might get a little scary for certain industry’s is when google start answering questions that people are bidding to answer…

This search question “Best Hotel In London” brings up the usual sponsored ads at the top and side, but then also a newer alternative just underneath.

On top of these changes, there have also been some early testing (beta was around June 2013) for Google Review Extensions. Review extensions allowed people to include one line reviews in the adwords that companies were paying for. Theres a more thorough blog post about this from SearchEngineLand here.

So, what has this all got to do with social and search being more important for each other? Well to answer that, lets first look at this image below:

Searchmetrics Data

You can see from the top 8 factors on this chart that social is important for 7, of the top 8 factors to appear in natural search.

This is a great reference point when reviewing an existing site you may have or thinking about building a new one. Obviously, setting up a Facebook Page or Pinterest Board alone is not enough. Google is already measuring forms of engagement here too with facebook comments, likes, shares and google +1’s (which are all forms of engagement, even if some are just clicks). So don’t just create the profiles and think you’re done. Content calendars, tone of voice and a whole social media strategy needs to be created or adopted to make sure you are making the best of the content you’re creating to compliment your audience, social profiles and website.

It’s now got easier but a lot more difficult.

Well let me first tell you how its got easier..


It will be easier to track conversions now that you’re looking more seriously at social and your site together, rather than 2 separate entities.


Easier, because you can update site and social together in unison and give people a more “together” experience rather than feeling that site and social are two different things. People should feel that your social profiles extend the story you are telling on your site and your site centres & concentrates on specifics of your story or business.

KPI’s Are Go

Social, SEO & Digital people should be more joined up in your business. Rather than thinking (and i’m not saying everyone does) that people that work in different digital specialties are from a different planet, with their own language, they should be able to work collaboratively together with a common goal and list, record, measure those achievements as a unified KPI.

More difficult..

Collaboration Can Be Hard.

New systems may need to be put in place, more meetings set up and additional costs getting all the right people in a room more often. But with every challenge comes an opportunity — and here it is about making your ‘digital talent’ more unified to achieve common goals together. Look into enterprise sharing and collaboration such as Huddle or Box. Think about the content thats being produced and how your mixture of social channels can tell the story in different ways. Each social network has its own nuances around eticat, messaging and general use. Each team needs to be an equal partner is this new relationship.


With this in place — who is the person to sign off the plan? The CEO? The CMO? The COO? unless its a digital agency or real digital business, chances are the people at the very top don’t know their meta tags from their asshole. Why should they? they are busy keeping their customers, suppliers, distribution and management happy. There needs to be an assigned leader to oversee this practice that can evaluate all the options from all of the parties and agree with the KPI’s being set.

My Industry Is Boring.

I hear this a lot. Especially in B2B — people just think the industry sector, whatever it is, lets say “office cleaning” is boring for people to include in social — even worse on their website. First, whats the common thread here? Well i’d expect to see stock images of happy people cleaning desks when I visit a site when I’m researching an office cleaning firm.

I’m really looking for recommendations and trust coming from real testimonials of people using the firm in a similar position to me. If people are involved in video testimonials, then i’d think they were even more trusted, as they’ve gone out of their way to say “these guys are awesome”. The creative solution is the answer here. For some inspiration — and a fairly boring industry (a florist) have a look at this.

So in summary having your social, SEO and content working together in unison with common goals and a clear content strategy — all defined with purpose against key KPI’s (views, social sharing, sales, repeat visits etc) will be the key pillars that your site and social presence will need to be successful. Moving forward in 2014 and beyond search and social will have to continue to merge, as google knows (Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman mentioned in a recent Bloomberg interview here that they underestimated social and won’t make those mistakes again) social is growing and search will only progress if it is totally emerged in this space too.

It’s time to book some flights and get those teams in a room.

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