Social Networks to me are like playing a game using real knowledge and information. It took me years to grasp that the secret to social networking is to play it like a game, and that the game can be won by the intellectual capital (information) that an individual user brings to the table.
Confusing? It was for me at first -- until I realized that the most important players on the Twitter board were the ones who interacted with knowledge and information, sometimes their own, sometimes from others.
Their are thousands of people on Twitters whose feed is nothing but quotes famous people. Many do nothing but retweet news articles and links. These are examples of playing the game using a viable information source readily available to each user, and it gets effects. These users have plenty of followers even though the information is readily available in a thousand other ways. I think of these folks as "base information users."
One step up from the base users are the "genre-specific information users". These folks take a subject such as art, music, or sports and spend a great deal of time retweeting specific information to other people. These users have made a science of finding out about their specific genre of information and moving it back out to others. Unlike the "base info users," who don't have to put a lot of energy into cutting and pasting links and quotes, the "genre-specific users" are dedicated to their task and put a lot more time and energy into their endeavor. In return they usually have a higher follower rate than a "base user" does.
Both types of users are using information as their tool of trade. You may ask, "what about all the users who are just there to interact with friends?" What are they interacting with? Usually personal information about their lives, shared back and forth. We'll call these the "life users." They play a part, but their following is usually quite small and isolated to their friends, family. Their posts are usually about restaurants, life events, favorite hobbies, etc. I've noticed these users rarely let outsiders onto their followers list. They also rarely survive on Twitter. Life users will find a much more fulfilling social environment on Facebook.
Now we take a step up to the "power users." These folks don't only share information from others but create their own information flow in the forms of blogs, websites, original insights, etc. "Power Users" are truly the power players. They use information as a commodity, sharing it out, bringing people in, selling and buying in whatever subject they are working closely with. "Power users" are usually influential online even if not in the real world. They hold sway over public opinion and can often move those opinions with their commentaries. Their follower numbers range from 10,000 to hundreds of thousands.
Finally, at the top of the hierarchy, are the "celebrity users." These are people who just by their mere presence are a dominant force. They may only tweet out once a month, but their words are watched carefully both by fans and news sources. Celebs don't have to bother following anyone else, but those who follow them are in the hundreds of thousands and more. The interesting thing about celebs is that they've already paid with their intellectual capital far before they came online. The musicians, actors, writers made their mark and now they are reaping the benefits of it. We get jealous sometimes of how easy it seems for the "celeb users" to sell just about anything to others, but we forget that they already paid the price for admission with a lot of hard work in their area of expertise.
What these types all have in common is that they are trading in intellectual capital. They may be there solely to sell a product in real life, but what many fail to realize is that when you're here in the cyber universe, information has to be your starting economy. If you sell tractors, you can't plan to come on and get a hundred thousand followers and keep their attention just by offering your tractor deal of the week.
If that's why you're here, you may get a few followers just because they like your products, but if you want to keep them around, you must put some time and energy into your intellectual capital. You may need to offer expertise on tractor maintenance and repair, free advice on ways to use your tractor, even online classes. Most important, you have to show you're a real person behind your tractor business, not just some bot tossing out information hourly without ever interacting with your followers.
In other words, you have to play the game just like the smallest player on the board. You may have more resources and cash to put into your intellectual capital, but we've all seen huge companies who never grasp a social network because they haven't learned to play it like a game and to use the information they have at hand.
I am using Twitter as the example for this article, but its really no different on any social network. What is different are the social rules by which you play the game. Every social network has its rules that make the game unique to it. Google+, Instagram and a host of others all work the same but have fundamentally different social rules for how you spend your intellectual capital.
As I said at the beginning, it took me years to grasp Twitter and I am not even sure how I did it. It was more intuitive for me than anything I read or researched. Once I got the hang of it, I could maintain at that "genre specific" level almost immediately. But it was not until I began to consider what I have already outlined above that I suddenly went from a "genre user" to a "power user".
I finally understood and did so well with it because first I stopped looking at it as a business tool and started looking at it as worldwide game of strategy and intricacy that rivals any damned video game ever created. And second I was playing with the one resource I had in abundance. My brain! I may be a poor struggling artist, but the one thing I have is knowledge, information, learning from a thousand directions, and a life full of experience. When I coupled those things with what I do best, "creating art," I suddenly had the keys to make this work for me.
In the end everything around us is built from information. Ideas, products, even social interactions in a bar, are built from tiny bits of information that we use to interact. We do it so naturally that we don't even realize we are doing it. Think about the last conversation you had with someone. What was it composed of? Dd it involve tell the other person about your day? Perhaps how work went? Or how crappy life is? All of that is information tinged with emotion. But when you break it down to the fundamentals, everything we share is information that we've gained and then spewed back out.
Jackson Browne put it well in the song "For a Dancer" when he said:
Just do the steps that you've been shownBy everyone you've ever knownUntil the dance becomes your very own
Into a dancer you have grown from a seed somebody else has thrownGo on ahead and throw some seeds of your ownAnd somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you goMay lie a reason you were alive but you'll never know
This is true of everything we do. We start out learning from everyone around us then apply that information towards our own path. And if we are lucky we start to create new information to augment the old.
Are you playing the game with your own intellectual capital? If not, you may get to the level of the game of being a "genre specific user," but until you start using what you naturally have and not just playing with other people's intellectual capital (e.g. retweeting other people's work), you will never attain the level of "power user." So think carefully about it and observe how the social networking game is played. By changing your perspective you may change how you play.