How Many Does It Take?

Influence, reach, funneling, cross-linking — the web is indeed a web of good intentions with unintended outcomes.

  • You have a great message, but it matters little if no one reads it.
  • You have a huge audience — but why again, exactly?
  • You reach people with great teases, but do you convert them into purchasers?
  • You have all of the above — so why not goose it further with like-minded people?

So what could possibly go wrong, if a bunch of people with similar aims and tastes decided to help each other out? This is what I saw in my Twitter stream tonight:

Yes, “It Takes Just One,” so why did I see a cluster of four of them at one time?

What you’re looking at is one of the various methods by which marketers can reach full extension of their message. A gaggle of them can sign in, and then auto-post to each others’ accounts to direct interest to a page (ideally their own.) The downside seems low, as most of these people would likely be highlighting each others’ material anyway — this just ensures they do so in a way that doesn’t allow items from the tribe to fall in the gaps.

This isn’t personal – it’s impersonal

I know Danny and Eric and Ann Marie and Mark and Allen. They are all top-notch communicators and networkers, each in their own right. I really would trust each of them, implicitly, if they told me that something was worth reading. (For that matter, Danny Brown seems incapable of writing essays that aren’t worth thinking about. Add him to a list with Geoff Livingston, Jeremy Pepper, Olivier Blanchard,  Shelly Kramer or Amber Naslund.)

Notice that word: “seems.”

None of us are perfect. We’re all capable of laying a big stinker every now and again. And when we do, we deserve to get called out on it. (I think most of those named above will tell you at least one story about me tussling over something they wrote. Lord knows I’ve had enough people disagree with me.

I also know there is very little reputational risk involved in merely linking to someone else’s content — and it creates additional activity for the participants’ streams, which only makes them that much more valuable as a resource. But what happened above? What would an outsider think of seeing four consecutive tweets highlighting the same thing? How would that not look like spammy behavior? How does that diminish the personal recommendations, by revealing them as automated and impersonal?

Rat races are rarely for anything but rats

I know why these confederations have developed — and it’s noble, in a way. It’s a survival mechanism.

The Internet has never (despite rhetoric and egalitarian nonsense to the contrary) been about fairness and meritocracy. Those are concepts that exist within a particular silo of the internet, or a community, or a forum. Early adopters always have an unfair advantage in reach and exposure, which they exploit right up until honest-to-goodness Celebrities swoop in and add three digits to the end of the benchmarks.

“Online influence” means very little when people with no credibility within a given topic have such large platforms. (Want to know how to make the next Kony video? Seed it with a select group of people with massive audiences, like Jason Russell did.) The people with true and genuine contributions stand little chance with a magnitude-Four disadvantage, so they do what comes natural. They adapt, and they survive. But it’s still just cursing the wind and hoping you can repel it with your hand.

I don’t know what the answer is. I imagine it might look like some sort of diagnostic tool that lets us really target our messages. Aggregate audiences are only necessary when you don’t know who you’re aiming for. We need the sophisticated media targeting tool that’s akin to Seal Team Six — one that walks into town with nine bullets, because there were only nine sanctioned targets.

It’s time to stop thinking about influence and audience in the aggregate. That’s a rat race we’ll never win. Of course, we can always win at the level of the human individual, her knowledge, and her personal network. But that doesn’t scale when applied to the outer limits of our ability to “know” people.

I wish I had the answer. There might indeed be several. But it takes just one…

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  1. Shelly Kramer says:

    Hi Ike,

    Interesting post. And you know I always like your grey matter. I see your point, but I also think that some “marketing automation” which might include content distribution, isn’t all bad. And more realistic, given the fractured nature of comms today. You happen to be following Mark and Ann Marie and whomever else distributed this post of Danny’s – but I would venture a guess that that’s the exception rather than the rule.

    I read a lot of content online and there are a handful of people whose content I am relatively confident I can share without question. Also, if these folks are using Triberr, and I assume they are, there is no automation on that platform. Every post that’s a part of a “tribe” must first be approved by the user, before it is plopped into the queue to be shared. So, assuming that none of those people who “approved” it read it first is not always the case – and once something has been approved, the distribution mechanism isn’t controlled by the user. Better said – the user doesn’t choose the specific time in which an approved piece of content is shared.

    It may look spammy to you, but to a host of other users, and perhaps to search engines (there is more than one), it might not be perceived as such.

    I’m not a huge fan of automation – but even I will admit that every now and then, some automation or tools that allow for widespread distribution of approved content (like Triberr) aren’t all bad.

    And maybe it’s also related to when it really matters. Danny, Ann Marie and I all work for clients whose content we distribute, and we also create and distribute content of our own, which is part of our collective marketing efforts. You, by example, are in a different situation and don’t (typically) use Twitter as a vehicle for sharing content for marketing purposes. Maybe if that were the case, you might think differently.

    Thinking out loud …. and now I’m hungry. Thanks for making me think.

    Your pal,


  2. And yet, the four people who appear in order in your stream may not appear consecutively in someone else’s. I too, participate in an online aggregator of posts that allows me to ‘pimp’ out content that I find worthy of pimping. That participation allows me to see them all in one place and then do cherrypicking. I still remain the influencer and in control of the message that I am sending out vis a vis others. My point Ike is that you may be right. But you may also be very wrong. It all depends on who you know, eh?

    • Liz, for all I know there are 40 people who could have been there. The fact that they appeared consecutively is sheerly a function of all of them hitting at the exact same moment.

  3. Hey Ike,

    Interesting post.

    I see both sides of the issue. My guess is that these tweets came through via an automated re-tweet service like Triberr or Twitterfeed (mine is Twitterfeed). I take .rss feeds of some really smart people and turn them into re-tweets.

    Obviously, I don’t manually re-tweet stuff, but I don’t think that this cheapens in the content. I trust the select few who are on my Twitterfeed account to produce high quality content. I think that what you saw was an example of others who do the same. I think that it enhances the value of the content, despite how it may appear.

    I, like you, know that Danny Brown churns out intelligent, insightful, and often funny posts. So with this in mind, I take his .rss feed and automatically re-tweet his stuff.

    I don’t believe the fact that you got several in a row dilutes the value or cheapens the message. I think that it re-enforces the fact that many people have 100% confidence in tying their tweets to Danny’s smart mind.

    Hope you have a good day.


    • Mark, Liz, Shelly — I don’t know that there is a right or a wrong here. I’m not stumping for a universal standard, nor am I longing for a time when social media and blogs were simpler. In fact, I wanted to make sure I addressed the reason behind these strategies — pushing good content against the tide of celebrity-driven pubulum.

      I just think that in the process, we might have stopped short of a better solution. I don’t know what it is, but I suspect it’s in a different direction entirely from voluntarily crowd sourced integrated auto tweeting. I’d hate for small success in one direction to stifle exploration of something better.

  4. Hi Ike, I’m reading your post on a Monday morning having been offline since Friday morning. First of all, thanks for the compliment. I accept. 😉

    I make no apologies for using Twitterfeed to share the content of a short list of bloggers whose content I enjoy reading and trust enough to share–even those times when I don”t agree with every word written.

    I’ve been on Twitter since 2007 and like many of us have seen changes in the way the tool is used and how people interact. The one thing that hasn’t changed though, is the ability for anyone to unfollow if the content is a Twitterstream is offensive, unappealing or just doesn’t resonate. So my reasoning is that I share the work of bloggers I respect and take it for granted that anyone for whom the content I share doesn’t resonate will bail. Or will ignore the tweets and move on.

    In an ideal world would we slowly and thoughtfully read each post, comment with profound observations and share with the tightly targeted list of people we know would find the post meaningful? Yep. And then it would be really tough to get any work done to pay the bills that allow us the luxury of reading the aforementioned posts.

    For my part this sharing and this use of tools is not about influence and audience in the aggregate. As I write I am rather certain my Klout score continues to sink, lol. I use my voice on the Internet to share content I think merits attention. That’s it.

    Hope all is well in your part of the world and that this Spring you all get left alone in the Tornado and severe weather department. Cheers!

  5. Ike –

    Really interesting post, and a topic I have *long* chewed on.

    It would be patently foolish to bite the internet hand that’s helped me do things like write books and launch businesses, because the network, relationships, and platform I’ve built in part thanks to social media has been a factor.

    That said, I too struggle with the “swimming upstream against the noise” thing, and I don’t know that the solution is just to band together and be louder on behalf of the things we want to share. Or is it? Is it really just a battle of volume and numbers that we can only overcome by fighting fire with fire? I long for a more elegant solution, one that I don’t have. I personally can’t get behind something like Triberr because it makes me feel odd. But I have no problem *manually* sharing and distributing content from people who I think do a great job with it. Perhaps it’s the carte blanche thing; I want to choose what I share, with whom, and on what platform. I also want to be there for the ensuing dialogue whenever possible and heavy automation hinders that to me.

    It’s a really tricky balance, one that I don’t have the answer for either. I appreciate the compliment about thought provocation, but you’re certainly on my short list in that regard and this post is no exception. Thanks for the brain food.


  6. I’ve more or less avoided auto-redistribution tools, even ones that sound cool like Triberr because they allow aggregation but approval first. It’s mainly because I strongly believe in the fresh voice and personalization. So I think you bring up a really good point here. The very big downside to that is limited reach. Years ago I realized that mass effort has more momentum and result than a single effort, even though a single effort can be meaningful.

    But social media is a game with an ever-expanding huge board, and the players with an amplified strategy are most likely to win. Which, I think is more or less your concession point in your final section.

    So, like you, I’m left with “I wish I had the answer.”

    When I do outreach, it’s small-scale, targeted and gets nearly 100% results. When people want that, they come to me. But when people want a high count, there needs to be that plugged in communal amplification. What to do.

    • Julie, a lot of it has to do with what you’re “selling.” And I see many examples of how things like Gaggle and Triberr drive real traffic and help move needles. Yet it does a disservice to everyone if we merely look at those artifacts as “necessary ugliness,” instead of looking for a different way.

      Maybe it’s simply a script that adds a random number of seconds (1-1000) to each autopost, thereby greatly reducing likelihood of automania.

      I’d hope the conversation and attention would steer toward more sophisticated targeting? THAT is the promise of Google+, but alas, the Lords of Non-Evil in Mountain View can’t be bothered with a silly thing like an API that would allow for that…

  7. That’s going to happen when you follow a lot of active Twitterers who are like-minded and know each other. I don’t have a problem with this at all. Comes with the territory.

    • Just wondering, though… Are the primary users of these tools Social Media and Communication pros? Are there lawyers or manufacturers or B2B suppliers using any of these mindshare-leveraging tools?

      • For autoposting links from favorite sources? I’m sure of it. It’s not necessarily what I would recommend, but I don’t see a problem with the example you cite in the post because we in the social media industry are going to see this clustered hive-mind thinking more than we care to attend to.

      • That’s an interesting question Ike. I suspect that currently, it’s more the SM/Communication pros. However, as more folks gravitate towards content aggregation, you may start seeing others entering the fray.

  8. So it seems the mistake here is that they are all using the same RSS feed to auto RT using, Twitterfeed, yahoo pipes, etc. They should use an additional method to spin the title, delay posting que, and search for duplicates. All of these options work to broadcast to a more diverse audience without the blatant appearance of robo posts.

    • Or maybe we just find a different way. 😉

      Nothing wrong with asking questions, in pursuit of improvement.

  9. It’s a dilemma, I suppose, to the social media purists but, in the end, what does it really matter? It makes for a nice blog post and some speculative comments but in the end it just is what it is.

    Every social media platform has been bastardized in some way or the other (and will continue to be). If you can find a way to have others share your content (manually or automatically) then good for you. It may not resonate with the sharer but it just might with a follower (or two or three) of the person who shares it.

    Most of what I find on my twitter stream is either senseless babble or fluff; it is what it is. It makes that one relevant tweet (or conversation) that much sweeter when I do find one.

    One’s twitter stream shouldn’t be so important anyway – the people that really matter know far better ways to communicate with me.

    Nuff said.

    • I think it matters in a different respect. As Twitter continues to mainstream, and becomes the defacto news-ticker for average people, these bugs in the system could be a major turnoff.

      I know many people in the past year who have gone from thinking Twitter was stupid to enjoying it as an indispensable roll-your-own-interest news stream. People who aren’t in communications at all. People who way outnumber communicators. *They* aren’t going to recognize those autopost clones as being an artifact of some network of shares. They will never use such a tool to know. They will simply scratch their heads, and wonder how personal a recommendation that really was.

  10. Good post and great conversation.

    Like Ike or Julie, I tend to think there’s no ‘wrong and right’ here. I know that if I were following any of these people and saw this I’d likely unfollow all of them immediately. That doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is wrong, it just means that it doesn’t feel right to me. I try to keep my Twitter as conversational as possible and just don’t find a lot of value in mass tweets. The same can be said for RTing yourself, which some people use to great effect and others think is a great Twitter sin and totally wrong-headed. (I don’t do it, but I’m not sure I hate it, and I feel better about it than example tactic in the post)

    If they really care about the subject, the message would be much stronger if all the tweets were ‘hand written’. Maybe that’s the issue for me – that they are part of a group action supporting this content, but don’t take a moment to type up a quick (human) message, makes me *feel* like they don’t really care the content they’re sharing or their own credibility. And, by extension, they appear to not really value my (light) investment in following them on Twitter.

    Again, while I wouldn’t say that what they are doing is absolutely wrong, it is absolutely the wrong way to get through to me.


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