Social share: the relative importance of participation in a group to a member of that group -- or association of one group to another group -- as measured by activities that involve resources or influence.
OK. I know it sounds a little pointy-headed and beardy, but I wanted to get a couple things in there for a reason. Let's run down the parts, and then I'll go into my thinking as to why we need this term.
Explain the definition
- It's got to be relative importance because I firmly believe that both people and organizations only have a certain amount of "social share" to manage. You cannot belong to an infinite number of groups. You cannot have 312 "best friends." You cannot have 78 favorite foods. Blogs with blogrolls that list more than 30 or so recommended blogs or sites to visit... I just ignore. Especially when they're not categorized. That's linkspam, kids. I don't want to know your Top 200 picks of what movie I should rent tonight. I want 10 choices, tops. So, when we're measuring what social groups have the most influence on me, it's got to add up to 100%. When someone new comes along and pulls you one way... you're pulled away from something else.
- It's got to be about participation. That's the differentiator between the whole "2.0" overkill and "old school" communications. If you are reading a blog, you are not part of the group. You're part of the audience. If you are commenting regularly... you're a part. If you buy from Amazon, not. If you write reviews... yes. If you read the Wikipedia, not. If you edit it, yes. A bystander is not a member.
- It can be about a person's role in one group, or about how a group decides to interact with another group. Social networking is often about "networks of networks." And that is about some critical mass of members making a "social share" conclusion about the group-effects of the benefit of association with another group. That is to say, "Our group will do better as a group if we stop hanging out with Group A, and start hanging out with Group B." You might still decide to associate personally with Group A -- your personal social share may involve them -- but the group social share may have a different weight.
- The participation noted above has to consume or create resources or influence for it to be a genuine indicator of social share, I believe. If you just log onto a bulletin board and fire off a hot, fiery rant once in awhile, five minutes here or there in your "spare time," that's not really consuming any of your real resources, and it's not creating any influence, probably not convincing anyone of anything, etc. Just because an act of participation is social, doesn't mean it creates social share for others, or qualifies as consuming social share for you. I may go to a carnival once a year... That may qualify as a "social" activity, because I do it with other people. But it is probably almost 100% entertainment related. If it does not influence how I will do anything else (besides whether or not I will attend next year's carnival), it's not a measureable social share activity.
Explain why we need the term
Because the whole root of Everybody's-Gone-Ga-Ga-2.0 is that Everything 2.0 on Web 2.0 is Wicked Social 2.0. It's all "two way." The Web originally "did stuff at you." Then it let you "do stuff." Now it lets us "do stuff together." We've been empowered to join hands, sing kumbaya and get jiggy wid-it. We can blog, comment on blogs, multi-blog, group blog, mososo, mash-up, link, tag, group tag, group find and all kinds of stuff that involve being parts of groups and interacting with those groups on some level. Which is great. Call it "Post Modern Tribalism" or whatever. It's fun to join groups, it's fun to be with other people (virtually or in real life), it's fun to leverage our knowledge in a community of peers, it's fun to "be around" like-minded (or contraray) folks. There are many, many reasons why social software is good stuff.
But if it's good, we need ways of evaluating how good. And we need some language to talk about why we're doing this stuff, and not just because "it's good." In marketing, that which is not measured is not repeatable and is probably based on luck, family connections or the whims of Japanese schoolgirls. If you failed and you don't know why, you have learned nothing, and you're not just a failure, but a moron. If you know why you failed, you at least have gained knowledge. If you succeeded and you don't know why, you're a success, but you're still a moron, because it's not reproducible.
So... Social! Social! Social! Let's build six-degrees-of-separation for everyone! Let's make everything group-able! Let's let everybody drive the bus!
OK. Fine. Answer me the question, "Why?" And then answer me the questions about how you're going to measure how social your service is. And how social it is compared to other similar services? And is it more social from a qualitative or quantitative standpoint? Does it have lots of members who spend no time? Or a smaller customer base who are fanatically loyal and spend 2 hours a day? Or is it lots of people and lots of time... but no influence. And no money spent. And what's the end goal of the whole she-bang-a-bang anyway? Are you driving advertising revneue? Trying to influence other product sales? Market share? Mind share? What activities do you want this group to engage in? What influence do you want them to create?
In short... what the heck are you up to?
Where's the bathroom, Kevin Costner?
"If you build it, they will come..." That's what the mysterious voice said in "Field of Dreams." A neat movie. I liked it a bunch. But at the end, when you see that whole line of cars all queued up to experience the mystery and drama of the baseball field in the middle of the corn... my only thought was, "Where are they going to go to the bathroom?" Once you get to a social destination... what do you do there?
I regularly comment on a couple of blogs, the purpose of which is clearly just... to be blogs. One of them, Terra Nova, a blog about MMOs and virtual worlds, has no advertising, no commercial links, no nuthin'. It's a space for discussion about online games and VWs. Period. Fantastico. From a social share standpoint, you'd have to factor that into your calculations when evaluating my participation in various groups. "Andy is spending a decent amount of time in an area that generates no commercial effects." That's like, from an entertainment market share analysis standpoint, watching the same movie on VHS over-and-over. Or, from the point-of-view of the cola companies, drinking tap water. Some chunk of my social share is being "wasted" by that evaluation.
I'm not saying that's a "correct" viewpoint. Just that you have to consider it. If another venue in the MMO/VW sphere wanted a chunk of my social share -- i.e., wanted me to join in their discussion group, wiki, blog, etc. -- they'd probably have to drag some of it over from Terra Nova. If they wanted to do it for commercial reasons, they'd need to evaluate what I bring to the table. Am I willing to pay directly for a membership? Am I going to contribute to click-through advertising revenue? Is my influence as a contributing member great enough to bring in others who will have more economic value than I posess, or even offset any economic drain I make on the system? In short, is my social share worthwhile? Is it valuable to them?
Let's have an example, eh?
OK. Robert Scoble worked, until very recently, for Microsoft. He was a blog evangelist and people read his blog for a couple reasons. One, he's an interesting guy on his own, and had some fun, smart things to say about technology, blogging, communications, openness, etc.. Two, he worked for Microsoft and had a very human, not-too-high-and-mighty-voice, and we're fascinated by that. Put those together, and lots of people enjoyed a more flesh-and-blood peek into the Death Star. That peek was chiefly through his blog. So Scoble was blogging, in a way, about what he was blogging about. It was a meta meme. And those can be very powerful. And he got lots of comments of the blog from people both inside and outside "the loop" of the tecnocracy. His blog had, for quite a few people -- some of them important -- some measurable degree of social share. The fact that Microsoft "let" (and perhaps encouraged) him to do the blog made it even more social and intriguing.
Now... Scoble is doing something else. Queston? How much of Scoble's social share depended on the Microsoft connection? Or, more accurately, depended on it being active. He will always, of course, be an ex-Microsofty. But will the folks who liked to be interviewed by him, comment on his blog, link to it, be linked-to by him, etc., like it as much now that he's with a Silicon Valley start-up? More importantly, regardless of how much they "like it," will they continue to actually participate in the Scoble network per se? His new employer is certainly hoping so...
Because that's the whole differentiator between old-school, advertising-heavy, one-way, mainstream media and word-of-mouth, social, networked, empowered, epitomized-by-blogs "2.0" thing: participation. And if that's the horse that you're going to ride into the ring, that's the one you've got to be ready to ride out on.
What I mean is you can't make the claim that the "special thing" about all this Web 2.0 stuff is its participatory nature when you're trying to sell all the new cool Flash, AJAX, Ruby on Rails stuff to your investors... but then bail on it when the numbers don't show up. The equation has to equal out.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm a huge fan of this whole thing. I just don't want the enormous potential and value of social networking and many of the possible benefits to go the way of Pets.com and the rest of the Dot Bomb.
Very short conclusion
So... when you're thinking about social software and building networks of users, think about social share the same way you would market share, incremental market share, share of voice, mind share and share of wallet. As one part of a business equation. Not as something to do "just because it's good." If you build it, they might come. But if they end up peeing in your cornfield and leaving... what was the point again?