Russ Altman, host of the Stanford podcast “The Future of Everything” had Jure Leskovec on as a guest speaker about mining data from social networks, called “The Benefits of Being Social.” Leskovec is a computer scientist at Stanford and a chief scientist at Pinterest. They posed some interesting questions: When is something most likely to go viral? Where do online trolls come from? How do recommendation engines work? What do fitness apps tell us about the world? How can we predict what makes a post go viral?
I used this 28 minute podcast, available at https://engineering.stanford.edu/magazine/article/jure-leskovec-power-social-networks, to answer a different set of questions:
- What’s most likely to make purchases of my book go viral?
- How do I become an opinion leader or subject matter authority in order to drive people to my website or become my follower?
- How can I best incentivize people to engage with me?
It turns out that Going Viral is predictable, not random.
The key is what network in which the seed germinates, not who planted it. In other words, a viral post propagates via a person’s social networks and what their network likes and what those people’s network likes. How it spreads is also predictable is usually the way it spread in the past.
Therefore, if I want information about my book to Go Viral, I need to craft a post that is highly appealing to my social network, something that they are likely to want to share forward to their network. Since people in my network are most likely attracted to the same things that attract me, what I need to do is pay attention to what posts I click on, which ones I share, which ones I comment on.
- Are they visually appealing?
- Do they have videos or images?
- Do they have catchy titles?
- Do they have hashtags that relate to topics I generally like?
In addition, I need to pay attention to what the various social platforms recommend to me as someone/something I’d like, as they’re mining my social media behavior to learn how to market to me. I need to figure out why certain advertisements display, why Twitter says, “In case you missed it” on certain posts, etc.
The key, according to Leskavec, is that my message needs to be very particularly tuned to my network.
Altman and Leskavec then talked about a concept called triadic closure. Basically, this means that the more friends I have in common with an unknown person, the more likely I am to connect with that unknown person and like what they have to say. This works both ways, however. If I’m regularly crossing paths with a particular person but have not followed them or friended them, it’s highly indicative that I won’t (and that there’s a particular reason I won’t). This is very interesting, as it suggests finding people who will like me and my book is easier than I thought. If they look interesting to me and I follow them, they’ll likely follow me back.
Social media platforms are collecting a ton of data about us.
It’s very Big Brother and scary, as anything used for good can be used for evil, but it’s also a reality of today’s world. Data is collected to better advertise to us as people. I regularly get suggestions on where to buy things that I’ve done a search on. Suggested posts pop up in Facebook from sources that I’ve liked, shared, or read before.
Advertisers (and now I am one) crave this information to target people with the right interests, demographic attributes, and social behaviors for their products.
Sometimes that product is for sale, but sometimes it’s a topic of interest or even a way to improve your online dating experience. I have a product—my sci-fi thriller, APEX, and I need to find my people so I can advertise my book to them. I feel my target audience is likely 75% male, teen to forties, action movie and book loving thrill seekers. In addition, I want to target newbie authors that want to improve their writing craft and science geeks who want to learn more about the world we inhabit.
So, how do I become a topic authority or micro-opinion leader for these targeted audiences?
What I learned from the podcast is that the social media platforms and computer algorithms are doing the work for me! They’ve already developed algorithms to identify people posting interesting content on just about any topic. If I produce regular, high quality content on my subjects of interest, the algorithms will find me and suggest me to others with those same interests. How cool is that? Again, this makes my work so much easier, as I can focus more on the content and less on finding people to read it.
The last thing they talked about that really resonated was about incentivizing people.
They collected anonymized data from one million people over 63 million days and determined how much physical activity they were getting based on how much their phone’s accelerometer moved. Accounting for about 40 confounding variables, they were still able to see a strong correlation between obesity and physical activity, and also between obesity and the “walkability” of a city. What’s interesting is that they were also able to determine what incentives worked to increase a person’s physical activity.
It turned out there were just two main techniques: contests and social networks.
So, if I held a contest (or poll) that encouraged people via some kind of reward, they would respond well to that. For instance, I followed someone on Twitter because he said he’d give me an e-copy of his first book (he’s written dozens). I followed immediately. Social networks work in a similar way. If you receive a text message or read a post about someone else doing something positive (such as walking or supporting a fundraiser), you are incentivized to do something positive yourself.
How it works is simple.
If I post that I wrote 1000 new words and challenged others to do the same, they would likely try to do so (and then post as well). For instance, my friend recently challenged me to do the seven day black and white photo challenge, and I did, because it was fun and I was personally invited to do so.
So, what we have is a social media universe that is colluding with us to be successful! All we need to do is start participating.
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