In the early days of social media and web 2.0, brands and marketers were fascinated and scared at the same time by how the new web was enabling direct access to consumers.  Brands discovered the power of reaching millions of customers on a one-to-one basis, while marketers helped them deal with unsolicited feedback on issues related to their product/service; or in fact, anything that could help the brand increase its social proximity to the prospective client.

Still, what we now know is this:

– People (and people behind brands) can’t socialise with millions of people at the same time.  According to Dunbar, we as individuals can’t actually develop relationships with more than 150 people at a given time.

–  Humans have an irrepressible desire to differentiate and socialise with like-minded people sharing a passion or an objective.

– Engagement/socialisation happens mostly while sharing content, and different people in the ecosystem started to play different roles like content writing and content distribution (what Forrester calls Mass Mavens and Mass Connectors)

– Bloggers play a key role in the eco-system both as Mavens and Connectors, (see this Yahoo! Study on the role of bloggers in Twitter).

The net is that the social Internet is far from being flat, but reveals itself more as a network of tribes with their own rules, slang, symbols and influencers.

“Community is the new demographics” (as Jaffe Juice puts it). “One size fits all” programmes, whether they entail listening, engagement, or a “Facebook fan page with millions of people sharing nothing but a like” clearly fail to grasp the diversity of these tribes and communities.

To really understand communities, we have to look at them in context.

Here below is a visual example from the UK “Mums” Community in eCairn.

Each node represents one UK mummy blogger; arrows between nodes represent links (direct reference or blogroll) and the colour is automatically assigned based on the discovery of clusters of nodes.

Different clusters make up the UK Mums community, as shown above: a core red cluster is mainly talking about parenting and general mum topics; the green cluster is more focussed on food; others (navy blue) are into books/writing or (purple) fashion.

That said, it is still difficult to discern the motivation for people to connect in a separated group, like the yellow cluster.

So, what is it they talk about? Here is a mining of last week’s conversations:

Besides the usual suspects, you will notice “Father’s Day” and “Three word gallery”. The latter, which refers to a contest in which mums have to come up with creative, three-word-long taglines for photos, strikes me as a particularly good example of how social the Internet has become.

And who are these mums? Here are a few of them…

The most influential mum in the UK:

 The most vocal mum on the topic of vouchers and coupons:

Another point worth noting is the absence of “coupon” or “voucher” among the top expressions.  Using US moms as a benchmark, it is clear that vouchers/coupons do not have the same importance on both sides of the Atlantic.

As you can see from this example, engaging with social media is far more complex than just replying to anyone who mentions a brand name or a topic.

And I guess this is excellent news for marketing professionals!

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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