Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Impact of Social Media Fame

Clay Shirky makes an interesting point in his book 'Here Comes Every Body'. Applying the concept of fame to the communication facilitating tools of the social media, Shirky highlights an aspect of the online conversation which I personally had overlooked. Whilst Shirky's application of the fame concept differs slightly from conventional interpretations thereof, once acknowledged the resultant impacts are clearly visible throughout the world of social media.

The Direction of the Conversation
Despite minor differences between traditional and social interpretations of fame, a number of similarities also exist. Mirroring fame in it's traditional sense, social media fame comprises arrows of attention. When a blog, profile or account has more inward pointing attention arrows than outward pointing attention arrows, the greater the level of fame. This is a simple concept. What is perhaps more interesting is the potential effect that this has on the conversation. Consider the case of influential bloggers. As the perceived value of the content produced is increasingly recognized within the community, the number of individuals engaging with said content is likely to rise proportionately. The act of content engagement is most likely to take the form of a comment. As the number of interactions with the content increase, the ability of the author to adequately address each comment diminishes. In effect, these authors are becoming increasingly detached from those conversations which they are creating.

Developing Together
Whilst this view is somewhat simplistic, failing to take into account a number of important considerations, the logic behind these assertions is, in one sense, undeniable. Admittedly, as the number of inward facing arrows increases, the capacity of the author to personally address each comment becomes increasingly difficult. Were this the end of it, the social media would comprise a horrible muddle where significantly more questions are asked of the author than answers provided. The development of community has of course enabled the avoidance of such a muddle. Despite the impossibility of personlised two way communications beyond a point, building a community encourages conversational development amongst its parts. Authors such as Chris Brogan and Danny Brown have established significant communities in which conversations are enhanced through group discussion. This is reminiscent of the social media adage 'We' are more intelligent than 'I'.

Developing Knowledge Together
According to Shirky, social media allows us to experience the downsides of fame, notably these being the inability to reciprocate in the way the community would like us to. Whilst I recognize the logic in these assertions, I think that the enabling capacity of the social media has been overlooked. It is undeniable that these authors are unable to individually address each comment directed at them, however I truly do not believe that this is the intention of authors such as Brogan and Brown. Rather the goal for these individuals is to encourage the development of knowledge collectively. Whilst the two authors referenced herein are clearly experts in their fields, we must remember that interest in the social media is still in its relative infancy. It is only through such collective knowledge development that genuine insight will be gleaned. True social media gurus such as those referenced herein realise this and, instead of broadcasting a lesson, will subtely encourage conversational development over time.

Fame is overrated. It is an ability to truly influence the conversation that impresses.

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  1. Wow, Chris, this is an absolutely fascinating post. (PS - thank you for the shout out, very kind of you fella).

    It's something that I think I've chatted with you about before. It does seem ironic that, as the level of connection goes up, so the level of interaction seems to go down as a result.

    Or does it?

    If the hard numbers of connections go up, doesn't the level of interaction, albeit maybe not in ratio?

    Let's use Twitter as an example (and these are just figures - nothing scientific!):

    1 follower - 1 conversation
    10 followers - 10 conversations
    100 followers - 20 conversations
    1000 followers - 50 conversations
    10,000 followers - 200 conversations

    So although there are less ratio conversations taking place, there are more physical conversations happening that wouldn't have otherwise.

    Blog comments are an interesting one. I definitely try and answer everyone's comments where applicable (if it's not a duplicate answer, for example). I feel it's the least I can do for someone taking the time from their day to read what I have to say. If I ever reach Chris Brogan's lofty status, it may be different - I hope not, but I guess only time will tell.

    And as you rightly point out, it's all about building community. I've always said that my blog is for my readers as much as it is for me. The comments often trigger ideas for new posts, and I'm always happy to open up to guest posts as well. We all learn from each other.

    To me, a blog post is the conversation starter - the icebreaker at a party, if you like. The good stuff happens when the drinks start flowing. ;-)

    Cheers for a great post, Chris, and I'm off to check Clay's book out too.

  2. Hey Danny,
    I agree entirely; whilst the increase in the conversation ratio decreases as participants increase, the opposite is true for the number of physical conversations. As you suggest, of greater significance is the recognition of a more complete and comprehensive conversation; a result of approaching a subject from an increased number of angles.

    A great post has the power to both incite discussion and to create community, which is something that I will be examining this evening. Herein lies one of the greatest benefits of the social media. Each of our contributions, no matter how small, contributes insight to the collective intelligence. The value which each of us can personally recognize from this collective resource is significant.

    As you suggest, Danny, the opening post is the ice breaker. When the drinks do start flowing it's anyone's guess where the conversation will go!

    Thanks as always for your thoughts Danny!


  3. Thanks Ruth,
    I really appreciate your kind comments, and hope that I can keep you informed with the content I produce here. I look forward to hearing from you in the future!