Activating your organization’s Social Graph

Activating your Social Graph can be an effective strategy for any company that has the organizational desire to make an impact in the social web. But start-ups and arts organizations (or anyone with a $0 marketing budget) this post is for you!

Nodus Labs: Facebook volunteer group network visualization in Gephi

As part of an in-bound marketing strategy, that is, the marketing channels you don’t have to directly ‘pay’ for, activation of your Social Graph is just one possibility.  With some time, skills and social smarts you can generate a fantastic level of new interest and engagement for your organization.

Definition time: the Social Graph of an organization is the network of relationships in your community,  in this context, online.  Users, customers, investors, employees, board members, founders, suppliers, supporters, their social influence and connections all contribute.  The activation bit, is creating dialogues and narratives, encouraging connections and genuine engagement, that expand the breadth and depth of your community.

When you are small and trying to make a big splash your biggest enemy is indifference.  In my experience, curiously, it is always the most interesting people, working on interesting projects that spend the most time hand-wringing about being judged / blowing their own trumpet / agonising over every sentence in a blog post.  Stop it!  Want to know what is more embarrassing?  When your funding runs out and no one cares!

Start the conversation within your own team, this can be as small those commenting on the company or related blogs, encouraging each team member to tweet, share, re-pin or even have their own blog.  Almost everyone in your organisation will already have some kind of social media presence.  They will have their own style and views on how to communicate online, which is fine, but if they are not excited by what you are doing, how do you expect anyone else to be?

It is basic maths.  In your current marketing strategy you probably have a blog, facebook, twitter, newsletter and maybe a few other communication channels talking about your brand/org/project.  Even if you have a small team of 4 who all blog or share their various areas of expertise or vision within the company – that is already a huge impact on the conversation.  Add 50 or even 10 to this social media presence and you can start making a significant impact on the reach of your community, share of voice (SoV) and reputation management. Check out Jason Miller’s post on 5 simple metrics to measure.

Trust and authenticity.  Put some faces to your organization.  Develop a relationship with your community/customers/investors online.  Show what a likeable and (add adjective) bunch of people you are.  Vital if you are at an early stage.  Venture capitalists (VCs) want to see that you have the best team, it allows people to connect to your adventure and a great insurance when you have product failures because your users will forgive you.  If your community is engaged with the narratives of the people who are working tirelessly to achieve x, they will keep coming back, give feedback and feel included in your vision.  Still not sure? VC, Mark Suster on ‘Why startups need to blog’.

Team love at Delivery Hero

Showing off your company culture.  Attract top performers to your company when maybe you don’t have top dollar, make your team one that everyone wants in-on.  People who enjoy their work, like artists, do not see the separation between work and the rest of their lives.  This is not a ploy to force people work even more – but in organisations that understand this attract top talent by giving the freedom for the fluidity of life and work, on- and offline.

Authorship and authority.  As more and more content gets generated online Google (and others) need to find better ways to rate and index sites.  Increasingly complex algorithms are developed to differentiate compelling from ordinary content, which in turn provides more accurate search results.  Google’s not-so-popular social network Google+ does provide one significant advantage for content creators – authorship.  By connecting your online content with your profile (which in this case could connect to your organisation) you are authenticating it for Google.  Not only does it give you a nice pretty picture in search results for your content (which should give you higher click through rate (CTR)), anyone logged into their Google account and  connected to your circles will see ‘relevant’ content prioritised and marked.  Below is what happens when I search for my friend Tim Webster.  Without personal search activated I get a lot of information about an Australian sports presenter with the same name.  Then with personal search activated Google knows that I am probably looking for the Tim Webster who is in my circles.  Indicated by the little person icon – see below.

Saving money down the track.  Social authority (which also includes engagement in other social networks) around your brand/organization is increasingly measured by Google in developing your quality score – which directly effects Adwords cost-per-click prices.  Facebook pages have made qualitative changes, so if your posts do not receive comments or likes from your community, future posts will be shown to a smaller segment.  With access to a broader segment only obtained through paid promotion.


Getting Started: Content

Activating your social graph is not about spamming or selling to your friends.  If you are doing this please stop, it is tacky and anyway they are not your potential customer base.  Activating your Social Graph also does not mean that your employees are now required to spurt branded campaigns or forced to use their personal social accounts for an organizational purpose.  Encourage your team to share, create and discuss what they are genuinely interested in.  Connect with people who are already part of the conversation and have their own communities.  Be genuine, be generous.

The segue between you as an individual and your role/brand/project can be a tenuous as you like, in the beginning it is just about getting started.  There is plenty of time to refine later, however, I would avoid anything counter or harmful to the company and their culture.  Be a community star, quick check list: authentic, consistent, transparent.

Some themes:

Professional:  Share expertise or thought leadership within your field.  See: Avinash Kaushik’s blog: author and Google digital marketing evangelist.

Start-up adventures: blog about the trials, tribulations and golden nuggets of being a start up CxO/ founder.  People love this, you are doing what many dream about – help them live vicariously.  See Joel Gascoigne’s blog : founder at Buffer.

Technical:  Social doesn’t have to be all online.  Get involved with teaching code, or other tech communities – and blog or tweet (or both) about it.  See Amélie Anglade @utstriker : MIR/sound software engineer at SoundCloud

Art/Love/Life:  Perfect if there is some sort of crossover with the offerings of your organization.  This is not always possible, but it is a great place to start…   See: Nick Normal’s blog : artist, maker, librarian, diplomat, Queens enthusiast, World Maker Faire NYC co-producer.

Inspiration: Your social media efforts don’t have to be tamed prose.  Pintrest and Tumblr are easy tools to share inspiration and connect.  See Austin Kleon’s Tumblr: just one part of this artist/writer’s impressive online presence.

nick normal


Tips on how to implement in your organization:

Like with any new behaviour there is going to be some resistance to adoption and sustained practice.  I love bottom-up collaboration, but this is just one of those things that needs top-down if it is going to be seriously implemented.  Founders and CxOs need to lead this behaviour change, set guidelines and make the resources available for its success.

Not everyone is a social media or blogging natural and the initial experience of developing their professional voice can be very intimidating, often for your most senior employees.  But when you sign-on to a start-up or any organisation that needs to fight for its existence – founders, board members and CxOs have no excuse not to be socially engaged online.  This should just be part of their role.  No doubt to get to their current position, they have an extended network already and authority within their field.  It is simply then about connecting the dots.

For everyone else make it an optional (but supported) extra-curricular activity.  Offering incentives for any culture change is a pretty clear way of making new expectations of behavior clear.

Free: internal praise and recognition of the team’s efforts

Free: an engaged internal community.  It is not just about creating but there is huge value for the team engaging with each other’s online content – commenting, sharing, re-tweeting etc

Free: offer opportunities for team members to be interviewed or guest post on the brand/org/project blog (with links)

Offer to make work time available for developing online content.

Or have a regular workshop with expertise, this could be from your internal social media or marketing people.  Help the team to develop their voice, content, share feedback and understand the nature of social media.

If you have the budget or the scale of organisation that requires it, incentives such as vouchers for exceptional social content could be offered.

Don’t forget to create great (org) content, give your team the best opportunity to share (when they are inspired), check out Flickr accounts like transmediale, or Facebook accounts from: 3rd Ward Brooklyn and Etsy.



Make a commitment to be consistent, whatever that is.  One tweet a day, a blog post a month, Saturday morning pinning and repining, just make it a habit, and you soon won’t even have to remind yourself.  Once people start sharing, commenting, tweeting your efforts – they won’t be able to stop!  Self-help tip (and another great example how to engage online) : Matt Cutts on changing habits, also Google’s head of webspam.

How to avoid #fail: guidelines, then feedback, feedback, feedback.

Some things should be off limits for public discussion.  No matter how common sense that seems to you, spell it out.  Technology secrets, incomplete business deals, personnel problems, using company handles when drunk etc.  Twitter is littered with fantastic examples.  The best way to make guidelines work is for the whole team to have input.

Connecting, reading and sharing feedback with each other’s content, is the best way to refine your voice and also pick up any issues early on.  Digital media is amazingly tolerant,  because you can always edit – when you are starting out this is quite a blessing.   A gentle comment (on- or offline) usually gets the message across, just in the same way any community maintains their social norms.

Measure and Learn.

Create campaign UTM links on founder blogs:  handy url builder

Measure and annotate the change in SoV, visibility in search engines and correlations in traffic increases.

Keep track of your referral traffic in Google Analytics.

Measure and calculate the value of Facebook content being shown to more of your fans.

Remember: Social doesn’t just happen, be consistent, give feedback, invest in creating great content, measure/learn and have fun!

Do you have any tips to share?  Or organisations that do this well?

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