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Social Media vs. Traditional Media

Image Credits: Flickr user vernieman
An eminent programmer was referring to one of the most typical challenge the Media today faces - how to find out the most influential people on Social Media? Who is more influential on twitter - Barkha Dutt or Amitabh Bacchan? Who is more influential on Instagram, on Facebook? Is the number of followers the only metric which matters? What about the quality of content? What about the quality of followers / fans? How do we measure this "quality"? And if we can measure these individual factors - what is the algorithm to combine these to create a common metric, the rating which will be used to rank people based on their influentialness on social networks.

Some startups have attempted to solve this puzzle - just like this eminent programmer is also trying. Klout and some similar services look like they have cracked the nut, but Klout gives a pretty high level percentage score - so its quite possible that two people have exactly the same Klout score; in fact one in every 100 Klout user will have the same score! So, this still doesn't give us any exact measure of the rank of Social Media influencers.

It sounds like a pretty interesting programming problem to crack - or is it? In my opinion, its a pure waste of time! Why? Because I believe we are asking a completely wrong set of questions here. The questions outlined in the beginning have one thing in common - they are all simply reflections of the statistics and measures used by traditional media to measure their success. A Klout score of a user is like TRP of a TV program, number of twitter followers is equivalent to readership of newspapers and magazines, and arbitrary ranking of users according to their influentialness is like the Viewer's Choice award functions :-).

Our obsession with measuring these units of influentialness emanate from the way the Media is perceived. Traditional media has always been about broadcast - one to many; and hence reach and influence over the audience are the most important factors of success. When applying these same metrics (or their derivatives) on Social Media, we are simply ignoring the fact that Social Media is a many to many medium.

Yes, there are some similarities between traditional and social media - for example, there are 'celebrities' on both forms of media. Most celebrities such as Amitabh Bacchan are common to both media, some are more specific to one - like Anand Mahindra who is far more popular on Twitter than in the traditional media. Secondly, Social media can also be used to broadcast messages - for example the old guard companies who have created Facebook pages often use them for message / advertising broadcast. And thirdly, both forms of media rely heavily on content - without good video, YouTube and your TV both are useless; without good text, your blog and your newspaper - both are dead.

But it is the differences between the two media which need to be noticed. For starters, on Social Media - a friend has far more influence than a celebrity. Your friend does not advertise a new phone on the TV only celebrities do. But you are more likely to buy a phone if it is recommended by your friend (whom you chat on Facebook or twitter because he doesn't live near you). Hence, while it might give some old guard companies a good statistic to back their new Social Media marketing plan, the "top influencers on twitter" list actually makes no sense when it comes to influencing real behaviour. Another example is where a Viral video without any celebrity will give a far better mileage and visibility on Social media than a celebrity loaded advert (note that just the reverse would be true for live TV where a celebrity gets huge 'viewership')

Second, broadcast on Social Media has limited utility. Ask any old economy company what's the effectiveness of their Facebook page in selling toothpaste vs. a television ad; you'll know that Social Media is a pretty poor channel when the intent of a message is to broadcast to a wide audience. While recommendations from your friend on Social media can make you buy products, but it is unlikely you will buy products from a brand just because you 'Like' their page on Facebook.

Third, while content is important to attract viewers, readers, audience on both forms of media - there is no place for niche content in mainstream media; but on Social media, niche content rocks! So if you are a brand wanting to target college kids, you are better off being visible on a Facebook page for college jokes, study material parodys and cult movie fan pages, than opening your own Facebook page or being visible on a popular TV channel's Facebook page.

The common word 'Media' is quite misleading when used with the word 'Social'; most rules followed by Social Media are those which apply to daily conversations and relationships, than the 19th century science of readerships, TRPs and top influencing celebrities. It is, IMHO, a complete waste of time for programmers to devote time to cracking the 'most influential' puzzle. Rather, Social Media strategists need to understand the new rules created by Social Media to create campaigns which help them win.

So, stop inventing (and using) algorithms which track who's most influential - for me its my friend who is most influential, but for you its your's! So the point of who's most influential is moot at best - because, in the interconnected world of Social Media, no one person really is most influential!


  1. This is really a well-written post.

    While I think major brands and companies like Amazon, etc. have identified the points you made in the post, your post nonetheless is a good guide to a small business or individual wanting to target a certain section of population for their product.

  2. I agree to your views. ppl need to think differently for social media rather than applying the TRP tactics of tradional media.


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