Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Stop Trying to Dominate Social Networks (Please!)

Master Facebook! Take Over Twitter! Leverage LinkedIn! If your main concern is domination and rankings, you’ll never create a truly effective experience.

It’s becoming ridiculous: An endless array of just-add-water-social-media-strategies promising domination of social networks. Strategies, plans and programs promise to have you swooning with power over your friends and fans. Win, score, possess, capture and command the masses. You, too, can reign supreme!

As if.

I think I’m going to quit any social network that keeps score. Long ago, I left ActiveRain, a real estate specific network, on the suspicion that many of the commenters on my posts were merely trying to pick up 25 points towards their scores. Next came Klout, seemingly innocuous at first, promising to rank your influence of others. The titles were very gentle: Curator, Mentioner, Retweeter. Influence was a clean and shiny thing, like a jewel; not the point of a spear aimed at the heart of competitors. Now I hear Klout may start ranking Google+ and even your YouTube activity. Might be important if you’re Lady Gaga or the Old Spice Guy, but for ordinary mortals, do we need to score for watching two babies talking to each other? Even EmpireAvenue has become dull. My friends and I have been reduced to “stocks” that people can “buy and sell” like equities. What should I feel if someone decides to short me?


I guess it’s only human. The desire to rank, compare, have the “most” amongst our social circles. More money, cars, awards in real life have become more fans, likes, plusses in virtual life. I’m supposed to worry that Steve has more fans than I do on Facebook; but feel better about myself because I have more than Joan? Why is my self esteem, and my ability to influence others, suddenly able to be tallied?

Did Einstein care how many people retweeted his theory of relativity?

Social networking is about human interpersonal dynamics. People interacting with people. Naturally, we’ll influence each other, the same way our parents, friends, teachers, lovers influence us in real life. And nobody keeps score on who’s influencing us the most this week: mom or our co-worker. Possible, once we start worrying about “scoring” our influence, we’ll change the entire dynamic – on and offline.

Suddenly, it won’t be about engaging people you care about, even casually, as in a business relationship. Once you’re concerned with your tally, your participation will require you to control them. To “get” them to like your post, share it, to interact dammit! so we don’t fall behind. Influence goes from being benign to being dirty.

And don’t think they don’t realize it.

One of the most important lessons marketers learn about influencing human behavior is that the customer has to feel that your message involves genuine concern for their well-being. Even more importantly, it must do so without a hidden agenda. It’s one of the main reasons they’ll listen, and hopefully refer your brand, (see Ernest Dichter, 1971). Dichter noted that most communicators – advertisers, salespeople, politicians – were too concerned with blowing their own horns (then as today) rather than putting themselves in the shoes of their listener. In fact, some customers react negatively to “top” producers in certain industries; especially if their own career has been less than stellar. It’s no different than mothers who recoil at advertisements with the overly-cute baby, sensing their own child is less so.

Therein lies the danger of seeking to dominate the social networking space, rather than have a conversation with the customer.

The better networkers understand this. I get the sense that Armani, Mandarin Oriental, Tiffany’s engage their audience without monitoring their rank against others. Southwest’s approach is jovial, friendly, lighthearted: just like their brand. It seems unlikely they’re monitoring their clout barometers in real time, either. Instead, they tell stories, ask questions, respond to comments and simply engage in conversation with their customers. Almost person to person. Then they measure influence simply: by purchases, referrals, testimonials.

After all, do we really need a ratings agency for social media?

Being unconcerned with your social network score frees up important intellectual resources for being concerned with something else: your products and services. The best example might be Apple Computer. They don’t even have a Facebook page. No icons on their home page for any of the social networks. But one would hardly call Apple anti-social. It’s customers are amongst the most vociferous promoters, loyal defenders and high spenders. There’s clearly an Apple community. It might even be argued that Apple’s social network is so smart, the company doesn’t need to manage or dominate the discussion. Apple users find their own ways to communicate with each other – and the world – without any brand controls. They’re the ultimate Word of Mouth network – all without a single status update or tweet by the brand. This leaves Apple completely focused on what it does well: study its customers and create products that consistently delight them.

Another way to think about it is this: What’s more important, volume or quality of customer interactions? Do you care that you have tons of “likes” or a smaller number of thoughtful comments? Consider that broad exposure may not be as effective in driving business as the right exposure to the right people. If we become too concerned about keeping “social score” we might easily confuse social media with advertising, rather than relationship management. (Admittedly for some people, that’s all they want, really, is just another advertising channel.)

Either way, there’s something to be said about managing one’s motivations while social networking. More frequently we’re hearing the stories of people who are disconnecting from people who post everything and anything; perhaps it’s innocent, but as the integration of ranking systems increases, it leaves you wondering. Ordinary people know when they’re talking to a robot – whether it’s a script-reading one on the phone, or a re-tweeting one in cyberspace – and they don’t like it.

I suspect that once we start treating our customers as just another point in our rankings, they’ll not like that much, either.



  • Rosemary Buerger

    Well said Matthew. I believe we can connect with our clients and even network from social sites but you don’t have to be on all of them or be a part of the next thing to hit the net. There has to be a point when you still make a personal connection not just on social networks.

  • Gah!  Awesome share.  I stumble and occasionally fall into this hole. For some reason, (maybe because it’s easier I become lazier), I overbear, lose site, and annoy in ways I never-ever-ever would in person.  Thanks for the snap-out-of-it reminder. 

  • Ken,

    Thanks for your comment. I think we all get a little caught up in the competitive comparative mode. It’s always nice to be recognized and ranked among our peers. I certainly like having a higher score… I just have to remind myself that I always seem to be more effective when I’m not trying to simply beat others but create helpful dialogue. For me its doubly hard because I’m used to being the center of attention in my workshops!
    One thing that always keeps me in “check” is that one comment – like this one – that makes my day. Worth 1000000 likes in my mind… And far more memorable in the long run than my score/rank on any one day!
    Thanks for stopping by.. and being a friend!

    – Matthew

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  • You NAILED it!  I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote in this post.  

    I can’t tell you how many social media marketing guides I read online that do not contain the word “People, Conversation or Relationship.”  

    It’s all about “likes, comments, fans, +K, +1’s, followers, Klout Scores, RT, and Mentions” 

    Thanks for fighting the good fight Matthew. 

  • Thanks, Jimmy. I appreciate the supportive comment and know that together we can help our readers maximize the awesome potential of social media without getting off target!
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  • Kelly Martin

    Awesome post/blog Matthew!  (I’m not much of a social networker, as I’m sure you can tell)…But an old saying came to mind as I read this…It goes something like:  “It’s amazing how much a team can accomplish when no individual member is concerned about who gets the credit”.  Staying focused on the goal and begin with the end in mind.

  • John James

    Matthew, I hear where you are coming from, but I think Klout is somewhat more sophisticated than you give it credit.  It’s the graph, not the score I find important.  I look to see how the people I follow and respect fall into the graph and contemplate whether I want to pattern some of their actions regardless of the score.  It also gives me a read on how people connect so that I can tailor my engagement with them.  If someone has a Facebook account, but is just a “dabbler” on the graph, I know not to try to engage them much on FB.   I don’t need Klout to tell me this, but it’s nice to have that in one place.

  • John:
    I hear what you’re saying, but I’m just wondering if the “graph” is such a big deal. Don’t you already know what topics you’re influential on? Alternately, don’t you know who you influence? Let’s say both answers are “no” – then Klout does provide a nice search function for that – as does or other searches within each network. I can see who’s retweeting me, who’s sharing, etc my stuff. That’s definitely important.
    However, the “scoring” element adds a bit of “game theory” to the process, and while I’m a fan of competition, I’m not sure that adding “rankings” to your “relationship process” is the right connection. Kind of like adding teriyaki sauce to your coffee, IMHO.
    And perhaps my best example was ActiveRain, where the point system became so pervasive, I simply felt like the process was no longer about relationships but about scoring….. Of course, maybe I just had a bad experience :>
    – MF

  • David

    Matthew, social media has become such a “tool” as actually seem to become “anti-social” media. While I do see some use for that “tool”, it is becoming more obvious to our “friends” that to some degree, we may be using them as a tool too. Not a great fomula for long term success…

  • Very nicely put! Completely agree!
    — Matthew

  • Deb

    Matt, this is so true. I was so excited about social media when it first became popular, but now that everyone is doing it (and not necessarily well) it seems to have backfired. Your post says it all. Thanks!

  • Debbie Dunn

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read about social networking lately.  Just this week, I have begun to reevaluate my social media strategy.  Your article was, for me, timely as well.  Thanks for sharing.  FYI–I  hope you won’t mind that I shared your article with my audiences.  I hope some of them “take the hint”!

  • Sfessel

    Matthew, once again, you’re brilliant! Your statements today clearly articulate why I boycotted social media for 40 days. So many awesome things came to fruition for me during that time that I’m considering doing it again. I focused on the real relationships that mattered & connected with people face to face, lost weight, exercised, & gained new business. Thanks again for keeping it real & relevant.

  • I have always said that success is all about building relationships, solving problems and having fun. This is true in a career like real estate or really for life in general. Your article articulates the importance of keeping the human element in play in our daily activites and angagements with people – any of whom could be our next opportunity.

    I am a competitive person and most people who succeed in real estate have an internal competitive bone yet these new rankings, scores and badges seems to overshadow why we are doing what we’re doing. I’ve never understood the points system on FourSquare and while I am proud of my Klout score, I am not really sure if it’s necessarily going to help me build more relationships, solve more people’s problems or have more fun. [Let me know if you ever see a bar advertising happy hour where “If your Klout score is 60 or higher, all beers are half price!”]

    The most important people for me to make sure I am influencing every day are my two kids. As long as they continue to give me +K for parenting, “Like” my bedtime stories and advice and “retweet” my advice when they become parents like I have done for my parents, I’m pretty sure it won’t matter what my graph shows.

    Thanks for helping us all slow down a bit in our “race to the top.”

  • Sean:

    Very well said! Somewhere between the need to be “liked” and the need to be “ranked” is hopefully a need to be “real” with our families, friends and clients. Since most of the ranking systems are so opaque, it’s hard to even know whether the high scores “mean” anything other than “grading on a curve” of others – which may really not be saying a lot, since so much “social” content is just mundania and blather. So a high score in Klout is likely meaningless to a “be there” score to the teacher, parent, friend when someone they know really needs them.
    Thanks for your comment; it’s much appreciated!

  • I didn’t realize that you were not on AR – that is a good move.  We also left that platform several years ago.  I personally am not convinced that consumers are going to a site like this to find agents.

    Also interesting about Apple!  That brings me to the point that a good website is still very, very important.  Consumers still go to their favorite search engine and begin searches there – so it is important to be providing value to where the buyers (and sellers) are.  That may still change in the future, but we’re not there yet.

  • My best Klout is knowing I can contact any of you guys if I’m ever in need. I rate all my friends a +1, and I “LIKE” them all or I’d delete them 🙂
    Great post. It’s all about people not scores. 

  • Anonymous

    This is how I look at Social Networking. I have always been involved in local chambers, professional associations and other types of groups for networking opportunities to create new and build on existing relationships. I have always believed in being involved in my professional and neighborhood communities. In many cases my time spent has enabled me to give back to the REALTOR community as well as communities I live and work in. As a result of some of those relationships, business has been a by-product, both incoming and outgoing. 

    With the birth of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, some of my time spent has just moved from “IRL” to virtual. They have truly expanded my horizons. 

    Although I admit I do check my Klout score periodically to see if I am ever eligible for perks, I should not be tailoring what I do online to increase a score. 

    I think this IRL example applies to virtual networking as well: Over the years agents have asked me why I am a member of a local chamber. They joined, did not get any business so what’s the point. The point is they did not engage, take the time to get to know people and participate. I met some great people whose services I use or have referred to people I know. Funny thing happened. Some of those same people referred me or used my services. Interesting how that works. 

    One last thing. I think Activerain had its place for me early on(3 years ago). If I was just beginning now I would go straight for the WordPress. 

  • Andrea:

    Great comments – I think we’re on the same page. Being involved, contributing and participating in your community – town, chamber of commerce, Rotary or REALTOR – it’s all about building relationships. Not generating leads or business. If you play golf with friends just to show them your latest listing sheets, you’ll not get invited again. If you participate on the food drive just to get names for your mailing list of “just listed” postcards, well, you get the point…
    As for ActiveRain: I see how it made sense early on as a “simplified” blogging experience; back then, WordPress was much harder than it is today. But I never understood the point system, and as a result, I left myself because I felt “used” by people who just “piled on” their comments to get some points. Not all – some very nice conversations did occur; but they became rare and rarer, in comparison to the “me too!” posts. Thanks for stopping by!
    – MF

  • Right, Rajeev!
    I think we’re better off focusing on one or two and building deep presence, rather than popping up “thinly’ everywhere. It’s NOT the same as “distributing” listings all over the web. You can’t distribute PRESENCE the same way.
    Thanks for stopping by!