How much automation should you use in social media?

Vast amounts of social media are not social, but automated messages. How much automation is too much?

Many of the messages you receive on social media are not social at all, but the result of automation. These items have been sent out using scheduling services, CRM systems, even software “bots” that can intelligently respond to messages. Frequently, on social networks, no-one is actually having a conversation with you; instead, you are talking to a machine.

Marketing automation conceptMarketing automation is commonplace. Indeed, without it, much of social media would not exist. To be visible on social media, companies need to be sending out dozens of Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates every day. Indeed, the best-known companies that make the most of social media are sending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of messages each day. Sustaining that volume of output either means the company needs to employ dozens of people, at a high cost, or automation is required.

However, there is a problem with all this automation. Research shows that when people realise that social media activity is automated, they have a reduced “parasocial” connection to the company. Parasocial connections occur when the recipient of the communication believes they have some kind of relationship with the sender. For instance, many people who follow celebrities on Twitter feel as though the individual is talking directly to them, almost as though they have a real relationship.

It is the same with businesses. Lovers of brands feel they have a relationship with the company of their choice, but in reality, it is a one-way connection.  However, those feelings of being involved with each other are lessened significantly when people notice that social media activity is automated. All of the benefits of a parasocial connection for a brand – such as loyalty – are eroded. In other words, social media automation can negatively impact upon a company. Much of that damage is because businesses have focused on the word “media” instead of the word “social”; social media is meant to be social.

So how much automation is too much?

Working out how much automation is “allowable” is tough. You clearly need to provide a balance between the amount of material that is automated and the volume of Tweets and posts that are “real”.  Look at your social media accounts and see whether automation is apparent. If it is, then it is too much – simple as that.

Obvious automation can be seen by Tweets and posts that are published at the same times every day for weeks on end. Another signal of too much automation is the lack of conversation. Social media is conversational. When those conversations are not obvious, the account is probably using significant amounts of automation.

Also, when you are using automation, instead of real interactions for the following aspects of social media, that’s too much. The activities that need to be “real” include:

  • Responding to new followers and connections
  • Answering comments or questions
  • Dealing with sensitive issues
  • When a brand includes a real person’s name in the post
  • Adding people to lists
  • Following people
  • Re-tweeting and sharing

When any of these activities are automated, it is quickly noticed, and it puts people off. Another indication of automation is bursts of significant growth in followers. That happens when people are using software to find followers and add them automatically. The growth of contacts and followers should be steady and not suddenly leap.

If you are using automation on your social media accounts you will save time; however that time-saving can be a cost. It can damage your reputation as well as remove brand loyalty.

Do you know your ABC from your LBC? You should

The broadcaster Nick Ferrari has launched a campaign on the radio station LBC to improve the education of children about online bullying. Here’s why you need to support that campaign.

A victim of cyberbullyingBy the time you have finished reading this article at least two children will have been bullied online. When you go to bed tonight, around 11,000 youngsters in the UK will have suffered some kind of online abuse. And that’s just today. It is happening every day, and by the time we are all wishing each other “Happy New Year” in 12 months time, around four million children will have been the victims of cyberbullying.

It has to stop.

But there are two main problems. Firstly, our education system is woefully behind the times. The curriculum doesn’t even include anything about how to use social media. That’s bonkers, considering the first online social networks were available in 1978 (before the web was invented); social media is not new. Secondly, parents are also out-of-date. Most of them wouldn’t know a “snap” from a “poke”, yet they allow their children to wander around the social media world without any real attention.

One excellent step in the right direction is the “ABC” campaign from the radio station, LBC. Broadcaster Nick Ferrari is Leading Britain’s Conversation on bullying through the “Anti-Bullying Charter“. This campaign aims to provide ideas to schools so that children can learn how to avoid problems online and deal with them if they arise. The ABC campaign deserves our support. Otherwise millions of children will miss out on vital education to help them gain the massive benefits of the Internet without the problems. And as shown on the Nick Ferrari programme this week, cyberbullying is sometimes fatal.

 

Various studies on cyberbullying make grim reading yet action by governments has been tepid. Seven years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out that this was a growing problem and needed attention. Three years before that in 2010, researchers pointed out the issue was important and subject to rapid alteration as technology changed quickly. Many governments don’t appear to have listened, as legislation is patchy, even if it exists. One study in Sweden suggested that only 4% of online attacks end up in a prosecution. In other words, the vast majority of online bullying goes on without being dealt with, the perpetrators undeterred.

However, we can not just blame intransigent or slow-acting governments; parents also haven’t adequately dealt with the problems raised by social media. Millions of children are using social networks that their parents have no experience of using. So, how can those parents advise youngsters on how to stay safe or use the networks to deal with bullying when it arises?

Think of it this way. As a parent, you probably played in a park when you were a child. You understand what it is like playing in a park from your own experience. Now, as an adult, you can comprehend the dangers in the park, and you can use your grown-up thinking and your childhood experience to support your children and advise them on how to use the local park without much risk. If you have no knowledge of a network, like Snapchat for instance, allowing your children to use it would be like sending them alone to the local park which you had never used, and never visited. In that kind of situation, most parents would say their child could not attend the local park until Mum and Dad had been to see what it was like. Yet, those same mums and dads allow their children to wander around social networks of which they have no knowledge.

Extending the ABC campaign with D and E

I am adding “D” and “E” to the Nick Ferrari campaign – “Desire Experience”. Parents should have a deep desire to experience the social networks that their children use. That way you can help them when youngsters are victims of bullying. This is important as one study has shown that around 50% of children have little idea of how to change privacy settings on the networks they use. If parents understand the networks themselves, they can help their children deal with problems. But if mums and dads don’t even use the networks their children use, how can they possibly advise and support them when things go wrong?

Parents need to take action because, according to one study, many teachers do not know how to deal with the problem of cyberbullying. That’s why parents need to get involved and is also why LBC’s ABC campaign is vital as it will provide the education system with guidance on what can be done. At the moment, schools are pretty much on their own, and research shows that much of what schools are currently doing only works in the short-term. We need a longer-term solution to cyberbullying, and that’s why the Anti-Bullying Charter from LBC could be so important as it will focus the education system on methods that work.

[button link=”http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/nick-ferrari/nick-ferraris-abc-anti-bullying-campaign/” type=”icon” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”] Click Here to support the ABC campaign[/button]

[box type=”shadow”] If you think your child may get bullied online, check out the warning signs provided by the NSPCC. Cyberbullying signs and symptoms[/box]

 

Well would you believe it? Donald Trump is right about Twitter

Political study shows how to get the most out of social media – and business people won’t like it. You need to do what Donald Trump does.

Donald Trump on Twitter

Rants, half-truths, fake news – that’s what many people might think is what appears on the Real Donald Trump Twitter page. Alternatively, many people believe that what Donald J. Trump writes on Twitter speaks for them; they identify with much of what he says.

One thing is for sure; you cannot mistake what he thinks or believes. The President’s psyche is on full display in his Twitter stream.

Other politicians, though, are less open in their approach to social media. They post things which you might consider to be “professional”. They don’t “let it all hang out” on Twitter, as President Trump does.

New research on the political use of social media, however, shows that what Donald Trump does is much more likely to attract people. The “professional approach” appears somewhat off-putting online.

The study was conducted in Sweden and the UK and investigated the Twitter activity of 265 politicians. The researchers were interested in finding out if there was any connection between a politician’s Tweets and support for a political party.

What the academics discovered was a clear connection between one particular kind of Tweet and support for the party. It turns out that when politicians are not just “professional” but mix their personal views and life with their political career, that’s when parties get the most support.

This is all about “self-presentation”.  It seems that we are much more attracted to individuals on Twitter who are “whole”. They present themselves, in full, rather than just one side of their world. We like people – and favourite their Tweets – when we can see they are “complete”.

Donald J. Trump exudes this “wholeness”. There is no mistaking what he thinks, what he is doing, who he likes, who he dislikes – in politics, business and his life generally.

Can business learn from this?

What this study has shown is that social media activity makes it evident what kind of person you are. It is crystal clear whether someone is Tweeting just about work, or solely on a given topic. That shows us, pretty quickly, that they are not entirely truthful about who they are as a person. We can see that they are hiding things from us because there is nothing about them personally on their Twitter stream. Politicians argue that they need to separate personal from professional, as do many business leaders who Tweet. The problem is, the personality they are showing in this way is so clearly one-dimensional and, therefore, apparently not “whole”.

The result? We don’t like such individuals as much as we like those who are “complete” showing their professional and business side. Their self-presentation is obviously whole.

For business leaders who Tweet this means that separating business from personal is actually working against them. It is making it tougher for them to get Retweets, or Tweets marked as favourites. That happens mostly when the self-presentation of an individual is “whole”.

The researchers say, “general users who communicate with diverse audiences through social media should consider adopting a balancing strategy to maximize the benefits of their network. Our studies suggest that the balancing strategy provides an alternative and more positive approach to online impression management, as opposed to a rather defensive self-censorship tactic.” They are backing up data from earlier studies which showed that engagement on social media increases when users can see they are dealing with a “real person“.

Separating business from personal appears to weaken your social media impact. People want to see the “real you”, not just one side of you.

[Tweet “Improve your social presence by mixing business and personal. Show the whole you, says study.”]

Three facts that Internet businesses can learn from UK politics

The UK is gripped by politics at the moment with local elections across the country and an impending general election. Take note, online businesses…!

Downing Street road sign

The Prime Minister of the UK, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, wants the British people to allow her to carry on living at 10 Downing Street. The starting gun for the General Election was fired on Wednesday when Mrs May went to see the Queen to formally dissolve Parliament.

The next day, though, the UK fell strangely silent in terms of political discussion This was because there were elections up and down the country for councils and mayors. And on polling day it is illegal to discuss politics in the media.

Today, of course, it is different. Pundits are poring over the results from last nights counts of voting and suggesting what it all means for Theresa May and her desire to be back in No 10 next month, on 9th June, the day after we all go to the polls, again.

The results suggest she is not going to have to ring up a removal company anytime soon. It looks like she is assured of being in Downing Street for a further five years or so.

However, the election results also reveal three other interesting factors. Firstly, in spite of being the largest political party in Europe with more than 600,000 members, Labour is losing votes. Secondly, people who previously voted UKIP appear to be happy to switch allegiance and move to the Tories or even to Labour. The third interesting feature about the local elections is how few people voted; in the election for a Mayor for the West of England, seven out of every ten people did not bother to vote.

These three facts might give political pundits plenty of stuff to chew over, but they reveal three important issues for anyone running an online business.

Follower numbers are irrelevant

The Labour Party is constantly saying we’ll all be surprised in elections because they are the largest party with the biggest membership of any political grouping in Europe. That is true. With more than 600,000 members they have a huge following. But followers are irrelevant to politicians. What counts are votes.

It is the same situation with thousands of online businesses. They boast of millions of Twitter followers, hundreds of thousands of Facebook “likes” and fans on every social platform you care to mention. But their bank balance? Yes, you guessed correctly, these companies have loads of followers but pitifully few customers. Indeed, I know of businesses with thousands of followers on Twitter, who seemingly have a vibrant business, yet secretly they are almost bankrupt.

Social media encourages you down the Labour Party line – the “mine is bigger than yours” approach. Badges on websites showing the number of likes or how many Twitter followers you have may appeal to your ego, but they frequently make little difference to profits. Today, we find the Labour Party focusing their commentary on the number of members they have, whilst appearing to ignore the number of votes (at least in public). Online businesses make the same mistake; they focus on the number of followers, rather than the profit in the bank. Plus, we already know that social media is less help to business than we might think.

People are no longer loyal

The local elections have seen people switch their votes from UKIP to both Labour and Conservative. It also appears that some have gone from Labour or Tory towards Liberal Democrat. One of the reasons that political pollsters have problems in predicting results is that these days people are prepared to move from party to party, changing their allegiance at a moment’s notice.

The same is true in business. Research shows that customers are much less loyal to brands than they used to be. Furthermore, Internet users are fed up with all the “shouting” by brands. The power relationship has changed in the business world. Before the Internet, a company was “in charge” as they were the only ones with the facts and information to help customers make a buying decision. Now, all of that has altered. Customers can check the latest information on any product or service and can find the cheapest deal or the best item for their specific needs. Loyalty has disappeared. We see that in today’s election results. And you see it online too; people switch from supplier to supplier without a care. Companies are not realising fast enough that loyalty is a thing of the past. What matters now is serving specific needs and therefore having a deeper understanding of what your potential clients really want. That’s also the missing link for many political parties; they know what their “fans” want, but haven’t much of a clue as to what the rest of the country desires.

Customers don’t care

The local elections have seen a dismal turnout. Most people who could have voted didn’t bother. When this happens, politicians often blame the weather, saying people don’t like going out in the rain. But yesterday for most of the country the weather was fine. So it is not the weather. For many, it might have been they felt their vote was wasted as the result was a foregone conclusion. Alternatively, people might simply not be interested. Who would have thought? The Great British public has more interesting things to do than getting involved in driving to a dingy hall to use a pencil on a string to put an X in a box against someone’s name they don’t even recognise. In other words, people are more interested in themselves and their own lives than they are in the world of politics.

The same is true in business. Customers don’t care about your products or services. They couldn’t give a monkey’s about your latest news. They have no desire to find out about your “top offers”. All they care about is themselves. Politicians make the mistake of thinking that people care about what is going on. But frankly, most people don’t. They just want to “get on with their lives”. Similarly, your customers don’t care about what is happening in your business; they just want to “get on with their lives”. So your latest news, your constant desire to increase web traffic and your company’s burning need to get more newsletter subscribers? It’s all of little consequence.

What’s to be done?

Politicians will carry on over the next month running up to the General Election thinking that everyone is interested in what happens, that their fans represent what most people want and that their numbers of followers will translate into votes. Most politicians will wake up on 9th June somewhat surprised that vast numbers didn’t vote, that people switched parties and that their fan-base didn’t translate into wider popularity.

Don’t let your business be thinking the same. Followers on Twitter are nice to have, but the statistic to focus on each month is profit, pure and simple. Similarly, even if you have millions of adoring fans, stop thinking they represent your customers. They don’t; they are a subset. What they tell you is not what most of your customers think, so put in place measures to find out what your “non-fans” consider important. Finally, be prepared for people to be disloyal. That means you need to avoid complacency; plan for the fact that people will leave you and move to the competition. And, in turn, that requires you to understand more about the competition so you can reduce their impact on your customers.

Social media good for your business – in context. Fans are important for your company – but take what they say with that proverbial pinch of salt. And loyalty is a scarce commodity – which means you have to always be on the lookout for triggers of disloyalty to prevent it from happening.

You may not have participated in the local and regional elections in the UK. You may not even be voting in the General Election on 8th June. But one thing is for sure. If you run an online business you can learn from politicians. Well, at least you can learn what NOT to do..!

Does business use of social media do more harm than good?

Study shows that business activity on social media only works in the short-term. Long-term it leads to reduced sales.

Social media blocks

You cannot move for advice on using social media. Almost everywhere you look these days someone (probably me) is sharing information about the power of social media, particularly for businesses – such as the Top 10 Social Media Tools.

You can find case histories of companies that have achieved huge sales following a social media campaign. You can download guides on how to use one network or another to generate sales leads. Plus you can join any number of webinars all geared to demonstrating how to use each social network to improve your business.

But it turns out that we are all wrong.

New research from Temple University, Philadelphia, shows that while social media can improve business in the short-term, in the long-term it actually harms sales.

The study is not yet published and is currently being peer reviewed. But if it stands up to scrutiny it could set alarm bells ringing in businesses across the world.

Here’s what the researchers discovered. They found that when a company posts something on social media that leads to a sale, there is an immediate 5% increase in sales through followers on a social network. However, after a while, it appears those followers get fed-up with the social activity of the business and stop following them. This can take many months to occur. What the research revealed was that five months after a social media post that leads to sales, there is a 20% reduction in followers. The situation was also worse in cities – it appears that geography has some kind of impact too.

Go back to basics

One of the oldest adages in business is “you make more money from existing customers than from new ones”. It costs you more money to generate a new customer than to encourage an existing customer to buy something else. The 80-20 rule shows that businesses make 80% of their profits from 20% of their clients. Centuries of business experience shows that concentrating on existing customers and selling more to them is the most profitable thing a company can do.

The world of online social media, though, is changing the way businesses think. It is driving them to find new customers all the time. There is a constant demand for “more followers”, or “higher numbers of likes”, or “more traffic”. The only way a company can achieve this is to ignore the existing customers and seek new ones.

It appears that this does work – in the short term. Those new followers on social networks see an offer from the company and then are attracted to buy the item or service, leading to a 5% uplift in sales. However, after a number of months, these new customers become disillusioned with a never-ending stream of information from a company that they have little real connection with. Hence, they unsubscribe.

Companies, of course, are unaware of what is going on. That’s because five months down the line when 20% of people have unsubscribed, the firm has spent considerable efforts in attracting new followers and seen regular 5% increases in sales for each new batch of fans.

Dealing with the illusion of sales

What is happening is an illusion, it seems. Social media is definitely leading to sales – but these are short-term boosts from customers who do not stick around. That means a company’s costs increase as it has to find more and more people to follow them and buy from them. That constant generation of new sales leads costs money and impacts upon profitability.

So what can you do about it? The answer is staring us in the face. Forget the wording “social media” and concentrate on just the first word “social”. Far too many firms appear to be concentrating on the use of “media” or content to drive interest and attract new people. They can see that works as they do get new followers and they do get a short term increase in sales. So it appears to work.

But if you focus on the word “social”, it means you can use social networks to deepen and strengthen relationships with existing clients. That means they become more likely to buy more things from you. And as the saying goes, it is more profitable to get an existing customer to buy more things from you than to find a new client.

Social media appears to be removing the focus of businesses from being “social” with their top customers and making them more interested in the use of “media” to get new clients. The whole arena of “I’ve got more followers than the competition” is pushing businesses in the least profitable direction.

This new research might not be accepted for publication. Yet the findings signal the need for clearer thought by businesses. Is chasing numbers of followers and gaining in the short term better than pursuing deeper relationships and winning in the long term? You decide.

Online impressions depend on what you do not say

Research shows that self-centred material on social media turns people off from you. You need to get other people talking about you instead.

Woman taking selfie

To one degree or another, everyone is concerned about what other people think of them. Of course, some people care less than others, whereas a proportion of individuals are focused entirely on what others think about them. But we all sit on this “spectrum” of wanting to know what others think of us.

It is a central part of our sense of self. We need to know who we are in order to function properly in the world. If you had no understanding of your “self”, you would not know each day whether you liked tea or coffee, for instance, or whether you enjoyed your job. It is your sense of self that is fundamental in helping you exist within the world around you.

Part of that feeling of self is derived from what other people think about us. It is their feedback which helps us confirm our sense of self. Some personality types are more focused on this than others. Extroverts, for instance, require a constant feed of information about them, whereas introverts need less frequent input to help with their sense of self. But every one of us needs that regular input from others – otherwise, we do not really know who “we” are.

The “selfie” is a significant part of this system. We take a picture of ourselves and others “like” it or comment on it or share it, all of which shows us that people think that we and the situation we are in are positive. That gives us the confidence to carry on in the way we are doing, heightening the sense of our self-identity.

However, there is a problem with all this. The more we share of our own lives, the less that others think of us, it appears.

A new study confirms that it is not what we say about ourselves that matters, but what others say about us.

The research was carried out in Scotland where psychologists wanted to find out whether the “warranting theory” existed on Facebook. This is a theory which proposes that individuals are more likely to misrepresent themselves, suggesting that third-party information is more reliable.

The new study found that when looking at Facebook profiles, more positive impressions about the individual were reported when their posts were general, rather than self-focused. With self-focused profiles, there were fewer positive thoughts about that person. The researchers also discovered that when the profiles included information about the individual posted by other people, then the positive impressions of that person increased.

In other words, if other people talk about you on social media then there is a much greater chance you will get positive feedback than if you speak about yourself. Rather than posting “selfies”, for instance, you really want your friends to post the pictures they have taken of you.

It appears that the inbuilt desire we have to gain feedback to help our sense of self is in conflict with the perception that people create of us. They are making a more negative view of us, compared with gaining the same information about us from other people.

So what does this mean in a practical sense for your use of social media? It suggests that if you want people to think nice things about you and thereby gain the positive feedback you need for your self-identity, then you need to get your friends posting things about you.

The more you talk about yourself, the less that people will like you and the more fragile your self-identity will become. The very tools that billions of people are using to help them confirm their sense of self could be the very tools that are destroying such a sense.

[Tweet “The social media tools that people use to help confirm sense of self could be destroying it.”]

Attracting the right people is more important than your website features if you want things shared

What drives people to share things from your website? It is not the ease-of-use, nor the features you provide. Instead, it is the kind of person that visits.

sharing pizzaObviously, you want people to share as much of your website as possible. After all, sharing leads to greater visibility, increased traffic and, as a result, more business. Sharing also helps you gain greater search engine benefits, assisting in your ranking; the more people who link to you, the higher up the search engines you go. What’s not to like about sharing?

Sharing is a basic human instinct going back to our early development. Sharing of food was an essential component of ensuring that groups were not poisoned; sharing also helped establish social cohesion. We are programmed to share. So it is no wonder that on the web we are prompted to share things all the time – and we like doing it.

However, for online businesses the crucial requirement is to get more people to share more things. So how do you do that?

One possibility is to make it easier for people to share, by providing useful buttons and icons that make it easy for website visitors to recommend things. However, new research from Newcastle Business School in the UK suggests that this is not as important as many website owners might think.

The study looked at four factors influencing sharing behaviour – ease of use, the usefulness of the item itself, the knowledge of the visitor and the level of innovation of that visitor.

The researchers found that the personal factors about the visitor were much more important than the way the website worked. In other words, most of the sharing was done by people who had prior knowledge and who were innovative people – those who you might call early adopters.

What this study suggests is that if you want more people to share your blog posts or your web pages you need to attract more people who are early adopters in your arena and who have good knowledge of the topic of your website.

Rather than trying to get anyone in your sector to visit your site, you’ll get more sharing if you focus your effort on attracting knowledgeable people who are well-versed in the Internet. They are innovators who will share your material, even if your web pages do not have ease-of-use features making sharing easy.

If you have a choice of where to spend your time – attracting the right visitors or improving your website – you will be more likely to get increased sharing if you focus on getting those knowledgeable visitors to your website. They will share what they find even if your ease-of-use is not very good.

How credible are you on social media?

Your credibility on social media could be harmed by how you use the network. Retweets, for instance, are bad…!

Reputation ManagementSo, there you are, Tweeting away each day, saying what you want and getting loads of attention. But does anyone believe you? The chances are, much social media activity could be working against you, rather than for you.

An interesting new study on social media credibility suggests that the things we might think are worthwhile, could be harming our online reputation.

The researchers were looking at Twitter and which kind of accounts people believed more than others. The communication experts from Penn State University set up some fake Twitter accounts and Tweets on a medical subject – sexually transmitted diseases. Then, they tested those accounts on students – people who would be highly likely to want to know about the topic.

Here’s what the researchers found.

They discovered that the Twitter accounts with the highest believability were those with several signals of “authority”. The Twitter accounts that showed the least believability were those that included several Retweets and which were not really focused.

Essentially, what the study showed was that for this subject, at least, people mostly believed authority accounts that did little or no Retweeting. It appears that Retweeting reduces credibility.

The most important finding, though, was the need to be recognised as an authority. Part of that seems to come from having a previously established brand and reputation. The study found that the most believed Twitter account was that of a recognised, independent, health organisation in the USA.

This study appears to confirm work published over three years ago about popularity on Twitter. That study found that the most actively followed Twitter accounts were those that came from individuals and organisations who had an established offline brand. Similarly, another study which appeared in this blog post on getting more Twitter followers established that well-known accounts get more attention because they provide material that is shareable. Such Twitter accounts tend to do little sharing themselves, instead, what they produce gets Retweeted a great deal.

Together with this new study from Penn State, it suggests that we tend to like people on social networks who are well-known, well-established authorities on their subject in the “real world”. Such organisations or individuals rarely need to Retweet or share things because they are producing a considerable amount of original thinking themselves.

However, what these authority people achieve is a considerable amount of sharing of their own, original material. And therein lies the subconscious clue we see when we look at someone’s Twitter account. If that account has lots of Retweets, then it suggests they are not producing much original material of their own. That implies that they are not an authority. If they were an authority, they would be creating a great deal of original material which other people would be Retweeting.

How to enhance your social media reputation

The latest study, taken together with those earlier research findings suggest there are two ways to make sure your social media activity is credible:

  1. Establish your brand offline; become well-known in the real world for what you do. Then people will believe your social media activity more.
  2. Avoid sharing too much from other people. The more you share, the less credible you become.

[Tweet “If you want to be believed on social media, you need to be well-known in the real world.”]

Twitter reveals that the UK will vote to leave the EU

Twitter prediction that UK will vote to leave the EU could be surprisingly accurate.

Map showing Twitter and EU referendum voting intentionsThe majority of people Tweeting about the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU are going to vote “leave”. That’s the surprising finding in a study of more than 350,000 Tweets on the topic.

Of course, you could easily dismiss this research as being superficial and without any controls. Equally, you could say that the “Brexiters” are more likely to Tweet than those who want to remain within the EU.

But you could be wrong.

Twitter sentiment analysis is amazingly accurate. For instance, it is more capable of predicting heart attack mortality than existing medical technologies. Equally, Twitter appears to be more capable of predicting stock market prices than other methods. Twitter can also accurately predict the extent of hurricane damage. Clearly, Twitter is not bad at predictions.

So, the prediction that most people will vote “leave” should not be taken lightly. This new analysis of sentiment on the referendum could be a significant finding.

If you look at the map, the blue areas show where sentiment is highest to remain. Wales, for instance, which has received significant funding from the EU is almost entirely in favour of remaining. Areas heavily affected by immigration, such as Kent and East Anglia (red on the map) are set against the EU and are Tweeting to leave. According to the research, the town in the UK with the highest number of Tweets about remaining in the EU is Reading, Berkshire. Interestingly, this town has the European HQs of many significant global businesses, including Microsoft. Could that be a reason for the number of Tweets in favour – several people who work in that town are often travelling throughout Europe anyway?

With more than 2,500 Tweets per second, Twitter is a real barometer of opinion. Unlike market research or polls, for example, which can only ask a tiny proportion of people at any one time, Twitter can give you the feelings of hundreds of thousands – even millions – of people and see their opinions alter over time. Currently, pollsters telephone only around 1,000 people. They can tell us the statistical significance, but Twitter can give us a much more complete picture of feelings from bigger samples of people.

True, the Twitter sample is self-selected, made of people who want to have their say, rather than the general population which tends to remain quiet. However, even though Twitter may be biased, it is probably representative because people’s opinions are constructed from the world in which they inhabit. So someone who Tweets is representing the people around them and their thoughts too.

If you are in business, you cannot ignore Twitter as a research tool. It can predict the likely popularity of products and services, for instance, as well as show you what your customers really want.

So, while you set up your own Twitter sentiment study, sit back and remember that you heard it here first: the UK is going to vote to leave the EU (according to Twitter).

Why don’t people share more of your valuable stuff?

People tend to share for three reasons and the most common reason for sharing is one that most businesses do not get involved with. Time for a change?

Share Key You want your website content shared, right? So why is it that so little of so many sites gets shared? Check out the sharing statistics on your website and the chances are you will find handfuls of shares, here and there. For most websites the likelihood of something being shared hundreds or even thousands of times is but a distant dream.

A good place to start is considering why you share things yourself. What motivates you to share a link on Facebook or ReTweet something? What makes you email a useful link to your colleagues, for instance?

The chances are that you share things for three reasons – that it is a bit of fun or something that you know your friends would appreciate, or it is something that you believe in and support, or perhaps you might make money out of it.

New research from the Norwegian Business School has discovered that there are three reasons for sharing which they call “social-hedonic, moral, and monetary”. The researchers discovered that the number one reason for sharing was “social-hedonic” – something that you just feel other people would be interested in, primarily because it will make them smile or feel good.

Even though it is a reason for sharing, “monetary” was the least important. People tended to share such items much less frequently. So, if your blog posts are about how to save money or make money, you stand a much lower chance of them getting shared. Equally, if you run a website that is commercial and all your focus is on that, you are less likely to get something shared.

How to increase the amount of sharing

To get more of your website shared you need to provide the following kinds of content:

  • Funny material – that might not be appropriate for all businesses, but if there is an opportunity for you to be funny, amusing or lighthearted, then do it.
  • Practical and useful material – if you can educate people, show them how to do things, give them advice, then this is more likely to be shared than product-based information.
  • Material with a message – make a point that people will agree with, even a moralistic message; that will get several shares

You can also provide financially relevant information or even affiliate schemes for your business. But you are less likely to get those things shared.

If you don’t think that sharing is important, consider how human beings are now even more motivated to share. Airbnb is now the biggest source of accommodation online, where people share their houses with others; the financial gain is not significant from doing so, but helping other people get a good deal is. Similarly, there are car-sharing schemes online, which have a moral component, car-parking schemes where people share their drives with local commuters and so on. We are increasingly living in a sharing world. Does your website follow those principles of gaining sharing by having content that is interesting, useful and even moral?

Popular people do not get “unfriended” even if abusive

Unfriending on Facebook is unlikely if the person is popular. Even if they post negative and abusive things, popularity outweighs negativity.

Unfriend on keyboard Your Facebook timeline is bound to have posts and comments from people saying negative, even potentially abusive things. Indeed, it seems that conflict is part of the everyday nature of social media networks like Facebook.

So why don’t you “unfriend” or disconnect from those negative people? After all, their posts and comments alter your psychological state, perhaps making you angry or emotional in some way. That’s not good for your health…! Yet, it turns out that we do not “unfriend” many people who are negative online.

Researchers from Nottingham Trent University analysed more than 5,000 online relationships and discovered that we are prepared to stick with negative and abusive material in our Facebook timelines as long as that content is produced by a popular person. It turns out that popularity overpowers negativity. We accept negative people, and those who cause conflict, as long as they are popular.

According to the researchers, “The social repercussions of unfriending someone reach far beyond the boundaries of the online network. People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives. Remaining online friends with troublemakers appears to be a social necessity for some.”

One issue uncovered by the research was that the troublemakers were rarely contacted.  Even though the negativity appears in an individual’s timeline, they had little contact with the perpetrator. It seems that we just want to “keep an eye on” the troublemakers, see what they are doing, but not interact with them. This may be some kind of protective mechanism, of course. Alternatively, it may be that troublemakers still have some kind of power.

Other studies have looked at what might seem to be the reverse of this situation – why we remain connected with and constantly communicate with certain individuals. Once again, the results suggest popularity is central to this issue. We tend to stay in touch with popular people who are nice and positive, but we also remain connected with popular people who are negative and even abusive.

What this suggests is that popularity is more important than other factors. From a psychological perspective, there are two kinds of popularity – “sociometric popularity” and “perceived popularity”. Sociometric popularity is where people become popular through prosocial behaviour – they are always helpful towards others and are not egocentric. Perceived popularity is where individuals have very high levels of social visibility, but they are rarely liked as people.

So, online you can become popular in two ways. You can have very high visibility, lots of connections and be perceived as popular. Or you can help people and be liked. The choice is yours. However, whichever route you choose, you will remain “friends” with people on social networks.

Can social media cause post-traumatic stress?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been linked to the use of social networks. Can your online activity actually cause you social media stress?

Social Media Stress ConceptSocial media stress is not unknown. We all get a little concerned about things we see on social networks. Several studies have shown a series of psychological issues that can arise from using social networks. These range from simple matters such as envy and fear of missing out, right through to stress-induced anxiety, even depression.

However, the negative feelings that you might get from a particular post could stay with you much longer than you think. You might believe that a negative item you looked at online this morning has gone from your mind when you are laughing at some TV comedy tonight.

It appears, though, that negative thoughts and feelings can linger in our subconscious, long after we have thought they have gone away. As explained in the article “The Long-Lasting Psychological Impact of Accidents“, adverse events in our lives can last for a very long time. This can often be a year or more after they initially happened, even when we think they have “gone” from our minds.

The chances are that if you saw something negative on a social network at the beginning of 2015, it could be lingering in your subconscious right now.

Social media stress and PTSD

Social media stress, caused by seeing something that affects us negatively, has been linked to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research showed that when people watched a violent video, shared on social networks, they experienced symptoms of PTSD. These include flashbacks, with scenes from the video interrupting thoughts many months later. However, PTSD has other symptoms that can often be passed off as “minor”. These include irritability, difficulty concentrating and problems sleeping. If they are combined with flashbacks, more than a month after you have seen something disturbing online, then it is time for a trip to the doctor.

We often see disturbing things on the news. But they come with a “health warning” such as “you may find the following scenes upsetting”. That prepares us for the shock, and we can even look away or “tune out” of the information. Such warnings are not present on social networks. You can start reading something or watching a video that someone has shared only to find yourself negatively affected. The lack of “health warnings” on social media content could mean that there is a higher chance of PTSD from social networks than there is watching shocking scenes on TV news channels.

For business owners, it might be a good idea to provide such warnings if your content could upset people in any way. Remember, it might not upset them now, but it could be a year or more later that the effects start to show.

Perhaps it is time that all of us began to think about what we share online. The material we publish and recommend can have psychological impacts on the people who receive it.

Social media is full of echo chambers

Your social media activity merely reinforces your own ideas and thinking. So, for businesses, that actually means social media is tough. Really tough.

Happy business group giving thumbs up Your social media activity doesn’t open up your eyes to the world. Rather, it seems that social networks make it more likely that our existing views and thoughts become entrenched and emphasised. It turns out that we tend to use social media groups where everyone agrees with us. We do not like venturing into those parts of the Internet where other views might be expressed, or our own thinking challenged.

This is confirmed by new research published in the highly respected Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked at things like conspiracy theories and unverified rumours. These grew in scale and volume within distinct social networking groups which were “homogeneous”. In other words, the people in such groups were all like each other. The existence of a rumour or a conspiracy theory was then “confirmed” by so many other people all taking part in the discussion, providing “proof” that it must be true. The researchers say that such social groups act as “echo chambers”, where a viewpoint is multiplied by the extent of the agreement amongst like-minded people.

This should come as no surprise to us, really. It has been known for many years that newspaper readers select publications that confirm their own prejudices. Most people do not agree with the tone or views expressed in the Daily Mail. But many of the 199.4m people who visit Mail Online each month will agree with the position taken by the newspaper and will get their views and perspective confirmed by what they read. If you are a Guardian reader, it would be really hard for you to click on a Mail link…! You would find your views too challenged.

Social media bias helps and hinders business

The clear “echo chamber” nature of social groups online does not necessarily help businesses. The homogeneous nature of the groups you can connect with means that you can find some really focused forums to get your message across. If the group already believes that your kind of products and services can help them, you’ll find a ready audience, willing to part with cash.

However, there will be social networking groups who will confirm to each other that what you sell is not what they want or need. The result will be that any activity you undertake, such as advertising or content promotion, will be a waste of time. Even though the people in that group are target customers, you will be wasting your efforts because of the “echo chamber” nature of online social groups. The people in that group may fit the profile of your ideal customer, but their views about your kind of products and services will need changing and they will not be amenable to that.

What this means is that you need to focus on finding the social media groups inhabited by people who will say your products are lovely. Stop wasting your time and efforts on social media activity with groups that need “converting”. It just will not happen, no matter how obvious it is that these individuals will need what you are selling. The “echo chamber” will merely confirm your products are worthless.

Stick to selling to people who agree that what you sell is brilliant. Nurture fans, not people need conversion.

[Tweet “Stick to selling to people who agree that what you sell is brilliant. “]

Is your social media audience truly representative?

The widespread use of social media by businesses could be leading them in the wrong direction. Social networks are biased and do not represent all.

Social networking groupsProbably, you use social media for your business; most organisations have some kind of social media activity these days. However, are you using the data and information you glean from social media to shape your business? There is a real chance that this is a problem. Even though billions of people use social media, they are not representative. As a result, you could be basing business decisions about what is important to your customers on a minority subset of them.

The first thing to realise about your social media audience is that individuals who engage most on social networks are those with particular personality profiles. People with extroverted personalities are the ones who make the most use of social media.  Even though most people in the UK have a Facebook account, for example, most of them are largely inactive. Even though the majority of Facebook users log-in each week, over 80% of them are inactive. Indeed, it turns out that 90% of people never post updates onto Facebook. In other words, the majority of Facebook content is produced by a minority of people – and research shows that the majority of them are extroverts. Personality testing reveals that there are marginally more introverts in society than there are extroverts; for men, it turns out that only 45% of them are extroverts. Facebook is, therefore, painting a rather one-sided picture of your customers – and only giving you a minority viewpoint too.

You can find similar issues throughout social media, with most people being inactive or “lurkers” and almost all of the activity being conducted by a small proportion of the users, often with the same personality characteristics. It means that if you rely on social media to help you engage with your audience, you are likely to be missing out on the majority – unless your target market is extroverts who love social media…!

New research suggests another problem too. It may well be that the people most likely to use social media are in particular emotional states. This study suggests that social networking activity is actually used by people as some kind of release mechanism from negative emotional feelings. In other words, even if the people you reach on social media are representative of your customers, they are likely to be in a negative frame of mind when using the network. That’s not good for engagement; it also means that your business could be associated subconsciously with the negative emotional state of social network users.

Know your audience

What this all adds up to is the fact that you need to understand your customers more deeply than ever before. In the days before social media, you probably got to know your customers through a variety of methods, including face-to-face where you were able to assess emotional states and take them into account. Now, with just 140 characters to go on, you have no real way of knowing enough about people, and therefore, you risk inadequate levels of engagement.

More than ever we need to understand our customers. We need to get to know them and how and why they use social media. We need to understand what they like or dislike so that we can present it to them in a blink of an eye. As the article “How to appeal to your demographic via Text messaging” suggested, you need to gain as much information about your customers as possible if you want to engage with them these days.

Assuming that it is easy because all you need is a website and some associated social media activity is a bad idea. The data that you get from analytics and from social media management tools is only presenting a biased snapshot. We need better ways of understanding our customers if we are to succeed.

Are you leaking too much personal information online?

You need to create tougher boundaries between your personal, private and your public information online. Internet Privacy is a significant concern these days.

Just give me your name and there is an excellent chance I’ll be able to find out things about you that you would rather I did not know. Even with rudimentary searching skills, it is possible to find out significant amounts of information about each and every one of us.  You only need a few bits of free software and you can delve deeper and find out even more information.

Indeed, even your cat could be giving away details you do not want spread publicly. Florida State University has been able to show where 15 million cats live. The data is accurate to within seven metres. “I Know Where Your Cat Lives” shows how a simple picture of your cat online can reveal personal information about you that you might not want to be known.

I Know Where Your Cat Lives - Screenshot

Of course, if you want everyone to know your home address, then don’t worry. Equally, if you want your customers to know all about your family parties, then share those pictures of your tipsy moments as much as you like. After all, the next time you visit your customers they will not think any less of you because you of that video of you dancing on a beer-soaked floor…..will they?

We all have private lives but they are – well, private. We know that the people we meet get drunk, have sexual desires that we might think are weird and have arguments with their neighbours. But do you really want to know those kinds of things?

Not only is there a security issue in the things we reveal online, but there is reputation to consider as well as the impact on business and personal relationships. We need boundaries between different areas of our lives. What you talk about in the bedroom with your partner as you lay next to each other naked, is probably not the kind of chat you’d have with a potential new client in their boardroom. Yet, the sweet nothings you swap digitally with your lover could be seen by a client, if you are not careful.

Oversharing is commonplace

People overshare. Period. We all provide far too much information online, often without realising it. Indeed, people have been stunned by the results of software that can provide a personality profile of them simply by checking the words they use on social media. The algorithm is exceedingly accurate and people have found the results “creepy”.  Another study discovered that people who use social media a great deal are so keen to share things that 28% of them even add posts which contain illegal material. It seems that we cannot stop ourselves sharing all kinds of things.

Google has recently responded to the issue of the amount of data it has about individuals. The Google About Me section allows you to edit a wide range of privacy settings so you can reduce the amount of information you are leaking.

Google About Me

This allows some kind of control over privacy, but as doctors, for instance, know, there is more you need to do. The social media controversy with doctors reveals that unless the medical profession takes care, the boundary between patient and medic becomes blurred. That is a real threat to the doctor-patient relationship.

The same issue can take place between client and supplier; the degree to which you share information online and the privacy settings you have could be affecting your relationships in your business. It can, for instance, affect the distance needed between CEO and staff, or the need for a professional boundary between supplier and vendor.

If you do nothing else, it is time to review your privacy settings. However, perhaps it is also time to write yourself your own social media policy so that you preserve relationships. And on top of all that, you’ll be reducing the data that hackers can use.

How to avoid the stress of social media overload

Social media can cause stress. Overload of information and poor systems cause symptoms.

Stress businesswoman

I know you are busy, but I have something important for you, so hang on in there. Yes, I know you have 123 Tweets to read and 79 Facebook updates to check, as well as 15 LinkedIn Messages, 200 emails to read and 22 Pinterest images to check. But they can wait; what I have to tell you is more important.

Honestly.

The fact of the matter is, all that social media “stuff” is stressing you out. Several pieces of research have shown that the sheer volume of social networking activity is causing stress.

And stress is a killer. Let’s not beat about that proverbial bush. Stress is behind heart disease, some cancers and a host of other conditions. It is also one of the most significant causes of relationship breakdown too.

People will tell you “some stress is good for you”. Baloney. Stress is bad. Pure and simple. Plus, stress worsens your performance at work. Think you perform well under a bit of stress? Think again. The evidence shows the opposite. Even a little bit of stress worsens work performance.

Productivity rates in many industries are at an all-time low. Meanwhile, social media activity is at an all-time high.

You have to ask if there is some kind of link between the two.

New research implies there could be. Korean researchers have found that social media overload is a real cause of stress in our lives. Plus they have found that the social network we use is a contributor to that stress because of the way each system works. It turns out that ease-of-use or lack of it is a crucial issue in stress production.

What to do to reduce social network stress

Feeling a lack of control is a significant cause of stress. So on social networks you need to restore control which can be done in the following ways:

  1. Switch off all “push” messages – in other words turn off notifications of all kinds;
  2. Set up a timetable to check social media and stick to it – only connect with social networks at pre-arranged time-slots;
  3. Create filters, groups and so on to pre-sort social network posts and messages – or use a social media management tool like HootSuite;
  4. Learn how to use each social network – check out training documents and videos, even if you think you know how to use the system;
  5. Disconnect from people with only loose connections to you – their posts will be of less meaning, and this contributes to greater stress.

The researchers found that relevance was not the issue. You might think that by focusing your social media activity or perhaps using one network more than others to ensure you got more relevant messages would help. It doesn’t. It turns out we can get the same amount of stress even from highly relevant social media activity. In other words it is not “what” we encounter on social networks that matters to stress as much as “how” we do it. Allowing the networks to be in control with “push” messages, being constantly available and not knowing how to use the systems effectively are significant causes of social media stress.

You can reduce your stress due to social media activity quite simply. But if you let the networks retain their grip over you, then there is a real chance you are allowing them to contribute to poor health.

How to succeed with social media – mix with experts

Use of social media mirrors your real world relationships. So if you want to be successful with a network, mix with more people who use it.

Young persons head looking with gesture at social type of icons and signsDo you want to be a millionaire? Or a billionaire? If you do, there are several ways you can achieve your dream. You can have rich parents – that’s a good way of being rich yourself. Or you can invent something so cool everyone wants it. Alternatively you could work really, really, really hard and work your way to the top of some global corporation. But most people who dream about being mega-rich do not do any of this; they just fantasise about how they would spend the money if they had it.

However, the people who take action all appear to do one thing in common; they start to circulate in the world of rich people. Ambitious people who want to become rich go to the places where millionaires hang out. If you want to be rich, mix with rich people. You will learn from them, you will be introduced to others and you will be given opportunities that would pass you by if you stayed at home, dreaming.

Even if you look at the myriad of rags-to-riches stories, you find that most of them involve that “lucky” individual in years of work, going to the right places, asking the right questions, meeting the right people. I recall a 19-year-old “overnight blogging sensation” – according to the UK media coverage. It seems this teenager from Yorkshire had made a million with his first online blog. Indeed, he had done that. But his own story had a slightly different version of events. His blog did make him a millionaire – but for the previous year or so he had been studying the people he admired online. He spent time nurturing an online relationship with them and then he started to meet them at blogging events in the USA. Only then did he launch his website and only then did he start to make pots of cash. It wasn’t overnight – it was two years of hard work, getting to know the rich people who could help him succeed.

So how do you become an expert at Twitter? How do you make the most of your LinkedIn account? What do you need to do on Pinterest to get more product sales? The answers to these questions can be found on a variety of blog posts and websites, for sure. But better answers would come from mixing with Twitter experts or LinkedIn gurus, for instance. Make them your friends in the real world and you will benefit.

child with laptop computerEvidence for this kind of impact comes from a rather odd source today. Research on the under-age use of Facebook reveals that children aged 9-12 are most likely to have an account if their real world friends also have an account. Facebook is supposedly only available for those over the age of 13, but around 40% of children under that age limit do have an account. Relaxed parenting styles have an influence. However, it seems that if children of that age mix with other youngsters who already have an account on Facebook, that makes it much more likely they too will open an account.

In other words, your real-world relationships affect your behaviour. You tend to do what your friends do. You tend to behave the same way as them. In psychological terms this is known as being “in-group”; you conform.

So, if you want to “up your game” on LinkedIn, for example, start to meet those LinkedIn experts. You can start online, of course, but visit the business events they go to, attend the same conferences and meet up with them in the real world. Gradually, over time, you will become part of their group. And that will mean you start to behave like them. The result of which is you will be doing the very things that make them great with LinkedIn, or whatever social network you want to excel at.

If you want to do well with social media, mix with the people who are already doing well.

How to get more followers on Twitter – have a great business

A poor business rather than bad social media practices might be why many companies cannot get more Twitter followers

Twitter bird logos

One of the main concerns of anyone using social media is getting more followers. Whether you use Twitter or Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ you want more people to follow you and notice what you are doing. This is due to the theory that the more people who notice you, the more likely you are to be able to do business.

There is a ton of advice online about getting more followers. If you are not that proud, you can also buy followers – though that’s a mug’s game. If you are willing to spend money, though, you can sponsor your social media posts so that they get more attention, thus potentially getting more followers. The trouble with that is the fact that you are mostly lining the pockets of the social media companies, rather than getting more, quality followers.

It is a big conundrum for most businesses using social media. Just what is the right way to get more followers?

Sports research shows how to get more followers

Luckily, researchers from the University of Missouri have given us a clue. They have just completed a study of baseball teams and how they obtained more Twitter followers. The study revealed two interesting things:

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  1. The number of followers is directly related to success
  2. The more you Tweet, the more followers you get

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What this suggests is important. The teams that were doing well in the league were the ones attracting more followers. It suggests that if you are good, if you succeed you attract more followers naturally – without having to do anything very much in terms of social media practice. One of the reasons why many businesses might not be attracting enough followers is simply because their business is not very good. They are just average companies, with average performance, average customer service, average staff and so on.

The research clearly shows that if you want more Twitter followers, you need to concentrate on overall business success. As with so many things online it is not what you do on the Internet that matters as much as what you do in the real world. Your Internet presence is merely a reflection of what you do in the office. To get more followers simply concentrate on having a great business.

The second finding of the study is also important. This showed that when you add more and more content to your Twitter stream you get more followers. Even taking into account the dormant accounts and the Twitter profiles that have never sent a Tweet, the average number of Tweets sent out is just two per day per business. Largely, that means you are invisible. This study of baseball teams showed a clear relationship between the amount of content added and the number of followers.

Not only do you have to run a successful business to get more followers, but you also have to add a lot of content to Twitter. If you are asking how do I find the time to Tweet a lot, go back to point one. You find the time to Tweet a lot when you run a successful business. Concentrate on that and you’ll get more followers.

Twitter predicts heart disease better than doctors

Analysis of words used on Twitter is more accurate at predicting heart disease than traditional medical methods

Psychological study also reveals business benefit of Twitter

follow word inside heart cloud  blue sky background onlyThe medical profession has a complex way of predicting levels of heart disease. It includes analysis of demographics, socioeconomic data, smoking levels and the weather patterns – all of which influence the likelihood of having a heart attack. But recent research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that Twitter is better than those traditional methods of analysis. Indeed, in the words of the researchers Twitter was “significantly better”.

The study analysed the kind of words used on Twitter and found a strong link between words used in times of stress and the likelihood of heart disease. For years, doctors have realised that stress is probably the most crucial factor in many diseases. Although smoking is one of the most important elements contributing to the physical changes in heart disease, many smokers use the habit to relieve stress. So even smoking is related to stress. Get rid of the stress and the smoking can be eliminated more easily. Yet giving up smoking is itself stressful.

When we are stressed we use different words than when we are relaxed. As a result, Twitter with its millions of words each day is a useful barometer of stress. Anger too, is linked with heart disease and once again Twitter reveals the extent of our anger. It was the levels of anger-related words which was the most significant finding in this study.

Apart from telling us that we should avoid anger and stress, becoming more placid in our lifestyle, this study also reveals something more fundamental. It shows that the volume of data on Twitter is enough to provide significant and dramatic measures of how people are thinking.

That means for anyone in business Twitter is a means of analysing the mood of the market. It can clearly produce enough data to sense what people are thinking and how they are behaving. Collecting data from Twitter and analysing the words used is likely to help you be able to predict market requirements. Indeed, rather like the heart disease study showing that Twitter is better than traditional methods, we may well find that the social network is also greater than traditional market research.

That’s because Twitter represents what people are thinking. It is their instant outpouring of what is on their mind, there and then. It is rarely the carefully considered answers you might give to a market researcher. Equally it is not hampered by the impact of people answering questions on surveys in particular ways to “please” the researchers. Instead, Twitter is largely honest, immediate feelings. As a result the mass of data it provides is clearly valuable.

If you are not using Twitter to analyse the words your customers and potential clients use, you are missing out. And if you miss out too much that will stress you out and you’ll start using words that will help predict the likelihood of your own heart trouble…!

Being “on” a social network is not the same as using it

Most people who have a social network profile do not actually use that social network.

It is highly likely that you have a profile on at least one social network. You probably have a profile on at least one of Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. You may also have a Twitter account and maybe an account with Instagram. Indeed, most people have more than one social network profile.

But there is a world of difference between having a social network profile and using that social network.

Whenever I run a workshop for business leaders I ask “are you on LinkedIn?” These days, everyone raises their hand. “Excellent news,” I say, “that means everyone here is on the main business network. So how many of you have used LinkedIn during the past seven days?”

Most of the hands go down; often, nobody in the room has actually “used” LinkedIn. They are there just as passengers on the network, not taking any kind of active part – and wondering at the same time what the point of their LinkedIn profile is.

Google+_screenshot

Now, a new study of the usage of Google+ has found similar – shocking – results.

According to the research, there are 2.2bn Google+ accounts but only around 5m of these are active, posting information that isn’t just a comment on a YouTube video.

In other words 99.8% of people on Google+ are NOT using it.

That tallies with my ad-hoc measurement of people using LinkedIn – the vast majority of people simply have a profile and do nothing with it.

The social networks themselves can point to billions of people who have an account. But having an account and using it are not the same thing.

Businesses are still trying to understand how they can use social networks to increase sales and profits. The problem would appear to be that these businesses seem to think that all you have to do is create a profile and customers will come running to you.

Like most other things in business you get as much out of something as you put in. If all you put in to your social network is your profile, that’s all you will get out.

If you want to make the most of Google+ or LinkedIn you have to put more in. It means adding to the network on a regular basis, taking part in conversations and engaging with people. If you do that, you will get sales and new business leads. If you don’t do that you may as well go down to the corner of your street and whistle into the wind. It will do you as much good as simply having a profile on a social network.