Social Network Experiment With Expected Results - Social Media Converging on the ‘Most Popular’ Common Denominator
A couple of weeks ago when LinkedIn launched its new group user interface (UI), most of the moderators of larger LinkedIn Groups, including myself were extremely disappointed. Unlike professional discussion boards of the past where discussion threads had a longer life span and were more specific in subject matter, requiring expert knowledge of the few, the new interface was clearly intended to encourage everyone to participate more.
There’s nothing wrong with everyone participating in certain social media. If everyone blogs that’s quite ok, you simply subscribe only to those blogs that interest you. Also there are places in social media, like on Facebook and especially Twitter where comments like “enjoying a cabernet tonight” are viewed as completely acceptable and relevant.
The value of LinkedIn groups on the other hand had been that while fewer individuals were doing the talking at any one time, more meaningful expert level knowledge was being shared.
Interestingly, in a poll I conducted among the 9,000 members of the Next Gen Market Research group on LinkedIn, among the 87 who responded, initial opinion of the new group user interface among users was far more favorable than that expressed by the moderators (see chart below).
But was this really LinkedIn’s intentions with the new User Interface?
One of the key additions to the new LinkedIn Group UI was the prominently displayed “Top Influencers This Week” panel (example below). Obviously one of the key rewards of social media is social credit, and it was clear to me LinkedIn intended to use this panel to encourage behavior they saw as proper.
My hypothesis was that if I posted a question or two that anyone could answer I would immediately be the top influencer in that group for a longer period of time, whereas more serious discussion threads requiring expert knowledge of the few would quickly disappear from the forum.
To test my hypothesis I posted 1-3 simple questions between the NGMR group I moderate on LinkedIn as well as several other groups for professional market researchers which I belong (including MRB and MRGA). The questions were simply:
- What 1 or 2 words come to mind when you think of market research?
- What animal would market research be?
- What flower would market research be?
[Note that the same three questions could be asked in any topic group on Linkedin.]
While the first question was most successful, all questions were popular and generated over 200 responses. I’ve included word clouds of the responses below. Admittedly they were more interesting than I had initially anticipated.
I was able to maintain the position of “Top-Influencer” in all three groups for several weeks, keeping my questions at the top while other more serious questions dropped from the forum not to be seen again.
I’m all for networking small talk and getting to know all of my fellow research professionals. However, is it just me or have we lost something as all three major social networks seem to be converging on the ‘most popular’ common denominator?
[PS. To everyone who responded to my questions on LinkedIn, Thank you so much. My intent with this experiment was not to offend anyone. As you might imagine considering the audience, the answers were far more considered and interesting than you might expect from other groups. I have created 3 word clouds showing frequencies of key words in each thread below.]