Last Friday, Nick was kind enough to invite me to the launch of VivaKi media's REALSocial. VivaKi is of-course the media arm of Publicis Groupe, and REAL stands for Reach, Engage, Amplify and Listen – an acronym that provides a structural framework for a whole suite of tools, capabilities and partnerships that marries Publicis-owned social marketing services through Denuo , MS&L, Digitas, BlogBang and Performics with a series of partnership offerings from the likes of SocialMedia.com, BzzAgent, Converseon, Facebook, GoViral and Techlightenment. Clients who want to properly engage people on the social Web, and maybe want to get some tangible measures against their activity can access any one or combination of the range of services.
Publicis Groupe are clearly very serious about this: "Social media is perhaps the most powerful communications platform of the future. Making it viable is more than a VivaKi priority: it is an industry imperative" said David Kenny and Jack Klues late last year. I've said before that the best approach for the models that we adopt and the measures that we apply to the social web is a multi-layered, inter-relational one. So it was not unimpressive.
At the same time, Nielsen research which got wide pick-up (mostly in a 'social-networking is bigger than e-mail' type of way) has shown, once again, how ubiquitous the social web is now: Two thirds of the world's internet population visited a social network site in 2008, active reach in 'member communities' now exceeds e-mail participation by 67% to 65%, a reach that is growing at twice the rate of other large elements such as portals, e-mail and search, growth which is driven now by older demographics.
This is echoed by a piece of research we've just completed on UK women's use of the internet using our nationally representative panel of 7,500 women. The sample size was 2,300. This showed that the number of UK women regularly using social networks has grown by 53% from when we conducted a similar survey 12 months ago. Two thirds of women cite social networking as one of their regular online activities, compared to 43% a year ago. 89% of women now participate regularly in social media activities. One third of women have met someone online they now consider to be a friend.
And unsurprisingly, a comparatively ridiculous amount of time is spent on social networking sites, illustrating just how hugely involving they are for people.
Scale, ubiquity, engagement. It's a powerful combination. Unsurprisingly, the kind of influence that networks are now having on everything is extremely tangible. Data from Hitwise about the downstream traffic from Facebook to content sites shows that Facebook is driving more traffic to some sites than Google. PerezHilton gets 8.7% of his traffic from Facebook, 7.6% from Google. The same is true of women's community site Cafemom. Other sites that appear in the top 20 downsream sites from Facebook on a run I did include BBC news, BBC iPlayer, and Sky Sports. Facebook is a major referrer to video sites, as users post and share clips.
Optimising your content to drive traffic is not a new idea. But current wisdom is that the focus for content optimisation is for search engines. So tell me. If you were running a content site, which would you rather have – traffic from a bunch of people who are looking for a specific piece of information and are highly likely to leave once they've found it (probably never to return), or traffic from a highly engaged community who are passionate about the subjects you write about, more likely to share your content and far more likely to come back again, and again?
I'm not saying that SEO isn't important, but search optimisation without social optimisation makes little sense. Apart from anything else, a strong social optimisation strategy benefits your SEO strategy by encouraging people to link to your stuff. But the scale and depth of the social web is just too big to ignore. And of-course it's very different. SEO is about making your site spider-friendly, tagging, writing headlines for search. Social optimisation is about distributed publishing strategies, content ubiquity, social bookmarking strategies, spreadability – but it's also about optimising your content to your audience as worth sharing.
Of-course certain types of content has inherent talkability and naturally lends itself to being shared: news, tech, celebrity gossip for example. The twitter stream with the highest followers of all is CNN breaking news (over 452,000). Perezhilton has shown exponential growth in twitter followers since he started streaming, acheiving 131,000 followers in little more than 6 weeks. But this is a model that is applicable to all kinds of content.
It's interesting, for example, that The Telegraph have a giant screen that overlooks their newsroom that shows journalists the traffic information on their stories and which Telegraph content is being talked about live via twitterfall. That's smart. If you want to incentivise people to change behaviour make the results of that behaviour visible. To everyone.
It's funny. In a way it's kind of anathema, applying all that science to what is at heart such a human, personal, idiosyncratic thing. But the reality is that for people sat inside organisations trying to change thinking and practices, bottom-line impact is what it's all about. Tangibly demonstrating not only the ability to engage, but the ability to track, measure and optimise what you are doing might just be what it takes to achieve the velocity of change that needs to happen. I wonder.