This year, it’s been fascinating to watch the affect that social media has had on our events and award programs – from the SMART 100 to 30under30. Of course, it’s something that we have encouraged – announcing winners via our Twitter account and calling for nominations through our Facebook fanpage and LinkedIn Groups.
Earlier this month, we began calling for entries for our 2009 Cool Company Awards, employing the three main social media tools at our disposal – LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
While most published articles about social media as a tool for business development rarely offer more than anecdotal advice, we thought it might be interesting to actually ‘crunch the numbers’.
As strong believers in the power of experimentation and quantifiable results, we used the exercise to measure and compare the impact of each tool on our web traffic and award nominations.
Here’s what happened:
Nominations were unofficially launched when this author thoughtlessly updated his LinkedIn page, making the remark that we had finished the Cool Company Awards nomination form. Within moments, responses to my update began appearing and we were forced to quickly tick the ‘publish’ box, making our nomination form ‘live’ to the public.
However, it was not until several weeks later that we first made a concerted effort to spread the news, adding an announcement to the Anthill Online LinkedIn Group page that nominations were indeed open.
As a member of around 15 additional LinkedIn Groups for Australian business builders, such as Small Business Advisers Network (Australia), Social Media Academy and AIMIA, I was also able to post the announcement as ‘Latest News’ or as a ‘Discussion’ on several of these group pages, tailoring the message for each audience.
These items were later syndicated among each group’s respective Daily or Weekly email newsletter announcements (as is an element of LinkedIn’s group functionality).
Given that the average number of members per group is roughly 500 and given that I am a member of 15 groups (including the Anthill Online LinkedIn Group), the potential reach of this exercise would arguably have exceeded 7,500.
However, the real question is whether our efforts attracted web traffic and nominations.
According to our Google Analytics account, 948 visitors came to our website from LinkedIn during this month, an increase from 481 the month prior.
So, while the degree of cross-over with our existing readership is uncertain (i.e. the number of new visitors) and while we have no idea how many of these completed the nomination form, we still think it’s safe to say that LinkedIn is a safe bet for sharing a message – so long as it’s presented to appropriate and, therefore, interested audiences (something we were particularly mindful of getting right).
Our first tweet on the topic (“Cool Company Awards 2009 – Nominations Now Open!”) was released on 18 August and quickly became our fourth-most-clicked tweet for the month. (Interestingly, the most popular tweet in terms of click-throughs was Another small business social media FAIL. Do you agree?)
According to TweetMeme, the original message was retweeted 20 times. However, we were also able to locate a handy measurement tool called TweetReach, through our friends at eWeek, which measures broader search terms, thereby measuring the total reach of the topic as it evolves.
…is likely to quickly evolve to:
The outcome, according to TweetReach, was as follows:
We double checked these numbers the old fashioned way (counting the followers of each person who retweeted our message).
This laborious process delivered a similar number (which was probably less accurate for the fact that journalists were crunching the numbers rather than machines).
To me, this outcome is particularly fascinating. It’s quite amazing to think that one message, through the application of collaborative networks, could reach over 15,000 people. It also helps that we already have 4,000 followers as a base.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?
Well, after our first tweet, nominations quadrupled almost overnight.
While we, naturally, posted the news (i.e. nominations are open) to the 250 (approx) followers of our Facebook fanpage, the initial observed impact was underwhelming. No significant increase in web traffic or nominations ensued.
However, it was not long before Google Alerts started to ping us mentions, like this one:
SM2 nominated for Cool Company AwardsWednesday, August 19, 2009 at 9:59pmSM2 has been nominated for the 2009 Anthill Magazine Cool Company Awards. Thanks for the nominations everyone! The Anthill Magazine Cool Company Awards (http://anthillonline.com/cool-company-awards/) were launched in February 2006 as a way for Anthill Magazine to publicly acknowledge and celebrate Australian organisations that are doing things differently to bring about positive change. Cool Companies manage to stay one step ahead of the rest. They breed leaders who are rule-makers and rule-breakers. They are organisations that aspire to be admired. They are trend-setters in attitude and action. Quite simply, they are cool.
While it seems that Facebook might not be the best place to broadcast a given message, it might be an effective place to propagate it.
And herein lies the real lesson.
Yes, social media can be effectively used as a business tool, largely for marketing purposes. And yes, the reach of social media can be measured. The numbers indeed speak for themselves and even the most hardened cynic would view the described exercise to be a success.
However, Anthill’s approach to date has been deeply flawed.
By treating social media as a broadcast mechanism, we overlooked its intrinsic value as a ‘social’ tool – for discussion and dialogue.
Of course, we are only at the nomination stage of the ‘cools’. And social media platforms are constantly evolving. If you, dear readers, have any tips or would like us to test an approach, we’re all ears and eyes.
Because that’s what’s at the heart of social media, right? Two-way engagement.
UPDATE (02/09/2009): Today we asked our readers to help us design our Cool Company Awards poster theme for 2009. The two-way engagement begins! Click here for the post.