Basis: This publication documents an ongoing (ten years to date) study of social network lifecycles and what is required for any given social network to thrive.
Background: The number of extant social networks increases along well-defined rules that are dependent on the number of social media channels and the technology required to access any given social network. This translates to a change in the past ten years from a few social media channels with a diversity of internal networks to a diversity of social networks each with their own social media channel.
Whenever there's a proliferation of similar organisms the laws of evolution kick in with an unmatchable ferocity. A few social media channels with a diversity of internal networks demonstrated a user preference for the interface (usability) above the information (content value). A diversity of social networks each with their own social media channel demonstrates cladic growth that in turn is subject to evolutionary methods.
This is demonstrated in both online and offline worlds in how social networks form, grow, die and evolve into new social networks. Note that for the purposes of this study social network “stability” is defined as a creation-evolution cycle, meaning the social network thrives (a YouTube video that receives 1MM hits in two days then fades into oblivion does not constitute a thriving social network). “Healthy” networks are those that grow while maintaining focus and direction. “Vital” information is information required to keep a conversation going.
Objective: To determine if any specific requirements exist for the health of social networks regardless of social media channels (what is required for healthy fish regardless of the pond they're in?).
Method: This research is an outgrowth of NextStage's previous and ongoing social network studies, and is built on the mid 1980s-1990s cultural anthropology studies performed on such social networks as CompuServ, AOL, Genie and the like.
Five hundred differentiable areas of interest were identified across automotive, destination, entertainment, food, motorcycle, science and travel meta-networks. Similarities of subject matter (content, focus), contributor (voice, style, tone, knowledge-base, experiential-base, post/comment frequency), structure (interface, posting requirements/mechanics, alerting mechanism) and visitor (income level, education level, geographic location, life experience, age, gender) were isolated and routinely measured to determine social network mechanics.
Results:The greatest factors contributing to the longevity of a social network regardless of social medium are
- Three “golden ratios”
- The ratio of contributors to entire network population must be between 1:100 and 1:30. Social networks with contributor to population ratios in this realm demonstrate a reasonable dialogue is taking place. Fewer indicates unguided conversations, greater indicates a dearth of vital information.
- The ratio of influencers to entire network population must be greater than 1:3,000. Influencers are required to inject source-recognized vital information to generate discussions among network participants.
- The ratio of influencers to contributors should be within a few points of 1:100. Greater and there aren't enough “Watsons” to support the “Holmses”, fewer and there are too many “Watsons” (see Another Ommaric Intersection – Holmses&Watsons).
- The regular injection of vital information
- Vital information must be “forward thinking” information. It must recognize a community challenge and offer direction for its solution. It does not need to solve the challenge, only demonstrate a possible solution path. Consensus solutions indicate there's nothing left to talk about and are death to social networks until a new challenge is identified.
- Injection to general conversation ratios should be within a few points of 1:55. Fewer and the conversation collapses, greater and the conversation becomes confusing.
- Networks without regular injections of vital information first stagnate and eventually collapse.
- The collapse speed is related to the size of the network. Larger networks collapse more quickly (relative to their size) than smaller networks due to higher social bonding factors usually present in smaller social networks.
- Too many or ill-timed vital information injections cause confusion in the general population. This confusion translates to
- a decrease in the general population.
- an increase in the level of conversation among the “literati”. Note that this is a demonstration of a stable, evolving network.
- The information gradient (dispersion vector) should be directly proportional to the size of the network.
- Larger, stable networks will demonstrate gradients of 1:10 once the information hits 2nd circle (psycho-social distance from source. See NSE Consumer Research Paper – Social Network Mechanics: A Preliminary ToolKit for Creating and Co-Opting Social Networks for Marketing Purposes for details) participants (relatively slow for the population size). Steeper information gradients tend to cause social fracturing and the creation of child networks.
- Smaller, stable networks will demonstrate gradients of 1:10,000 (“instantaneous” for the population size). More gradual information gradients tend to indicate a social network preparing to collapse.
Key TakeAways: Brands (and others) wishing to maintain stable, healthy and growing social networks should focus their efforts on maintaining the necessary mix of
- influencers, contributors and visitors to insure necessary conversation ratios
- general comment to vital information posts/comments to insure necessary social growth incentive ratios