Social Media Science

If there’s one thing I understand about social media, it’s that nobody quite fully understands it. Social Media is a dynamic creature, and a new one at that. It’s for this very reason I tend to roll my eyes when I hear someone proclaim themselves as a “social media expert / guru / evangelist / aficionado / overlord.” Titles like these imply some level of objectified understanding. A more appropriate term may be social media student or, as I prefer, social media scientist.

The Scientific Method

I’m sure most of you will recall the 5 or 7 step method taught in beginning science class for testing hypotheses and drawing conclusions. A refined version of this method breaks down the key elements of experimentation into a more practical process. This method is called hypothetico-deductive reasoning, or “if, then logic” and it’s something everyone does naturally to identify and test problems and solutions.

Here’s an example of how we might use this logic:

Observation: My flashlight doesn’t work
Question: What’s wrong with my flashlight?
Hypothesis: The flashlight’s batteries are dead.
Prediction: If this hypothesis is correct
Experiment: and I replace the batteries with new ones,
Predicted Result: then the flashlight should work.

After your experiment is complete, you analyze your data and then accept or reject your hypothesis. This same method can be applied to your experiments in social media.

The power of observation

The very first observation I made when I first started managing DegreeSearch.org’s social brand was that it didn’t exist. This was accompanied by a long string of other related observations that led to an even longer string of questions. Other brands in our industry have a social media presence. Why are they using social media? Is there any value? Are people having conversations we should be involved in? Who are they? How are our competitors currently engaged with their audience? What kind of audience do we want? Can this audience be monetized? If not, what value do they provide?

Findings

These questions led to some successful and not-so-successful experiments. Here are a few examples of both:

TweetBig: Failure

Question
Will third-party Twitter clients help grow a meaningful audience?

Experiment
TweetBig is a paid subscription service that claims to increase your follower count through its management tools. Automatic follow back, tweet scheduling, follower gathering, follower time bomb (automatically unfollows people you follow if they don’t follow back after a certain time period), etc. I tried out each of these tools, and ended up following a number of new people based on their recommendations. Sure enough, we saw our follower count start to rise. But I noticed that none of these new followers really cared about DegreeSearch. No retweets, no mentions, no conversation at all.

Conclusion
Having hundreds or thousands of followers means nothing if all they do is follow you.

Twitter Chats: Success

Question
Will participating in Twitter chats increase our SM presence?

Experiment
Sometimes it’s difficult to discern which people are tweeting unique content and sharing actual thoughts vs. accounts that just recycle links. Chats are a great way to find the type of people you would actually want to have a conversation with. One chat that I like to jump in on is #careerchat. It usually follows a question/answer format with one moderator leading the discussion.

Conclusion
Chats are a great way to forge meaningful relationships on Twitter.

Scholarship Giveaway: Success

Question
Are giveaways an effective way to grow your Facebook audience?

Experiment
Each week we award a $500 cash scholarship on Facebook. We’ve listed our scholarship under a few directories and try to promote it through Facebook and Twitter. We regularly highlight Scholarship winners on our blog and write about how they’re using their money to further their education.

Conclusion
Since we’ve started the scholarship, our fan base on Facebook has grown by over 3,000 followers. We have collected the email addresses of each of these users and have plans to start sending out emails to further expose them to our education portal.

Whether or not each experiment is a success is less important than if you learn something in the process. Draw conclusions, reformulate your hypothesis, repeat.

Conclusion

No single social media litmus test exists for every brand or company. You don’t achieve social success at ‘x’ number of fans or followers. The purpose—for us—has been to create a certain level of credibility and trust among people that use our service, provide an active channel for meaningful feedback and conversation, and expose our service to others that might find it valuable.

So what should social media mean for your company? Roll up your sleeves and find out for yourself. In the immortal words of GLaDOS, “Look at me still talking when there’s science to do.”