When creating and operating social network pages, many media organizations strive to do little more than accumulate as many followers and friends as possible. Because it is, at least in large part, dependent on the bandwagon theory, this strategy is not a bad one.
The bandwagon theory posits that news or products that are read or recommended by a large number of people are considered more credible or worth buying. But, while it has considerable experimental confirmation, the theory does not apply to the process of building the large numbers of followers and friends it explains.
My research on network gatekeeping has revealed that, much like in traditional media, there exist small numbers of gatekeepers within social networks that do the most dissemination of social news, raising questions about the intra-media robustness of the bandwagon theory and its implications for social media marketing.
Many of the Facebook, Twitter and Digg users I’ve interviewed think of news sharing in social media as a game, where whoever accumulates the most followers wins in much the same way many media organizations do. However, these network gatekeepers also believe that the content produced and disseminated by these organizations is itself in need of gatekeeping. If the most active social network content sharers on the site then seek each other out for cooperation, as on Digg, the apparent communality of such sites could be little more than a discussion among and manipulation by network gatekeepers, the opposite situation that many users cite as their motivation for using social media, and a contradiction with implications for social media marketing.
Rather than engaging in a race for the greatest number of followers, media organizations should take advantage of this hierarchical arrangement on social networks by specifically targeting their most active and influential network gatekeepers. Also, rather than spending money to win them over, they should save by capitalizing on their likely irreversible lack of confidence in the traditional media. Future posts will address just how to identify network gatekeepers and carry out this plan.