Were Paul Revere alive today, he likely would have liked Facebook and had many friends there. But he would have loved LinkedIn. The reason why explains his famous role in the Revolutionary War. It also explains why most marketers still can't make social media really work for them.
On April 18, 1775, Revere helped push the most important message of the Revolutionary War viral. But what would have happened if Revere had only been able to post “THE BRITISH ARE COMING” on Facebook?
Maybe not much, according to the dynamics of social-network communication.
In his landmark 2000 book, "The Tipping Point," for example, writer Malcolm Gladwell says Revere's ride was about connecting so-called weak social ties. In Revere's case, the weak social ties were people who he could have only vaguely identified as likely Patriots.
That's important, because they were crucial to spreading the word. As opposed to Revere's strong social ties, with whom he had frequent and intense communication, weak ties would have been nodes on networks foreign to Revere.
Upon getting the call, these Patriots alerted people Revere could never have reached. This dynamic repeated itself until defenses were raised.
Revere's strong social ties knew of the immediate danger, too, people like fellow crier William Dawes (who carried the same message, covered as many miles and encountered as many people on the same night, but who sadly is just a historical footnote). They'd have formed an echo chamber had they clustered.
Weak ties excel at communicating new information. Strong ties tend to enforce bonds.
Facebook Favors Strong Ties
Facebook and similar networks are set up to promote strong ties, showing updates more frequently from people closest to you, or at least those with whom you interact most often.
Facebook execs believe people will stay on their site longer clicking more ads if they are surrounded by cohorts.
A warning on Facebook would have been stymied by Revere's filter bubble, meaning that the message would have bounced among people already in the know. It would have leaked out, but what he needed was to tell people on the farthest periphery of his connections and beyond for a general alarm.
LinkedIn Excels In Weak Ties
The strong/weak-tie phenomenon could explain why most marketers today have trouble scaring up new revenue via social media. If they are skilled or fortunate enough to have developed a following, marketing execs typically are interacting with people who are already sold on their brands.
Companies should also be looking for network "connectors," like Revere.
Professional and career network LinkedIn differs from Facebook in that its true value is in who your closest LinkedIn contacts know. It helps people find and cultivate information-rich weak ties.
By the time you want to leave your job (or, more darkly, are asked to leave), your tightest Facebook friends are not surprised. And you've probably already been talking about potential new employers with them.
In this situation, your close Facebook friends are really only good as sounding boards or as shoulders to cry on.
However, going through your LinkedIn relationships is like Revere riding through the 18th century New England countryside shouting the news. You can rouse more and more-useful responses talking to contacts of your contacts.
According to ComScore, every hour a LinkedIn member spends on the site is worth $1.30 in revenue to LinkedIn; every hour on Facebook is worth just 6.2 cents in revenue.
That's not necessarily because of the general topics being discussed in each venue. Marketers need to use social media to find and activate peripheral or potential buyers. They need to ride a dark dirt path beyond their best friends.