Q&A: ISOC trainer Richard Stacy on algorithms, super-fans, super-stakeholders and more

How long have been a social media specialist?

I have been doing it since 2006.  To put frame this in social media time, this was before Facebook had graduated from Harvard, YouTube and Flickr were the new ‘Big Things’ the digerati were just starting to talk about and Twitter was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye.

You wrote a book: Social Media and The Three Per Cent Rule: how to succeed by not talking to 97 per cent of your audience. When organisations hear that you suggest that they only engage with 3% of their audience – do they tend to get a bit nervous?

Yes – but that is partly the point of the title.  It is designed to make people realise that social media doesn’t do the things traditional media does.  Traditional media is a high reach, but low engagement game whereas social media is about dealing with only a very small number of people at any one time, but extracting hugely greater value from those contacts than you could ever get with conventional marketing techniques.

You run a workshop at ISOC London on the “next big things” in social media. There always seems to be lots of trends and fads out there – is there anything that’s relatively new that we should be keeping our eyes on from a communications perspective?

The most important thing to remember is never get obsessed by the latest new thing – you should never base a social media strategy on a desire to use the latest tools (or any of the tools in fact).  Social media is best understood as a medium of connection, not a set of distribution channels, and once you understand this you will always be able to understand the significance of whatever new thing comes along.  That said, the big thing in social media is going to be community.  Communities will become the new media, because communities are all about harnessing the power of connection.  In the future, almost all relationships between organisations and their stakeholders will be filtered through the medium of some sort of community, which could be communities an organisation has built for itself, or communities that stakeholders or customers have built for themselves.  I am always very reluctant to point an organisation to any particular tool, but I make an exception here for a platform called GetSatisfaction.  This is an ‘out of the box’ customer service creation tool.  Every organisation is going to have to manage a customer or stakeholder community within the next five to seven years.  It will be a bit like having a web site became – at first these seemed like strange and odd things, but within a few years if you didn’t have one, that was a strange and odd thing.

Another area you’ll look at in the training workshop is super-stakeholders and super-fans – what exactly are these and why do they matter to communications practitioners?

These people are a subset of the 3 per cent group.  They are not important as influencers – their actual ability to influence a target audience may be relatively limited – so they are not really ambassadors.  However their importance lies in their ability to represent a target audience to an organisation: they become the ambassadors of your stakeholders within your organisation – and they usually do this for free.  This can be an incredibly valuable resource, if you know how to use it effectively, because it allows you to make your stakeholder community a part of your business.  This also has an overlap with the idea of community I mentioned earlier, because these people tend to work most effectively within some form of community.

Big data and algorithms are an area of your expertise – do you need to be a technical specialist to understand this? How does this impact communications practitioners if they aren’t super technical when they develop a digital strategy?

There is an aspect of big data and algorithms that is super-technical.  In fact there are probably only a few hundred geeks in the world who really understand what is going on here, and most of these either work on Wall Street or for government security agencies.  However, it is possible for a non-expert to be taught the basics of how big data operates and the type of problems it can solve – something called having a big data mind-set.  This is what I am aiming to do in the course.  And once you have the mind-set, and come up with some ideas you just need to hire a geek to make it happen.

Your one day session is going to look at the forces that will shape the social digital space over the next few years. What can participants expect to take away from this workshop?

People will come away with an understanding of the basics of how the big new forces within the digital space (principally algorithms and communities) operate, as well as an ability to assess how these might be relevant to their own organisations.  This will provide them with what they need to move forwards in the right direction if they wish.  We shall also be looking at some of the wider issues these new forces touch on, such as impact on corporate reputation, creating ‘appropriate’ relationships between organisations and individuals and responding to newly empowered customers or stakeholders.

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This article draws on the knowledge base from ISOC courses on social media.

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