Social Networking is not a numbers game
Let's say you're an author. And three different celebrities with over a million followers each on Twitter tweeted about your book. You might expect your sales to really take off, right? Real life authors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler (authors of the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives) were curious to see what kind of bounce they'd get. So they enlisted actress Alyssa Milano, publisher Tim O'Reilly, and Pew Research Center's Susannah Fox to all tweet about their book as an experiment. They sold about 3 extra copies. Their sales actually declined following Milano's tweet.
Now consider if the authors got Oprah to tweet about their book or put it on her book club list. Oprah's ability to make obscure titles into best sellers is legendary.
Why the difference? The key is building a perceived personal relationship. Oprah has spent decades crafting an almost one-on-one relationship with members of her audience. Alyssa Milano can deliver numbers. O'Reilly and Fox can be thought leaders. But what wins out, what motivates action, is when there exists a perceived personal relationship between influencer and influencee. You need strong ties, not lots and lots of weak ties to motivate action.
So, are you racking up large number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends? Slow down. All that effort might not be doing you any good. Spreading a message is not the same as affecting people with the message. Unless you have the ability to reach thousand or millions of people with the empathetic talents of Oprah, re-think your strategy. It's better to build smaller number of high quality online relationships verses thousands of low quality associations. Target users who likewise seem to use their Twitter of Facebook accounts to maintain high quality online relationships.
How can you tell?
How can you tell who is good at maintaining high quality online relationships? There are a few tricks. Investigate the person's Twitter feed. Does the person tweet @ several people? Do these people tweet @ back? Does the person retweet people on his/her friends list? Look for signs the person is strongly interacting with fellow Twitter followers. If the person is just broadcasting links to blog posts or company PR, even if the person has thousand of followers, it's unlikely this person will have influence.
On Facebook, investigate the user's wall. Are a lot of people "Liking" the person's Wall posts? Are a lot of people posting high quality posts on the person's Wall (i.e., not robotic invitations to join Farmville etc.)? A big metric is is the person being tagged in other people's photos a lot? Investigate the person's photo album and see if they're being tagged in other people's albums.