As social networks become increasingly important for business and social relationships, we have to decide who to trust, how to identify authoritative sources, and how to distill independent from biased opinions, background noise from valuable nuggets.
Whereas there is no such thing as a widely recognized and “standard” sets of metrics, people use metrics such as number of followers, richness of social network as well as tools and sites like Klout.com. However, like all metrics, also social networking metrics should be taken with care. Here are a few points for reflection:
- Different people have different attitudes to how they use social media. Some accept or actively seek a high number of connections, while others are more selective. Should the former be considered better than the latter?
- Different people use different degrees of visibility of their social media activity within their networks: some show everything to everybody, others use circles and groups far more carefully. Should people less concerned with privacy and more concerned with self-promotion be considered more trustworthy?
- Different people use recommendations (such as in LinkedIn) and similar mechanisms in different ways: some actively seek and trade recommendations, while others do this more selectively or do not do it at all. Should I trust a reference-hunter?
- Different people produce and relay content in different ways: some post a lot of links, retweets, etc, while others post relatively little and mostly personal views. Should I value a content relayer more or less than a content author?
Given the diversity of use, it is pretty tough to make comparisons that hold across such a inhomogeneous user base. And yet there are people who claim clout and authority out of their hectic FB, Twitter or Friendfeed activity.
So, there is no substitute for carefully reading what people say, for looking for references about what they did in real life, for forming one’s own judgment about the trustworthiness of a person based on good old brick&mortar metrics (even if digitally-enabled) rather than trusting numbers and indicators.
The good news is that in my experience and in the field I cover, the vast majority of people are trustworthy. However they also happen to be people who I know in real life or are trusted by people I know and trust in real life.
Beware of emerging self-supporting networks, where people reference, congratulate, recommend, repost each other. They may be perfectly fine groups and individuals, but they may equally be people who would have absolutely nothing to say if they were not (at least for the time being) on the cool side of the digital divide.