Metcalfe's Law and Its Correlation to Social Media

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Metcalfe's Law states that "the effect of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2)." For example, if a network has ten nodes, its inherent value is 100 (10 x 10). In other words, if I am the only person in the world who owns a telephone, that telephone is essentially useless. But as more and more people purchase telephones, the value of my phone increases exponentially.

The most obvious flaw in this Law is that n (the node or device) does not have a consistent value. One device might be faster, have greater capacity, or work better than another, skewing the equation. Applying Metcalfe's Law to social marketing is even more complicated than that, and here are some reasons why:

I have managed social media for clients with 1M+ Followers and clients with fewer than 1K Followers. According to Metcalfe's Law, the 1M+ accounts should have a clear and substantive advantage, but they DID NOT. That is because successful social marketing is NOT simply about the number of "nodes on the network" or quantitative volume of Followers. If you care that your marketing accomplishes a goal (which most of us do, even if that goal is simple branding), then it's about engagement and conversion.

If the brand with 1M+ Followers creates content that does not include a call to action or compel the Followers to engage in any way -- even if only to Like -- then let's say that they have a conversion rate of 0%. If the business with fewer than 1K Followers creates compelling content that riles up its base and incents an action on every post, it will have earned a conversion rate of 100%.

The number of Followers you have on social media is irrelevant if they're not doing anything. That's what I call "anti-social media."

Going back to Metcalfe's Law, the equation that measures the value of the network -- n (n - 1)/2 -- seems to lose even more relevance as "n" is no longer a node, or even a telephone, but a human being. Perhaps even a social media "Influencer"!

While we all pay attention to the number of Followers an Influencer has (in fact, what they can charge per post is based upon that number), what matters to me as a social marketer is their engagement rate. If an Influencer has 1M+ Followers, but I'm not sure they are my target audience, the monetary value of their post decreases. If their Followers aren't engaged with their content, the Influencer's value drops even more.

If, on the other hand, a "micro Influencer" with only 1K Followers can demonstrate that their Followers are exclusively females between the ages of 13 and 18, if they average 1K+ views per video, 50+ comments per post, and if those girls are within my geographic radius, that's a home run. Simply getting 1M+ impressions, or eyeballs, on my ad is no longer enough. I want precise targeting that results in action, conversion, and sales. I want to be able to demonstrate ROI.

Metcalfe's Law is still relevant today, where the nodes on the network are human beings on social media. But social marketers mustn't get hung up on the number of nodes. Remember that one "node" who accurately, passionately, and personally communicates our brand message is more valuable than one hundred disengaged connections. It's a qualitative, not quantitative, measurement.

I'm not sure how the revised equation would look; if you have suggestions, let us know on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter -- perhaps we'll come up with a new, more SOCIAL version of Metcalfe's Law!

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