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Should Your Social Media Influence Be Wide or Deep?

Wired magazine recently reported how some businesses are using an applicant’s Klout score as a criteria for employment.

Much as Google’s search engine attempts to rank the relevance of every web page, Klout—a three-year-old startup based in San Francisco—is on a mission to rank the influence of every person online. Its algorithms comb through social media data: If you Klout-1have a public account with Twitter, which makes updates available for anyone to read, you have a Klout score, whether you know it or not (unless you actively opt out on Klout’s website). You can supplement that score by letting Klout link to harder-to-access accounts, like those on Google+, Facebook, or LinkedIn. The scores are calculated using variables that can include number of followers, frequency of updates, the Klout scores of your friends and followers, and the number of likes, retweets, and shares that your updates receive. High-scoring Klout users can qualify for Klout Perks, free goodies from companies hoping to garner some influential praise.

In social media, numbers matter. Facebook Friends, Tweeps, LinkedIn Connections, Google+ Circles, number of Shares / Tweets / Likes, Google Rank, etc., etc.

So what about the person who wants to go “deep”? They are not online simply to broadcast their books or business. They want to genuinely have a conversation, express themselves, and get to know and engage interesting people. To this person, Klout score is incidental.

  • Going Wide — Number of Friends / Followers / Contacts
  • Going Deep — Quality and Consistency of interaction

But where does this leave people who want to do both?

At some point, a trade-off seems necessary. Either go for a “wide” (yet more impersonal) online influence or go for a “deep” (yet more narrow) one. Opt to try to boost your social media influence or cede it in favor of building more substantial relationships.

The business consultants at Polka Dot Impressions define the difference between going wide and going deep in social media, and the give-and-take, this way:

1. If you go wide, are you willing to let your numbers drop? Going wide in social media means that you will be following, friending, connecting, etc. to more people than have followed, friended, or connected to you. …going wide will drop your numbers, and it’s impossible to read everything that everyone says when you are connected to a wide number of people.

2. If you go deep, are you willing to spend the time? Going deep in social media means that you spend more time on conversations, engagement, and interactions with those to whom you are connected. It means that you are actually reading what they have to say. This is where the real communication comes from, but growth is slower. Your numbers will increase, but they increase slowly – sometimes very slowly. It takes time to build  relationships.

3. If you go wide, are you willing to be a small fish in a big pond? If you are reaching out for multiple new connections at once, going wide, you will likely be reaching out to bigger “accounts” and hoping to get noticed.

4. If you go deep, are you willing to talk about others and not yourself for a change? Having online conversations with others requires taking an interest in what they do, too. Going deep into relationships is two-way. You have to put aside your accolades and support others in theirs.

The question of Wide v. Deep poses an interesting dilemma for authors. On the one hand,

Writers need to reach MORE people.

On the other hand,

Writers need to REACH more people.

In one sense, the possibility of getting your name (and your book’s) before thousands of people is enticing. However, engaging those readers, connecting with real people, even developing relationships with them, can do wonders for an author. Not to mention, broaden her influence.

Then again, going “deep” with readers could be an incredible drain.

In summarizing the 2009 BEA convention, Janet Grant, literary agent from Books & Such (which also happens to represent me) distilled a workshop she attended entitled “Product Centric Publishing in a Community Centric World” presented by Mike Shatzkin. In What Does the Future Hold? one of the points Janet made was this:

Publishing widely to reach as broad an audience as possible will go away. In its place will be publishing “vertically”– reaching more deeply into a narrower audience.

Later, Janet goes on to summarize and expound on this “vertical publishing” concept:

The two key words to keep in mind as you eye the future are: “vertical” and “community.” You must understand yourself vertically and present yourself vertically (develop a web site designed to reach your community; collect emails from your community; create partnerships vertically). (emphasis mine)

So rather than trying to build a “broad audience,” you should “present yourself vertically,” identify your niche and dig in — develop friendships, support others’ efforts, familiarize yourself with the “language” of the community, and build a fellowship of readers / followers.

It makes a lot of sense, but it raises questions. Ideally, the author needs an online presence that is BOTH wide and DEEP, both HORIZONTAL and VERTICAL. But if having both is impossible, at least very difficult, which one should be chosen over the other?

QUESTION: Should authors aim to have BOTH a wide and a deep social media presence? Should we seek to Follow and Friend as many people as possible AND build relationships / community among these readers? Or is the author better off concentrating on her writing and web presence than trying to go “deep” or “vertical” with her readers?

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Mark Carver April 30, 2013, 7:55 AM

    My initial response is that wide is better than deep, because a simple rule in advertising is that exposure = sales, though to what extent is debatable. But for writers in niche markets (i.e., me, and probably a lot of writers who follow this blog), deep helps to recruit true, loyal fans.

    I suppose I would theorize that wide benefits authors in mainstream genres, while deep benefits those in underground/niche channels, where reader loyalty makes up the difference.

  • Kat Heckenbach April 30, 2013, 8:47 AM

    When I was in school, I had a pretty small circle of friends. But that circle has stuck with me. I am still best friends with a girl I met in kindergarten, still connected on a regular basis with the girl I lived down the street from starting at age three, still connected sporadically with several friends I’ve had since jr high, and l live two houses away from a couple I’ve known since jr high (well, her–I met him when they started dating in high school) and our kids are best friends with their kids. That’s multi-generational deep :).

    I’m not wired for wide. I can’t do that, not in real life, not online. The friends I’ve made online are *friends*. Yes, yes, yes, I am willing to take the time to invest in them. And what gives me goosebumps is that they’re actually willing to invest in me in return.

    However, I’ve *tried* the “wide” thing at times. I joined Twitter, and have even gone through phases of following lots of new people and being willing to follow anyone that followed me. What I got was a lot of spam from other writers and from groups wanting to “help writers market”–so I end up unfollowing a slew of people and drop back down to my core, which basically consists of people I’m friends with on FB anyway.

    I’m on LinkedIn, but do nothing more than update my profile now and then and accept connections. Pinterest is more of a personal image collecting space for me. Tumblr and all the other stuff out there–forget it. I’m not even bothering. No way I can keep up, and no way I can not feel like a narcissistic prat if I connect all those accounts so I only have to bother publishing a comment once knowing it will reach all my raving fans in all my various fandoms….Sorry if that hurts anyone’s feelings. But a good number of the people I know with gobs of followers seem to love reminding the world just how many they have and/or comment how they don’t actually read anything anyone else posts.

    What it boils down to for me is this: I want readers to read my books. I don’t give a flying flip if *I* am popular. I like my smaller, close-knit group of friends being small and close-knit anyway. BUT, I know I *have* to be out there, I have to try and “reach MORE people” while I’m trying to “REACH more people.” What I’ve decided is that I’ll try things, but if it’s making me uncomfortable, or like with Twitter just filling my inbox with spam, then I back out of that and focus on the social media that is actually feeling social to me.

  • Lyn Perry April 30, 2013, 6:41 PM

    Who the hell knows? It’s all a crap shoot.

    • Katherine Coble April 30, 2013, 7:02 PM

      Best. Answer. Ever.

    • Jessica Thomas May 1, 2013, 5:47 AM

      It’s also seems to be exhausting despite all my best efforts to make it “fun”.

      And, I can’t get this out of my head:
      ‘Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide…’

  • Paula Cappa May 1, 2013, 5:07 AM

    If you are an author that is self-published and new to the publishing world (no established readership or publisher/agents/publicists behind you), going wide ends up being a lot of work with little payoff. We tend to get buried in all of it (maybe going wide tends to work if you have a traditional or indie publisher with that support and credibility). Most of my FB fans are people I know so it’s a small group. Twitter can drive people to my blog but Twitter does not translate into book sales. Goodreads is helpful but again, you can get buried. LinkedIn is just another mess of groups who are trying to sell services and promote themselves (there is information sharing sometimes). In the end, I have to agree with Lyn, “it’s all a crap shoot.”

  • Matthew Sample II May 1, 2013, 8:45 AM

    Perhaps there’s a time and a place for both approaches. Perhaps there’s a building time. Perhaps there’s a time to harvest. Not sure, but would like to learn more.

  • Bob Avey May 1, 2013, 10:56 AM

    At times, I wish I could go back to the old days when writers did only one thing, theoretically speaking, and that is write. Actually I never got to experience that, but I have some writer friends who did. Writers of old were actually expected to be rather reclusive, which seems to fit the personality of many writers. Writers would write books, and publishers would publish – which means to make public – market, and promote them. As the Beach Boys say, “Wouldn’t it be nice…”

  • Anne Martin Fletcher May 2, 2013, 7:50 AM

    Mike, you inspired me to check out my Kout, and discover that most of my networks (deep ones) were not connected. I spent 30 minutes today trying to increase my score. Bob Avey: You can do this by writing, but just in different media. One way I drive traffic to my blog and, hopefully, to Klout, is by writing succint, helpful answers to other people’s questions in my target online communities (usually closed networks). This soft sell approach has been very effective; I rarely mention my blog in my answer, but it’s address is on my profiles. Paula Cappa: I love LinkedIn and how it increases traffic to my blog. The key is not to spread wide, but to join your core community group. Because my blog addresses their interests, they often share and mention it during their conversations. Mike, I’ll have to let you know if my Klout increases. In full disclosure, I am also represented by Books&Such.

    • Anne Martin Fletcher May 3, 2013, 4:10 PM

      Thanks again, Mike! After yesterday’s short effort, I increased my KLOUT score by 28 points to a 43!
      Not bad, eh?

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