Listen to any commercial from a warehouse style store and they'll tell you all about how you have to "cut out the middleman." The middleman is bad, bad, bad. He mucks things up, he makes them more expensive and he keeps you from getting the absolute best deal on your appliances, mattresses and even your insurance. In the world of social media marketing however, the middleman is your friend. In fact, he or she could become one of your most valuable assets.

Rohit Bhargava posted late last month about the concept of "microsharing." He explains the concept this way:

This phenomenon is called microsharing and it refers to the act of individuals sharing pieces of content with others in a group who have similar interests or needs. Some common activities today that would constitute microsharing range from saving a link on to posting an interesting story or video on Digg. Tagging an existing piece of content or using a "send to a friend form" are also examples of this. The most interesting thing is that as the volume of content continues to increase, more and more people rely on this microsharing to get the information they need. It is the new editorial model, and the editor is each of us.

Last summer I wrote about a Forrester Research report that dubs these types of users "critics and collectors." At the time, Forrester claimed roughly 34% of people using any type of social media were either adding content in the shape of comments and reviews, or tagging pages and indexing them using social bookmarking tools. These users tend to fall into the "microsharing" tag Rohit talks about.

Dana Vanden Heuvel breaks it down even more simply in a post today over at Marketing Profs. He calls these types of users "the folks in the middle." It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Whether you call these people microsharers, critics, collectors or curators, they're still the people who stand between your message and the person you want it to reach.

These aren't the people who launch the message, these are the people who spread the message. The very power of the virus as it launches itself across the web. Some estimates these days place the number of people in this category as high as 50%. Think of the last time you passed an article on to a friend, tweeted about it, Sphunn it, Fetched it, or re-posted something on your own blog. Each of these things put you in the category of "the middleman" as you helped the message go from originator, to receiver.

Now, stop and think about what made you WANT to play the middleman. What was it about the original post or web site that made you want to spread the word? What was the motivator?

Next, ask yourself what would motivate people to spread the word about your news. Small businesses are getting more savvy about getting the original coverage. They're learning how to cultivate relationships with bloggers and journalists, how to buy coverage and how to submit ideas to social networks themselves. What many are still forgetting is the need to plan beyond that initial coverage. In the grand scheme of things, getting coverage is easy.

It's getting the middleman to spread the word that's a bit more difficult.

This is where it becomes essential to spend some time getting to know the personality of the middlemen in your industry. If you're looking to score a ton of votes on a social media site, spend some time reading posts on similar topics that have done well. Read the comments and see what people liked about the entry. Do a search on Technorati to see who is posting about a specific topic and do some reading to see why they're spreading the word. Do they share a sense of outrage? A sense of humor? A desire for a deal?

It may take you an hour or more to scan through posts to get a feel for what causes people to spread the original idea, but if you can leverage that insight to create a better initial offering, you'll reap the rewards several times over.

If you're looking to get ahead in the world of social media, stop trying to cut out the middleman and learn how to make friends with him (or her) instead.

February 5, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > The "Middleman" of Social Media is Your Friend