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theMirror

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Introduction

In the spring of 2016 I became aware of a new socialNet on the scene in the US, which branded itself as professional, but with a commitment to building personal affinity (“uniting … personal and professional lives in one place”).  It seemed that it might have potential, I joined, and posted my first article in June.

Among the first things that I noticed about beBee was that it had rather a fascination with LinkedIn:

As a longtime LinkedIn user (since 2005), I’ve appreciated – and contributed to – criticism of LinkedIn and many of its recent decisions and policies.   Let’s admit : It’s an issue.

Apparently beBee stakeholders felt that LinkedIn-bashing was an opportunity to take advantage of frustration with and resentment towards the professional socialNet giant.  That thread is an interesting one (worth pursuing), but it is not the topic of this article.

As a UX-er, I knew that “You can’t propose Solutions unless you know what you’re talking about.”   One of the best ways to gain such basic, necessary knowledge would be to do an impartial inventory and evaluation of the actual content on the beBee socialNet.

Here are my findings.

 

Framing

theMirror is my informal/thumbnail analysis of the content traffic on socialNet beBee.  Once a month, over the course of 6 months, I reviewed  and mapped the most recent 100 posts on the public dashboard of beBee and looked for patterns.

My motivation for doing this inventory, assessment & review in the first place is both personal (I’m both a producer and a consumer of content) and professional (It’s what I do for a living).

My intuition and instinct are trusted tools, because they’re grounded in decades of experience:  They seem to work pretty well – and often provide a trustworthy fastTrack to insight.  I also believe that I have an appreciation of identifiable, replicable patterns. Ultimately, a content inventory like “theMirror” is just a reality check on my own thumbnail insights & assumptions.

Caveat:

Although beBee clearly markets itself ‘against LinkedIn’, theMirror content inventory does not attempt to compare the two platforms.  For one thing, they are essentially “apples and oranges”.

The categories that I’ve identified are very high level.  They may not explore a lot of detail – but they provide a reasonable basis for recognizing similarities, differences, and trends within the content on the beBee socialNet.

What follows is an edited compilation a series of Content Inventories which appeared on beBee over the course of 6 months.

August 2016

Initially, I felt that there were 6 major ‘types’ of posts.  In my first iteration of theMirror (August 2016), I found this content breakdown:

26% Motivational/How-to/Self-help

20% Personal insight/Art/Philosophy

18% Spanish Language

16% Self-promotion

10%  Technical/Analytical/Business-oriented

10% “Pointer”/Re-posting/Headlines

In these content inventories I tried to simply report numbers fairly straightforwardly and not to pass judgement.  That said:  I take responsibility for my selection of groupings and their labels.  I don’t claim that this data is particularly scientific:  I did what I felt I could handle within the limited boundaries of my own energies.

The whole point of this quantitative numbers exercise, of course, is to do some qualitative evaluation on “what it means”.  Below are some analytical comments on each content group.

 

Early Assessments

Motivational/How-to/Self-help

This was the biggest, most active type of posting.  Insight:  This is an overwhelmingly popular pattern across the social media.  It ranges from ‘feel good’ to ‘how to’.  The focus is self-interest.  I wondered – in passing –  how the beBee profile compared to LinkedIn and FaceBook.

Personal Insight/Art/Philosophy

IMO These are among the most compelling contributions on social media – often as personal memoirs triggered by a recent event/headline.  This eclectic mix is one of the leading ‘affinity‘ factors on beBee.  Topics range from ‘my favorite music’, to hobbies, to values affirmation, to experiential memory.  Uniquely, this category comprises most of the original non-marketing writing on beBee.

Promotion  & Self-promotion

It’s one of the “Top Three” patterns, as it is in other social media.  As with many socialNet platforms, ‘marketing’ – in its various forms – is a consistent theme, with ‘personal branding’ as a focal topic. Not surprisingly, beBee itself is the major ‘free advertising‘ participant.

Spanish Language

I note this pattern simply because it is both a large proportion of content and also a barrier to many of us.  Can I get it translated?  Of course, but… functionally, it’s just noise.

There was some initial pushback on my usage of the term “noise”.   Clarification: I was using the term “noise’ as it applies to communication theory. Here’s a definition :

“Communication is the process of transmitting information from one person to another. Noise is any type of disruption that interferes with the transmission or interpretation of information from the sender to the receiver.”

beBee itself recognizes that ‘auto–translate’ is needed in order to overcome the potential barrier among multiple languages in an international environment. No insult to any language or ethnic group was intended on my part.

I can speak and read some Spanish myself, but also know that I struggle with idiomatic comments. Ultimately, the other-than-my-own-native-language content on beBee is not readily accessible to me.  I assume that the same difficulty exists for others.  It’s a barrier.

There are several languages represented on beBee now, but the overwhelming majority of the foreign language material is Hispanic or Latin-based (currently: Portuguese & Italian).  This is actually the largest and fastest-growing category of content.  More on that later…

Technical/Analytical/Business-oriented

This pattern is probably among the most enterpise-oriented and solid of the posts.  Here’s where beBee overlaps into the LinkedIn and Quora arenas, where there is already a substantial focus on ‘professional’ and ‘technical’ discussion.

In addition to these 5 major content groupings…

A big percentage of the beBee ‘public dashboard feed’ is …

… interspersed richly with modules that advertise “Hives that may interest you”, “Companies that offer jobs…”, “More from [this individual]”, plus other promotional links to sponsors, beBee people, groups, and featured content.

For every 100 posted articles there are at least 25 of these self-marketing notices.

 

September 2016

In my second iteration of theMirror I whittled the number of ‘content types’ of posts from six down to five. because …

Re-Posting is an Attribute … but it’s not a Category

The re-posting to other people’s materials, on other networks isn’t really the creation of new material.  It’s more on the order of “I like this.  And I want you to see it, too.”   It’s essentially a Share.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing – or “pointing to” – and article that’s been published on another platform.  I do it myself.  But we can’t pretend that it’s actually publishing or writing.

26% of beBee’s content was not original – It is shared from another service.

In addition

The disturbing statistic was that 80+% of beBee’s ‘business/tech’ articles were re-posted material.

It became clear that beBee – as a self-branded ‘professional’ socialNet – nonetheless did not really host or produce much original professional content

No blame.  No judgement.  It’s just the numbers

 

October 2016

By mid-October 2016, there was a consistent pattern to content on the beBee socialNet.  And a couple of major trends were inescapable in my third monthly informal/thumbnail analysis of the posting content.

Trend: Spanish Language Content shows consistent Growth

In true mirror fashion, the language barrier reflects on both populations (those who can go cross-lingual easily / those who can’t). One thing we know about the butterfly-attention-span socialNet environment: If it involves much effort, then you probably won’t bother.I don’t claim to know the issue intimately, but I can appreciate it. I’ve encountered related challenges at various points in my career:  the International Portal and Ethnically-Targeted Social Networking

  • Up Consistently and Impressively by +12 from the last Mirror. Up +24 from the first Mirror in August. This is beBee’s primary audience growth path.
  • For the time being, I assume that the Hispanic-language content follows similar category patterns to the English-language content. (It’s probably worth a comparison & evaluation in its own right, but this is a volunteer effort – and I haven’t the cycles).
  • We might want to explore usage and cross-pollination patterns among language cultures if/when beBee deals with the “seamless translation” issue.
  • This is the doorway to some ‘really Big stuff’. Put a thumbtack in it.

Hispanic population is ‘what’s happening’ at beBee, as predicted in my article “Affinity defines Community” – and now confirmed by beBee’s own marketing materials. Expect more of same. Dominoes will fall.

 

Trend: Technical / Analytical / Business-oriented Content is failing

This category represents the most enterprise-oriented and professional of the posts. Here’s where beBee overlaps into the LinkedIn and Quora arenas – but definitely does not compete.

Despite all the self-promotion noise, beBee isn’t actually in competition with LinkedIn for Professional credibility or content. To quote Gertude Stein, “There is no ‘there’ there.” Which is not to say that there’s no competition. But it’s driven by factors other than any claim that “beBee offers more or better Business-related content” or that it sparks & hosts professionally-focused discussion.

Observation: The obsession with LinkedIn-bashing appears to be largely fueled by resentment by people who feel violated or betrayed by LinkedIn’s recent ‘restructuring’.

  • On the one hand, I heartily agree with many of the criticisms of LinkedIn’s bad moves (I feel that way myself).
  • On the other hand, beBee also demonstrates a systemic inability (unwillingness?) to look in its own mirror, recognize its own weaknesses, take responsibility for its own mistakes, and fix its own problems.

 

the Emerging Takeaways

beBee has a large-and-growing international Hispanic-language following. This is clearly a major marketing advantage and strategy.  It remains to be seen whether beBee can – as the bizWonks say – “leverage” the potential. Clearly, seamless translation is essential to making cultural cross-pollination a market factor.  But, in any case, beBee brings big Hispanic Market numbers to the table for that all-important buy-out opportunity.

beBee is NOT a “professional socialNet”. It may have more business-related articles than FaceBook, but – compared to LinkedIn – It’s not even close.  Not in terms of content.  Not in terms of demeanor.  Let’s put this self-serving marketing fib out of its misery.  Please.

beBee IS a delightful “casual, personal socialNet” experience, which is much beloved by its aficionados. (Maybe a little too beloved, but still …) beBee actively encourages Personal insight / Art / Philosophy content… and it’s a successful audience-builder. My sense is that these articles comprise a large proportion of the original content on beBee. In any case, I feel that these articles cement the strongest sense of affinity among beBee aficionados.

A significant proportion of beBee content is not original – It is shared from other services – especially in the Technical / Analytical / Business-oriented arena.  beBee – as a self-branded ‘professional’ socialNet – does not really host or produce much original content on professional topics.

 

November 2016

The overall patterns and trends from previous theMirror content inventories were re-confirmed. I also identified an attribute which I felt deserved comment:

beBee is fairly “professional writer”-friendly

By professional writer, I mean someone who functions primarily as a producer of articles. Interestingly, a large proportion of those articles tend to be about how-to-succeed-as-a-writer-in-a-socialNet-environment.

Many of these professional content-producers feel particularly betrayed by LinkedIn’s recent dumb strategic moves.  BeBee has opportunistically engaged many of these writers as subsidized Promotionalist ‘ambassadors’.  As such, they produce both ‘good press’ and the majority of content and traffic (activity) on beBee itself.  “Priming the Pump” is a clever strategy.

It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of the writers coveted by beBee are ‘marketing-oriented content’ producers.  The Marketing Focus of beBee is something that we’ll explore further down…

Here’s a thought about Content : the Role of Writers

This topic has emerged for me during the Mirror series, which focuses on Content (substance), more than on Big Shallow Numbers (performance). It’s worth looking at “the role of writers” in this big, complex equation. I won’t go into detail at this time – It should be an article in its own right – but I’ll tip my hand:

  • The Assessment of Value in ‘the Information Economy’
  • Writers as Producers
  • Writers as Advocates
  • Writers as (dangerous/annoying) Enemies
  • Writers-as-a-Profession

As a nominal ‘writer’ myself, I have strong feelings about the uncompensated value of content production in the socialNet environment.  But that’s a whole ‘nother rant…

the Trendline

 

Here’s how The Mirror looked over the course of the previous 4 months.The patterns were fairly stable and well-established now:

  • Spanish is the outstanding growth area
  • Motivational, Personal, and Promotional categories are pretty consistent over time.
  • Personal/Art/Philosophy is the largest* category – and is the popular/affinity area
  • Business/Analytical remains weak; Despite that fact, beBee continues to tout itself as a “professional” network

Spanish is a unique category because it quantifies the language difference.  When the language barrier is removed – Personal/Art/Philosophy is clearly the largest content category, in terms of the whole beBee Pie.

 

Advantages and Challenges

We’ve already acknowledged several of beBee’s Advantages:

So, let’s take this opportunity to mention the Challenges that beBee faces…

 

December 2016

 

The fifth Mirror analysis affirmed these TakeAways:

Trend:  It’s the Hispanic-language market, Stupid

The majority of new ‘advocacy/equity ambassadors’ are Hispanic.  That influx is reflected in the Content stream.  There’s a a high and deliberate correlation between ‘ambassadors’ and beBee traffic … Priming the Pump.

Here are a couple of casual observations:

  • The Hispanic-language market continues to grow, as a proportion of beBee traffic. Recent inventories show that it can be as much as 40-55% of beBee traffic.
  • Has it leveled off yet?
  • Will it spread into other international arenas?

As noted in previous Mirrors, beBee has an exceptional marketing opportunity with its international Hispanic positioning.

 

It also exposed an undeniable content pattern:

Pattern: A clear ‘clustering’ of content : Marketing

When I first began theMirror series, I chose to parse beBee content by intention (Motivational, Personal, Promotional, Professional). It’s become increasingly clear that the topical focus of most of these categories on beBee is “marketing”, in its various forms.

This has been an ongoing trend and attribute of content on beBee.  It’s worth acknowledging.  The Motivational content is about Marketing.  The Promotional content is about Marketing.  The Professional content is about Marketing.

beBee is a  socialNet that focuses – almost exclusively – on Marketing.

Any assessment of beBee as a socialNet platform should admit this up front.

A high proportion of the English-language ‘advocacy/equity ambassadors’ are writers.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the focus of their articles is often on “How to succeed at marketing, or writing, or writing-about-marketing in a socialNet environment”.

It might be useful to re-visit our analysis of beBee content with this in mind.

In the meantime, we might simply acknowledge that, when beBee says ‘professional’, it really means ‘marketing professional.’

Let’s acknowledge that ‘marketing’ is a fairly open-ended term that can be – and often is – applied broadly.  It’s also very relevant to the social media arena.  When I identify the ‘marketing’ orientation of beBee – It’s not a value judgement.  Just an observation based on observable data. On a personal note:  I don’t actually hate it, but … Branding is not everything.

Valuation: Personal Insight makes for Affinity

The notable exception to beBee’s ‘marketing’ focus is what I call the Personal arena …

People love to share personal stories – and it’s popular with others.  Often driven by memories, anecdotes, “my favorite music”, hobbies, etc.

It’s the biggest, most consistent source of ‘original’ material (i.e. articles that are written specifically for beBee) on beBee.

This is where people express their passion and find common ground with others on that basis.

In that sense, beBee is actually kind of FaceBook-y:

  • Highly personal, tho beBee offers substantial editorial publishing tools (s.a. styles, layout, images), as well as channels for reaching receptive audiences.
  • You can also pretty well depend on receiving positive feedback from an active network of ‘ambassador afficionados’ (priming the pump) … at least as long as your posting is perceived as acceptably ‘positive’.

However – as on FaceBook – there’s also a tendency towards the ‘echo chamber’.  Audiences tend to be self-selected.  The Social Norm is reinforced by advocacy ambassadors.

There’s plenty of self-affirmation, but not a whole lot of debate.

Which is why …

Assessment: beBee is NOT a “professional” socialNet

beBee is clearly (and unabashedly) a brand-advocacy socialNet …

Partisan advocacy doesn’t play well with professional. 

Yet beBee continues to market itself against LinkedIn:   The shallow one-sided obsession with LinkedIn-bashing further compromises any attempt at being perceived as professional – especially since beBee offers so little original content or credibility in that arena.   beBee’s professional focus is almost exclusively in the arena of ‘marketing’.

As a guy who’s avowedly looking for actual professional socialNet engagement … I don’t find much of it on beBee (though it continues to a big part of LinkedIn).  But – then again – I’m not a marketing professional.

imo:  If anything, beBee is actually much closer to FaceBook in its casual, personal style than it is to LinkedIn.   It just offers better publishing tools.

 

January 2017

Six months’ worth of content inventorying and platform assessment pretty much comes down to this:

the ‘Personal vs Professional’ Dilemma

We’ve got LinkedIn, which is professionally credible and efficient for ‘career networking’ but lacks the warm fuzzies of personal affinity.  I’ve actually forged some excellent relationships there, tho not necessarily on the basis of my favorite music.

We’ve got beBee, which actively is all about marketing and personal connection, but lacks professionalism. There’s subsidized support via its “ambassadors”, but only really if you’re perceived as a member of our team.

In the best-of-all-possible-worlds, there should be something called ‘professional affinity‘.  As a UX guy who’s worked on a bunch of socialNets and intranets, I’ve been kicking this dilemma around for a coupla decades:

How do you effectively ‘leverage the watercooler“? (i.e. reconcile work & play)

Here’s hoping…

 

If your’re interested …

… in more analysis of an emerging socialNet, I’ve published some thoughts on several aspects of beBee:

 

BeBee vs. LinkedIn : By the Numbers 

I “parallel posted” several articles on both beBee and LinkedIn.  Then did a ‘side-by-side’ analysis of their  performance on both socialNets.

Some interesting observations about patterns and values.  As well as ‘how we choose to count things’.

Priming the Pump 

An attempt to level the playing field for this popular topic in beBee’s self-marketing.

The evolution of “the Promotionalist”

  • Buzz: The Confluence of Influence Marketing and Stealth
  • Subsidy : You get what you pay for
  • Useful Metrics an analysis of the dynamics of self-promotion on the socialNet

 

The Magic Marker Exercise

Want to get a sense of what types of info are on a socialNet feed? And who’s doing the talking? Just grab a magic marker…

 

The Full Disclosure Ambassador

  • The role and profile of a subsidized spokesperson in the socialNet environment.  Let’s explore some ethics.

 

Professional + Quality

  • The Affinity Thang
  • The New Relativism
  • What’s the value proposition?

 

 

my Disclaimer (and Boilerplate Apologia)

As noted previously, beBee encourages something of a “cult of personality” – especially among its subsidized promotionalist ‘ambassadors’.  This often emerges as shrill aggression against anything which is perceived as a threat.  The following blanket disclaimer was my attempt to transcend the noise.

Painful experience with beBee Aficionados obliges me to add this disclaimer to any article which appears to treat beBee with anything other than breathless wonder and admiration:

“Well, I might’ve really stepped in it this time. People can usually tolerate numbers – even if they refuse to respond to them. Analysis is often reacted to as criticism. And criticism is usually perceived as being negative.

The numbers are the numbers. My observations are pretty much on the level of ‘obvious’, ‘understandable’, and ‘common sense’ – or at least how I’ve intended them.

If you feel the need to ask “Why do you hate beBee, John?” Please don’t.

By way of context, you might check out my many snippily critical posts on LinkedIn (They go back for years).I’ve been analyzing and advising – or complaining (if you must) – about social media for a while.  I’ve got some dirt-under-the-fingernails experience and skills, as well as a passion, to make socialnNets work – for everybody.

A lot of it has to do with motivation. But that’s a whole ‘nother rant …”

(c) copyright John Vaughan / The Communication Studio
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