Defending New Zealand food exports from counterfeiting and food fraud is like defending air space from aerial attack, says a visiting Silicon Valley social media specialist.
"What's the method of defending? Your answer must be radar. So what would radar on social media look like?" asks sociologist Dr Marc Smith of the US Social Media Research Foundation and chief executive of NodeXL.
That radar might look like the mapping tool NodeXL, suggests the leader of the US Connected Action group.
Through the California-based Social Media Research Foundation, Smith helped build NodeXL, which analyses, maps and groups the world's "thought leaders" talking about a subject or entity through their online tweets and posts.
He's been invited to New Zealand, along with fellow American and food fraud expert Shaun Kennedy, by the Asia Pacific Centre for Food Integrity, a group working with all parts of the food industry to improve food safety, sustainability, traceability and to combat food fraud.
The pair are meeting food industry, primary producer leaders and government agencies.
It is Smith's second visit to New Zealand - he spent time last year at Waikato University, mapping social media around matters of interest to this country.
Smith offers New Zealand's unique - and export lucrative - manuka honey as an example of where NodeXL can help Kiwi food producers harness social media comment and trends.
"We can help identify people who are talking about manuka honey or the health benefits of certain types of honey. Through these tools we like to say we can identify the people who are thought leaders on a topic.
"You can identify friend or foe inbound. Is that somebody saying something good about our brand? Then we should thank them and encourage them. Or is that somebody saying 'you can get much cheaper manuka honey if you buy it from this Chinese distributor'?"
Smith likens the NodeXL tool to taking a photo of a large crowd, but the crowd is a hashtag.
"Is this a happy crowd, an angry crowd, a panicked crowd? You can read a lot into crowds. My point is [people under a hashtag] are similar, but they're virtual, they're not physical.
"The goal of our foundation is to help people think about networks. Think about companies on the stock exchange [for example]. They have directors who often sit on more than one board. They may have interlocking directorships which then form clusters which can resemble industrial sectors but also, financial tribes.
"So it is possible to take apart the economy of New Zealand - or any economy - by looking at it as a network and then applying the methods of network analysis."
While this analysis concept has always been exciting, says Smith, there has been a problem.
"How many of us are software developers? Our response is, that was then, this is now.
"In the same way desktop publishing has made it possible for pretty much anyone to put out a book or a pamphlet without being a typesetter, now we have tools for network analysis, in particular of a hashtag, Wiki page or a Flickr tag. All these things are making connections."
By typing in "manuka" on the subscription NodeXL site, the user gets a page showing among other information, dozens of little squares. Each one is a snapshot of a tweet.
Scroll down and the page tells how many users tweeted "manuka", who they were and what period they tweeted in.
So how does this help a manuka honey exporter or any other company?
"Being distant from more populated parts of the planet means social media offers you a great opportunity to be heard without having to put boots on the ground in London or New York," says Smith.
"You can be heard around the English-speaking world really easily. But to do that you need to be able to identify and engage relevant conversations.
"For example, people who care about women's health may also be talking about manuka honey and in that context the marketing people should know who those leading voices are. They should have a list of them and they should be sending them teeny-tiny jars of manuka honey ... because you are trying to cultivate a global network of influencers.
"And this can be done at a fraction of the cost of trying to get those people's attention through paid advertising."
Smith says his metaphor for the NodeXL tool is "espresso".
"Machines have created a situation in which humans now create more content than humans can consume and that clearly has caused problems. You need the caffeine but you have to consume gallons of coffee to get it. We have an espresso solution.
"If you care about Fonterra, for example, and you also care about 10 other topics, the reality is if each of those topics is generating 1000 tweets a day then you've inherited maybe 30,000 tweets. If you care about a broader number [of topics] you may have 6000 tweets a day about each and you have a challenge."
Instead of wading through many thousands of tweets by hundreds of people, users gain an insight in minutes into the most important people in their sector or area of interest and the most important hashtags, Smith says.
"The idea is that you can receive this on your phone and before you get to the office you have a sense of who's new, who's left, what topics are new, what URLs are new, what hashtags are new. And you can follow them and make a map.
"You become situationally aware of a territory you could not possibly gain an awareness of by reading 10,000 tweets."
Smith says another use of NodeXL could be to map how New Zealand politicians are talking to each other and what parties are talking to each other.
"We have a commitment to education. We want people to understand networks in the world are a thing to pay attention to, in the same way mapmakers before Google Maps would happily talk our ears off about how wonderful their maps were with all that information on them.
"They were right but we didn't want to hear about it - we just wanted to use it [the information]. We have the same circumstances here."
The Social media Research Foundation is science and education focused "but of course because we're from America, we have to sing for our supper", Smith says.
This means levels of NodeXL above a free basic version come at a charge to the user.
For a student the cost is US$39 (NZ$59) a year, for non-corporates US$239 (NZ$364) per year per person and for companies US$799 (NZ$1220) per person per year.
Smith says there are a handful of other mapping tools on the market but they are complex to master - like a fancy camera.
"Our unique point of difference is that we are more like a Polaroid camera. You pick it up and press a button."