It seems that for many, this thing or shall I say buzzword we call social media has become strictly a numbers game. He who has the most followers wins. We are seeing this time and time again, on Twitter, Facebook and so forth. It's at a point where it's out of control, I feel. The true value of social media or conversational media has been lost for some, including myself.
The power of one-on-one relationships has been lost:
It's been lost due to the popularity game of who can acquire the most followers on any given network. Take Twitter for instance, while it's clearly gone mainstream, it's also the number one haven for drive by spammers. The service is riddled with marketers attempting to make a quick buck. When I mean marketers, I don't mean responsible corporations who are using Twitter for customer outreach.
I'm a list builder, look at me!
Then you have the mass list builder crowd. These people follow anyone and everyone just to build a massive following. These people make no attempt to have a conversation or get to know the people they are following. They simply create lists. I don't see the purpose of this. What's the point of saying I have 10,000 followers on Twitter? In the real world it means absolutely nothing, these are not bragging rights to be proud of. Again, I'm strictly referring to the list builder crowd, not anyone else.
Now that you have established that list of 10,000 followers, what are you going to do with it?
Spam me with links to clickbank sites? Tell me how much money I can make unlocking the power of Google for $89.95? Or better yet, advise me on how to get 1 million new twitter followers in 30 days for $65.00? I guess I will be rolling in the cash soon. Seriously who falls for this crap? I know there is a sucker born every minute, but come on, even in this day in age people are smarter then that. I'll tweet this crap every day and hope someone bites, I guess this is the mentality these spammers and list builders have.
The more popular social media becomes, the less it will become social:
The core of what I believe, is social media is built on meaningful realtionships. Following people you know or are attempting to take an interest in, personal or professional. This is what Facebook was once for, correct?
While I'm certainly not here to tell you how to use social media, there were simple guidelines set in place at some point in time. Of course they were not etched in stone, but they existed. One of the great things about social media, is everyone uses it differently, but in the end, it achieves one common goal, communication.
Getting back to Facebook, this was the one social network that was pure at one point. It was the place that separated personal from professional at some point in time. It was either or, not both. If I want to connect with old school friends or family in other parts of the country, Facebook was the logical mechanism for this. Today it's a different story, for the most part it's become like Twitter, a popularity contest. He who adds the most strangers to his list wins! Let's think about the ramifications for a second, especially on a network such as Facebook. Do you want complete strangers knowing intimate details of your life? Of course not. While it all depends on what you share into the system, the privacy and safety issues will start to become a big deal, it's already happening and it's going to get ten times worse in the oncoming years.
I admit I was late on the Facebook train. Being involved with social media and writing about it, it made sense for me to establish a presence on that network. I would be foolish if I did not. Don't get me wrong, you always need to be where the conversation is taking place. Facebook for me is only an outpost, it's a point of presence where people can find me, my website and if need be contact me, that's all. I don't use Facebook to connect with old friends, because i'm in touch with my old friends already, and my primary contact is on the telephone or email. Most of my network of friends rarely if ever use Facebook. I have a total of two family members who live in other states that are on Facebook, occasionally they will contact me there, but other than that i'm not big on Facebook.
When I started blogging, I started establishing one on one relationships with friends and followers, most of these people have added me on Facebook, and for the most part I reciprocate back. I have had conversations with a majority of these people. They are subscribers of my blog and or follow my work, they are not total strangers, if that makes any sense. There has been some meaningful conversation at some point in time. If you are asking whether I am worried about these people seeing my content on Facebook? Not at all, because I do not share intimate personal content into the system in the first place. Occasionally I post some pictures of my daughter or update my status, but primarily using Facebook as an outpost, I don't worry about privacy issues, because for me there are none.
Getting back to Twitter:
I have been on Twitter for just about a year now. In the beginning, when I followed a handful of people and vice versa, the experience for me was satisfying. Because then, Twitter was not as mainstream as it is now. The spammers and list builders were not privy to Twitter then. Within a year, that quickly changed. Twitter, just as Facebook, is now an outpost for me. I use Twitter to update my status occasionally, communicate with a handful of colleagues primarily thorough DM and media snacking for news. Twitter is a great tool for discovery, I use Twitter a lot in the background nowadays mostly for search.
Being a blogger, I would be foolish not to have a presence on the network, just as I do with Facebook. I practice what I preach, but it does not consume me. Sure you see a follow me on Twitter button on the sidebar of this blog. It's for anyone who wants to follow my blog and if need be communicate with me. Don't expect me to be on Twitter 24/7, because i'm not. When I am on Twitter, I do not use it to spam my latest blog post, which I will do from time to time, but to share information that is newsworthy to me and possibly you. When I find great blogs or great postings I will Twitter them, this is what social media is about. I might be bored on occasion and Tweet the weather is great today, but for me it's primarily all business. That's how I use Twitter.
If you want to Tweet all day about every time you eat a meal or have a bowel movement, feel free to do so. Just don't expect me to react to it :)
And then there was FriendFeed:
Right around the same time I starting using Twitter, FriendFeed came onto the scene. It's at this time when Twitter suffered major downtime almost daily. I started to devote all my time to FriendFeed and never looked back. FriendFeed changed the game for me. Not only was the service stable, but it was a different beast then any other social network and still is. At its core it was intended to be a social content aggregater, but has and is quickly evolving into a social network. One that is innovative, responsive to their user base, and in a lot of aspects is still pure. It's pure from the spam, downtime and social media meltdown these other services are suffering from. It's not as mainstream as Twitter and Facebook, yet.
For almost a year, I was a hardcore FriendFeeder. A good part of my social graph traces back to this site. I use to live on the site 24/7. While i'm still active on FriendFeed nowadays, i'm not the power user I once was. For me priorities in life have changed. Starting a new job and having a baby all contribute to me being less active on the site. I will always be a loyal user of the site and still aggregate my social activities on the site. I just lost my power user status. But in the end, being a power user leads to what I talked about, the end of meaningful relationships. The Dunbar theory is correct, once your social circle goes above 100-150, it's extremely hard to maintain, follow, and react to every conversation around you. It's simply impossible. On FriendFeed, it's a lot easier because we can use lists to limit the noise to signal ratio, and it helps tremendously. Same as with Twitter, we can use tools such as Tweetdeck to group our social circles in categories.
Lists are now the tool of the choice for fake following:
I thought when I set up my handy list system for FriendFeed it would help me. Yes, I can follow my close friends and their activities, which is what I do. But the rest of the lists I have set up, I find myself rarely checking anymore. I tried to devote time to them, but it basically amounts to fake following. Keeping track of over 1200 people on FriendFeed is a time consuming effort and one that I do not have time for. My main list gets the most attention, because it's my core social graph, and the list is only comprised of 100 + people. It's manageable, but the other lists with several hundred people are not.
It's now one list and one list only:
The old system I was using was comprised of tiered lists, based on a few criteria. The criteria was based on the users activity level, what they shared and so forth. I had five tiers set up on top of my main social media list. So every time someone followed me, I had to put them into a holding tank which was tier-D, then keep an eye on them and gradually move them into tier-C and so on. This went to crap in no time soon, and amounted to fake following the majority of people. Sure some people follow me because they like the content I share into the system or they read my blog, for whatever reason they decided to follow me, and i'm cool with that. Being a blogger, I expect that, it's only natural.
My solution was to eliminate all my lists, except my core social graph. Now everyone is dumped into the home feed. Everyone has a fair chance now, it's up to me to check the home feed for a sampling of the masses who are following me. I no longer need to judge people based on criteria. Sure I may scan through ten pages on the home feed, but if you are active on the system, I will see it. Who am I to judge? If we establish some type of relationship, I can always move that individual into my core social graph list, if not, no harm is done.
My mentality has been and always will be: if you follow me, I will follow back:
I won't lie, in the early days it was a nice feeling to see all these notification emails of new followers on the various social networks, it was a sort of high. Being someone who writes about social media, it goes with the turf and rightfully so. It's my mentality of if you follow me, I will follow back, that is partly to blame. I'm not saying or telling you not to follow me, if you have an interest in me or my work, by all means follow me. What I am saying though is it's gotten a lot harder to devote time to everyone, compared to a small group of people.
Sure I don't have to follow you back, and a lot of people live by this rule, I do not. If you took an interest to follow me on any social networking site, I will follow you back, with the exception of blatant spammers. This is how I diversify my social graph and learn new things. You may not have anything in common with me, but maybe one day you will, that's fine as well. When you want to take that next step to engage me in a conversation, you know where i'm at and I welcome it, time permitting of course. This is why I follow almost everyone who follows me on Twitter and FriendFeed, I love to media snack, a coin termed by Robert Scoble.
Just remember one thing:
If you follow me and I follow back, do not get mad if there is no interaction from me. You have chosen to follow me for whatever reason, if you are expecting a conversation then take the next step to create one. Otherwise, you are just a follower/fan, and that's fine with me. It's not logical at this point to personally engage every follower. I simply can not and will not. While I use a social media dashboard to track things, I occasionally miss things. You can always DM me or better yet, use the contact form on this blog to reach me. Email is something I check daily, Twitter is not.
With all shiny new toys and tools, it's email that still works the best for me:
Sure I have a presence on the majority of the popular networks, but it does not mean i'm on them 24/7. The fact of the matter is i'm not, and even If I was, I still would not be able to keep track of everything that interests me, a conversation, tweet, or FriendFeed comment and so forth. RSS for the most part takes care of that, but it's not perfect.
Maybe i'm old fashioned in this social media age, but email is still the fastest and most reliable way to contact me. Nothing is going to change that anytime soon, if probably ever. So if you really need to contact me for whatever reason, email me. You can send me a tweet, and the majority of the time I'll see it, that is when i'm on Twitter or using search which is not every day. With email there is no excuse.
In the end:
The social media landscape is changing at a consistent fast pace. I'm not here to tell you how to use social media, that's largely dependent on your objectives, weather it's for personal, professional or for both. I'm just wondering in the big scheme of things if social media has lost its enamor for most. Because the picture i'm seeing is completely different than the picture I saw just a year ago. Social media is still in its infancy, but it's hard to get a good picture of where it's really going from this stage. Once the spammers and list builders discover that they are wasting their time, and once the corporations fully stake their claim, what are we going to be left with? I'm optimistic and yet a little disheartened about the current state of social media that we are in.