It’s not getting a lot of coverage, but social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are facing serious trust issues right now from their users. And it’s hurting their stock prices, Twitter’s stock has gone from close to $50 a share in June, to $35 a share today at the end of August. Facebook’s stock has also been hit hard, going from around $220 a share in July, to around $175 a share now.
What’s causing the drop? It would be easy to say that concerns over how the social media platforms display content and worries over potential censorship based on political affiliation is driving the fall. This is definitely playing a role, but I think there’s a far bigger underlying issue that’s been at play since the sites were launched over a decade ago.
Over the years, social media has morphed from being communications tools, to being ego tools. It’s somewhat understandable, appeals to ego (number of followers you have, how many Likes and RTs your updates get) are very strong, perhaps even necessary to some degree to drive user growth. But these appeals to ego have fundamentally changed user behavior.
And in a very bad way.
The great promise of social media was always that everyone has a voice. We are all connected. Conversation changes the world.
Yet if you look around, there’s not a lot of conversation happening on social media these days. There’s a lot of broadcasting, and a lot of yelling.
I’m in a rare place among most social media users, in that I can remember being active online before Facebook and Twitter. Back then, we didn’t call it social media, we called it ‘blogging’. There were blogs, and MySpace. That was pretty much social media in the days before Likes and ReTweets.
In those days, there weren’t a lot of numbers to game. It’s wasn’t about how many followers you had or how many Likes a post got, it was about the conversation that it started. I can still remember waking up at 2am on many nights simply because I couldn’t get a blog post I’d read earlier that day out of my head. I’d have to get up, open Word and write a comment. Or if the comment grew long enough, just open Blogger and write a new blog post.
As Facebook and Twitter grew (then later Instagram and Pinterest, etc), we became sort of ‘trained’ to gravitate toward shorter and faster communications. Which led to broadcasting more than talking. I mean if you have a deep thought you want to get out there, you have to constraint it to 140 characters in a tweet. And hell, who can wait 2 mins to see if anyone responds, so just stick it in a blog post, tweet out the link, and wait for everyone to ignore it.
Social media has changed our thinking, and our behavior. We don’t talk to each other anymore, because we don’t have the patience to wait 5 mins to hear what the other person thinks. We send out a tweet and immediately start looking for RTs and hearts. When you do that, it changes your behavior. You create content (tweets or updates) in a way to drive engagement. That means less talking and more yelling. Because yelling drives engagement. Being angry drives engagement.
Taking the time to listen to the other person’s perspective? Well you don’t get Likes or RTs for that, so to hell with it.
But How Can I Tell Who is the Most Popular or Influential on Social Media Without the Numbers?
The argument for Likes, Followers, Retweets, etc has always been that we need a way to measure who is ‘worth listening to’. Who should you follow? The guy with the most followers, so the logic goes.
The problem with focusing on numbers is that numbers can be gamed. If you tell me that number of Twitter followers is the most important metric, then I can instantly get 1,000 followers in the next 24 hours by simply following 2,000 people. About half will follow me back. Or I could simply buy 10,,000 followers, likely for a few bucks.
Again, if we just go by numbers, then someone will find a way to game the numbers. Look at Twitter, and note how many people you see with 50,000 followers who are following 50,000 people. Yet here you sit with 5,000 followers following 50 people, and you think that person is more influential than you are.
What if you had no idea how many Likes or RTs or Followers someone had on Social Media? What if all the numbers we currently use to decide if someone is worth following or listening to, were gone. How would we judge if someone is worth listening to?
By what they say. We would judge people based on the content they create. This is honestly how it should be. Our criteria for creating content shouldn’t be “Is this going to get social shares”, it should be “Is this going to make an impact on the people that read it?”
Think about the word ‘impact’. Think about something impacting another object. It changes that object. A literal impression is made.
Will your content make an impression on its audience? Because if it doesn’t, then what the hell are you doing?
BONUS: Great post from Kathy Sierra – More buzzwords, likes, RTs and followers are only a potential competitive advantage if both you and the competition are mediocre. Think about that.