GReader Shared Posts

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Slippery Slope of Social Media

If you read much about social media you will hear people talk about the value of relationships with individuals versus broadcasting mass messages to audiences.
This is a valid point and one that I believe is true.

But there is also a slippery slope in social media.

First, most of the early adopters of social media truly are interested in sharing what they know with others around them. They have a sincere desire to be inclusive. And, realizing the importance of these channels to the future of personal and professional life are trying to convert more people to using social media.

Second, the tools of social media encourage enlarging your social graph. The best way to make a Web2.0 site viable is to make sure people can remain active. If you can add people and interact with them easily, you are more likely to remain active on that site.

Third, communities grow up around social media tools. Because the landscape is so fragmented as this space begins to really take off, most people are still building their communities around the tools they use. Users can more easily share their knowledge of social media based on the sites they are using and building communities encourages people to stay active on a site. Communities reinforce the first two parts of the cycle.

However, as this cycle gets reinforced, I feel that it also becomes self-defeating.

When your social graph grows large enough, the content shared through it becomes dis-associated from the individual. It becomes a faceless river of content with the individual contributors losing unique value because of the volume. You can see this in most social spaces. I'll use examples from some of the sites I use.

RSS -- Removes the formatting of a person's blog and provides strictly the content.
Twitter -- Links are easily clicked without conscious thought of who posted it.
Facebook -- Applications go out to your entire network without attempting to filter who might be interested (and often without questioning why you're adding the application in the first place).

When the network grows to this size, you can go one of two ways. Develop strong relationships with a select group with that network or develop relationships with a broad section of your network.
For most people, the first option is really the only feasible one. But, for some of the more natural relators (and more dedicated) you can build relationships with a large network. It's not easy and only a handful will attempt it but that puts them in a very powerful position as influencers of the conversations that happen in your community.

But what happens to the rest of your network when you decide to build strong relationships with a small portion? You get para-social relationships. Which needs a post of its own.


Sam Lawrence said...

The notion of how Social Media can scale while retaining what makes it powerful to begin one, is a fantastic topic and concern.

I think this comes down to attention. As things move wider in the enterprise (or even in the consumer web), the need to put light on what's important is critical. It's even easier to get overloaded with social software.

Stripping out becomes a kiss of death when it kills the interaction. Oftentimes, it's not the look and feel, rather the content and flow of it between between that's the secret sauce.

Trying to control any of that through structure or rules is what will put the whole thing in the toilet.

I think interesting tools will emerge that retain the interaction while allowing for the scale. Now if companies can only dodge trying to enforce their will on it, we'll have some magic happening.

John Johansen said...

Thanks for the comment Sam. I'm particularly struck by your point about "the need to put light on what's important is critical."

I've been reading A Journey in Social Media and was struck by this paragraph in a recent post. (Which I saw first from your tweet before getting to it in GReader, speaking of interaction.)

"One aspect of the Big Conversation is that our corporate social computer can discuss and debate very complex, very squishy topics, and helps everyone understand the broader context, pre-digesting them to a certain degree. It's not always the case that neat solutions emerge, but it's always useful."

If enterprises can keep the interaction level high, the collected voices can process topics that would be too much for individuals.

There's more to think about here than I can fit into a comment. You've got me going down another path, I'll have to explore it more fully later.

Andy Komack said...

Hi John. Great post.

The thing I struggle with in social media is TIME.

I would love to be a more active participant in the various communities that I am involved in. But, my "real" (as opposed to virtual) social community keeps me so busy that I have a hard time keeping up even in that area. I too often neglect my relationships with long-standing friends because of the combination of home life and work.

You and I know each other, so you know that I use social media in my work life (as a nefarious SEO using communities to, oh my god, build brand and website awareness for my clients. The horror.). Of course that is tongue-in-cheek because I do think there is a social media marketing role that is perfectly acceptable in search engine marketing - as long as you respect the communities and add real value.

And, in my use of social media for work, I truly enjoy the connections I make with others out there. I just wish that I could spend time to do what you say and build solid relationships that bring value to those people as well as myself.