How do we distinguish between self-promotion and online sharing?

A rule change by the administrators of a facebook group stimulates a few thoughts on self-promotion and sharing and whether social media administrators have to distinguish between them at all.

Russ Grayson
Jul 30, 2020 · 6 min read

IS SHARING weblinks on a social media group the same as self-promotion?

That’s what I wondered when I read of rule changes of one social media group. The changes place a limit on non-member links to their own website or blog. Members can post any number of links. Reading to the end of the notice I saw that it was a ploy to encourage membership. Fair enough, but potentially limiting in providing information posted by non-members.

It got me wondering. Is placing limits on the flow of information the best way to recruit members? It seemed to be an attempt to gain something positive by stipulating a negative.

Let’s look at this a little deeper.

Sharing and self-promotion

Sharing is a critical function of the internet. It was a motivation when the early bulletin boards and other early internet platforms were launched. They went into decline with the arrival of the Mosaic browser in 1993, a graphic user interface. Sharing took on wider dimensions when Myspace and Facebook were launched.

The organsation in question hosts a public group on facebook. Anyone can post there after a moderator vets their content. Most posts are questions and answers and links to stories on other media. Yet, when non-members post links to stories on their own website or blog it is called self-promotion.

On reading the rule update I realised the organisation was mistaking sharing for self-promotion. Sure, in some situations a blogger might self-promote, however we have to ask whether that is a problem when they post relevant and useful information.

We need to distinguishing linking to a website or blog from advertising. An organisation is justified in restricting links to a blog or other site which advertises because the hosting organisation could be seen as endorsing its products and services. The organisation posting the rule change allows members to advertise.

In the media we talk of production, distribution and consumption of stories. The three stages are necessary to provide access to information.

Sharing is not necessarily self-promotion. It is distribution.

Is the rule change based on assumption?

The rule change suggests, without saying it, that there is something wrong with bloggers promoting their work. Why this is so is not explained. It comes across as one of those ‘don’t do this’ statements rather than a ‘don’t do this because…’ explanatory type.

Saying that sharing is self-promotion is an assumption which probably represents the thinking or the administrator group rather than an understand of how the media production > consumption chain works. No reasoning is given, however the appeal to membership provides its own explanation. Interestingly, the organisation hosting the social media group does its own promotion in other social media groups.

Clear explanation rather than a blanket ban would provide openness, understanding and clarity.

Why do writers blog and link?

Unlike the time-ordered flow of posts on social media which rapidly disappear down the timeline, a website or blog is a permanent, accessible record. It is more accessible because of the way most bloggers order their posts. Thus, it is more visible and findable than a post on social media.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that people will read longer stories on a website but are less likely to on a social media group. Blogs and websites offer more opportunity for long form writing and greater versatility in placing photos and illustrations than social media. These reasons offer more justification for posting on a blog, and then letting people know the story is there on relevant social media. Writers will link to their stories through platforms such as facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The rule change limiting the number of link posts by non-members sounds fair to members and to recruiting new members. However the reality on social media is that people could go and post on more-open social media.

The downside of limiting non-member links is that it potentially limits access to information to both members and non-members and, potentially, devalues the utility of the group. Perhaps a private group where only members can post, rather than a public group would be a more appropriate structure to limit non-members links.

Linking to external websites and blogs on social media is not self-promotion. It is distribution.

Leaving space

The rule changes say to ’leave space’ for others. This is a misunderstanding of the structure and function of social media.

Back in the days of print there was a finite limit to the amount of content that could be published because print publications have only so many pages.

Online media is different. There is no shortage of space other than that stipulated by a publisher. There is plenty of space for anyone to post.

Space is unlimited on social media. Bloggers linking to their stories on a website do not reduce the opportunity for others to post. Others’ choosing not to post more frequently does.

Once, I came across criticism of some social media groups where a number of frequent posters were said to dominate the group’s postings. In reality, they do not take space from others because online space is theoretically unlimited. The comment needs reframing to view frequent posters to be like the columnists of print media—writers who post opinion, educational or other pieces with which visitors can agree or disagree and post their comments, thus starting a conversation thread through which we can all learn. To draw on placemaking, frequent posters could be viewed as an ‘establishing presence’, people who are often there and who post interesting stories and photographs. That visitors do value frequent posters is something I have noticed over the years.

Let’s reframe the argument. Frequent posters become prominent not because they post too often but because others post too little.

Scarcity thinking or recriuitment?

I don’t know if the rule are only an attempt to recruit new members or whether they represent scarcity thinking as well. There’s nothing wrong in attracting members but the organisation could be up-front and more open and transparent about it.

Bill Mollison, co-inventor of the permaculture design system, spoke of resources which diminish with use, such as timber and oil, and resources which increase with use. Knowledge and information posted on blogs and websites is one of those that increase with use. Every time someone has a new idea or invention and talks about it on their website or blog, that information resource grows. It is made available by posting links on social media.

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