Peak Social Media
Blogs. If you were serious, it was about blogging. Blog well and your audience came. Google loved you too, you were filling the internet up with juicy content and Google was building an internet that was all about content , so they rewarded you with organic traffic (boy, didn’t they play that well?). But, and this is my summation mind, because it was ‘work’ to make a good blog, the detritus didn’t bother turning up for the show — too much effort required.
Then social media arrived.
The promise seemed great didn’t it? A network where you could connect with other people around the world, sharing whatever it was that you did, or were into, no matter how mundane. It was all there, packaged up in one spot, so you didn’t have to be concerned with finding traffic — the river was at your front door. Social Media was like throwing shit at the wall, compared to blogging’s actually having to build the wall; and the added bonus? You didn’t need to be too bright to make it happen. What’s more, it was all served up for free and like pigs to a trough, boy, didn’t we all lap it up?
And the blogs? Well blogs didn’t die but not far off as people’s attention spans dwindled to 2 seconds… and people lost interest in reading something more than a sentence or two.
As the years went on and platforms came and went, it started to become increasingly obvious that we are all being played. ‘Social Media’ was a ruse, a big fat wolf in a very good sheep costume. We were all encouraged to share, post, put it out there, and in return we’d be followed, liked, loved; we’d sell heaps of ’stuff’, if we had stuff to sell. Whatever we did, up it went. Take a picture, write some words, share it with everyone. All the while we, like lemmings off a cliff, put increasing efforts into building ‘content’ (a term used somewhat loosely in many instances) for the platform of our choice; and where in the case of a blog, the content was and always is yours, the content, information, data, we threw up on SM became theirs, to be done with as they wished.
The collective ‘we’ built Facebook, Instagram, whatever. And we did it… for free.
Think about that for a while.
It all came to a head for me recently with Instagram. About a year ago I started a new account for a side project, though I’ve been using it since 2013 for my business. When I started way back when, it was a fun challenge with potential rewards for putting in the time. But over the years I have watched the changes, big and small, some obvious, others, only noticeable if you were really paying attention.
The new account had no business involved, it was just something to put what I was doing out there, so for all intents was a pretty casual affair. I had been doing a fair bit of reading and research for my business account, so for the most part was mostly up on how to navigate the Instagram beast. I felt reasonably confident I could build an interested audience given enough time.
But then shit started to get weird.
I’d already noticed the effect the non chronological based feed was having on accounts. I was not a fan of the idea but at some level did come around to it, if only because I was seeing longer post engagement windows on posts; where the chronological feed came and went, meaning you had to nail your posting times, the ‘new’ non chronological feed served up your images over a much longer period, so their burn time was longer. I am not saying the new system had a positive effect (seeing the same post several times over a week is pretty rubbish) but I can’t say it had a hugely negative one either. But the fact they made the change not to ‘better the experience’ as claimed, but to clearly promote the power users, was a sure sign of bastardry to come.
It was the first brick of increasing evidence that social media was being gamified. Users were being played against one another for the goal of most loved, most popular…. most bankable. Where once posting a pic was enough, soon you had to post video, then stickers, then stories… each step made it more difficult to gain traction unless you were all in, and had the endless time and resources to play the game.
As the months marched on, things started changing in earnest. At first the new account grew at a rate I was happy with. Nothing even remotely mind blowing but enough to let me know people out there were /finding/ what I was doing and were interested enough to want to follow me. But as Zuckerturd increasingly sank his claws into it, engagement started to plummet, follows died and of every ten new follows I gained, 8 were either bot accounts of some form, or those sad sods that do the follow and dump, in the hope you’ll follow back before they ditch you (a lot of those accounts are also bot driven as well). And just like that, before anyone realised it, Instagram was returning a whole lot less love than it was being given, all for free mind you.
And the days of wholesome organic growth? Dead.
Wasn’t that the whole point of social media? People, not algorithms, not a greedy arse wipe, were supposed to decide what to like and what not…
And that’s the crux. Social media platforms want me to give them the fruit of my labour at ever increasing volumes and complexity for the promise of being seen, all for free. But what they are actually giving in return as part of this transaction, has become so little it’s now effectively something for nothing. In other words, we are now nothing more than slave labour, playing a perverse machine driven game, and at what cost?
This seems to be more a case of antisocial media.
Whatever sort of media, at some point someone was going to have to pay; and where most platforms ran for years without advertising or memberships, one had to wonder where was the money coming from? Investors demand returns. But the coin finally flipped and the covert strategy started to shine through — social media was actually commercial media and users, the currency.
I can’t help but feel social media is hitting its peak. Yes, I keep seeing the numbers that Instagram now has some hundreds of millions of users and is still going but how many of those are active a or bot accounts — Facebook’s always fiddled its numbers. I imagine for all but the most vain/sad/desperate, or brands still trying for viral success or still in love with the idea of low budget market reach, the ongoing idea of dishing out more and more content for less and less in return will wear thin and people will start leaving ; everybody likes a bit of love’n after all. It’s started happening with Facebook after the ’truth’ started to roll out, I imagine the same will happen elsewhere for a range of reasons. What the next thing will be, it’s hard to say, everyone is still stuck in the current idea of what social media looks like, but I get the feeling a good user pay system might be the answer; who will be brave enough to launch something like that now?
Until then, I will still be using Insta and the like, if for nothing more than to keep putting stuff out there (for myself) and to keep interacting with some great ’tribes’’, as Jeff Goins would term it. For me though, it’s time to go back to websites, where my efforts are all mine and more importantly, so is my content. Sure Google, unremarkably, is making organic growth harder (but Google is not the only kid on the block) but ultimately it still comes down your own efforts. Yes, it’s more work but more rewarding — one can do more, present more, achieve more when you are not dealing with the swipe up mentality.
Sure, many out there don’t have attention span to read or spend more than 3 seconds on something any more, but there are a lot of people that do; if you got this far, you’re probably one!
If this struck a chord with you, I suggest you read @cameronwatson3 wonderful piece as well.