Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The One Thing That Made Social Media So Awesome Is the One Thing That's Ruining It

When this blog launched in early 2006, within a couple of months it had about 30 readers. The interesting thing was, I knew about half those readers personally, because they commented on almost every post I wrote.  As a result, I got to know them. I knew who they were, where they lived, what they did.  They commented here, I would go and read their blogs and return the favor. We knew each other and there was a real sense of community.

Then a few months later, people started buzzing about this new site called 'Twitter'. I finally took the plunge and joined Twitter in March of 2007.  It took me a few months to get the hang of it, but when I did, I loved it. Suddenly, I had the ability to connect with ANYONE and EVERYONE.

Looking back, in a way it was like opening a digital version of Pandora's Box. The thing about being connected to everyone is that you really don't know anyone. I hear so many people that have been in social media as old as I have lamenting the fact that we miss how it was 'in the good ole days'.  Before Facebook, before Twitter.  When blogs dominated the social media landscape. None of us had thousands of 'followers', but we actually KNEW the people we were connected to.  Maybe it was only 50 people or even 10, the fact remains that actually KNOWING 10 people is better than being connected to 1,000 strangers.

Look at Facebook over the past year.  Each time we go to Facebook, our Newsfeed is a stream of political posts.  I would constantly think 'OMG I had no idea she was that crazy about politics!'

(Sidenote: It's amazing to me how many people that market themselves as 'social media experts' will then get on Facebook and make complete fools out of themselves over politics. Effectively breaking every rule that they claim to teach companies about how not to act on Facebook.  But I digress...)

I'm constantly seeing posts/updates/tweets left from a follower and think to myself "Wow I had no idea they felt that way!"  Which is really my way of realizing that I had no idea who this person was.  I probably followed them because they were either the friend of another friend I barely knew, or they were on one of those 'People you should follow on Twitter' lists.

The bottom line is that social media makes it easy for us to connect with everyone, but more difficult to really truly KNOW anyone.

And that's a problem I think many of us are dealing with, and I'm not sure what the answer is. I do know that more and more I find myself missing 2006 and the days of your blog being a front porch where just a few close friends met and chatted. That turned into 2017 where a few thousand strangers come together and throw links to our latest post at each other.



Christa M. Miller said...

Spot on, Mack. Over the past year, "the answer" for me -- it won't be, necessarily, for everyone -- has been to focus more on my offline friendships and other relationships. I burned about half my FB friends list and tend to focus more on the small groups I joined there, than on my own feed. I use Twitter and LinkedIn to engage professionally. Last year I found LinkedIn to be a particularly poignant example of what you are saying -- laid off, I reached out to my 1500+ network, yet only a handful, mainly people I knew personally already, gave me meaningful contacts. The rest ignored or sent platitudes.

I've also found that the social norms of different subcultures found on social media leads to a sort of herd mentality that kills any hope of connecting one to one. Internet call-out culture is one example (and takes many forms, isn't limited to just one group), people piling on individuals because they want to show the rest of the subculture how well they conform to those norms. But that wrecks relationships and drives people off "social" media.

I, too, miss blogging, but it seems so hard to find/make the time in among all the other things I do that require thinking. Then again, "not thinking" seems to be the lure of other social media!

Mack Collier said...

Hi Christa! Love your comment and story. I've had similar experiences with LinkedIn and have heard similar reports from friends that where job seeking. Unfortunately, too many people want help when they need it, but if you ask for simple contact info to move a lead along on your own, some people can't be bothered. I don't think this is a 'social media', it's that some people don't understand that relationships are about give and take, not just taking.

In my experience of being on the internet since 1988, I've seen that whenever EVERYONE finds an online site/tool/community, the use experience for everyone seems to fall dramatically. With these sites you have the core commnunity/userbase that builds the site to a point where 'everyone' finds it and then in the rush to join, the experience changes. I saw this with Twitter, it was great until celebrities started posting there, now it's just a cesspool of politics and flaming.

I think most online communities follow this path: Start small, everyone forms deep connections. WOM spreads, the community grows, then at some point it reaches a tipping point and grows dramatically. As it grows, the core experience changes, the early adopters see the core experience has changed too much, and they leave. Eventually, the people that formed the site experience are gone, the masses rule, and the experience completely implodes and everyone leaves.

Start small, grow, grow bigger, get TOO big, implode. Seems many online communities follow this pattern.

Christa M. Miller said...

Thanks, Mack. Do you think there's a corollary to real-life communities, such as cities (or neighborhoods within cities), churches, even companies or schools? Particularly when growth potential seems to be unlimited. For example, the born-and-raised locals of a particular town that gains national attention in tourism magazines, which then gets "discovered" to the extent its culture changes. Was that a good thing in that it shook the place out of its inertia, or a bad thing in that the original culture is diluted? (I'm wondering how much of this is human nature vs. uniquely internet culture.)

Either way it feels harder and harder to make connections to people in any meaningful way, either online or off. Seems like people want to make less and less effort to maintain connection and relationship.

Mack Collier said...

Interesting thoughts, Christa! I think online is always different due to the perceived anonymity of the internet. The bottom line is people act differently when they aren't looking at the person they are talking to.

I also think this helps contribute to a feeling of people being more willing to take take take online without ever thinking about helping as much as they want others to help them.

We complicate social media. They are just communication and networking tools in digital form. If more people acted the same way online when interacting with others as they would if they were offline with that person, I think the internet would be a much more civil, and interesting place.

As to your point about people 'discovering' a place, it seems this happens constantly, everyone goes to Austin, it becomes too expensive and everyone starts moving to nearby Round Rock. Or everyone 'discovers' Nashville, and it changes so everyone moves to Franklin. But when the core community leaves, it seems what attracted others leaves with them.

As for making connections online, I try to go by this simple rule: I help the people that I will one day ask for help. If I find that someone is constantly asking for MY help and never offering to return the favor, I stop associating with them. Life is too short to invest in people that only believe in a one-sided relationship, with their side being the only one that benefits.