Social Media Suffocation: Why I’ve Had Enough Of Networking Online

Sep 29, 2011   //   by laustinseo   //   blogging, Contests, SEO Blog, Social Media  //  25 Comments

This is a guest post from Lewis Austin. It is part of The 2nd annual “Bad Ass” SEO Guest Blogging Contest.

I don’t know about you, but I believe that all those one-time satisfied social networkers are FINALLY beginning to stem the hysteria that’s been surrounding the craze for a number of years now.

The original concept of social media is dropping dead, partly because more and more people are beginning to pick holes in its design and influence. Those who were quick to jump on the social bandwagon have found that the fast-growing phenomenon can only plod along for so long until it hits a big, brutal brick wall.

A lot of web users wouldn’t even have been interested in the launch of Google +, even though it is supposedly a revolutionary platform that will change the social media landscape irreversibly, because it’s automatically been compared to every other network of its kind (*coughFACEBOOKcough*). The reality of it all is that none of the features behind the best-loved social networks are new. Everything in the social media world has been done before and I’m clutching at straws trying to find anything that’s blown me away recently. If you look at the major networks and question what sets them apart from the rest, you really start to find more similarities than differences. And often the underlying reasons causing the introduction of each feature are much more flawed than you, being a fierce social networker, would care to admit.

DOOR-KNOCK POLITICS

The new features that have been released are simply expansions on what we already had. Take, for example, Facebook Places. Essentially, Facebook Places has just ripped off Foursquare and Gowalla. And for those who don’t know, Foursquare and Gowalla are location-based social networks that revolve around their ‘check-in’ feature. This means that if you’re meeting up with friends you can announce your new location to a select list of friends. Facebook decided to kill their app off, as they realised that only 6% of users had actually bothered trying it, so now the Places feature has been integrated into status updates. Which in itself is just irritating.

I’ve got a couple of burning problems with this system. Firstly, there is no need to dish out your latest physical location on a digital map for everyone to see. What purpose does it serve? Facebook makes all sorts of personal information available to others anyway, so essentially any nosy soul is set up to become your stalker; they can already look up your email address and phone number but now have the opportunity to track your current location too.

This feature is obviously raising concerns for safety of the younger generation of Facebook profilers. Despite the rules there are a lot of kids on Facebook who are clearly under 13 (a whole separate issue for a whole other blog!). Although some may argue that FB can’t be responsible for those who break FB law, these fledgling users have created a danger for themselves because their entire list of friends has full access to all of their information. It’s all too easy to imagine how less-than-scrupulous members of society would go about getting in touch with those who are slightly more impressionable.

You need to ask yourself if you want all of your Facebook friends to know exactly where you are 24/7.  This isn’t a trust issue but more of a case of TMI. Quite frankly, being constantly bombarded with details about someone’s whereabouts is dull.

Anyway, the crux of the matter is, Facebook Places was not an original idea. Fact.

Now here’s one you may have spotted. Google Circles is just a developed version of Facebook’s Groups. This Google+ feature allows you to organise your contacts into particular groups, or Circles, and lets you choose how you share your data. Basically, this means you can separate dignified posts from slightly less savoury updates and distribute different types of information to different groups of people in your life. But, however well Circles took off initially, once I waited for all the Google+ hype to die down it became clearer to me that there was definitely a primitive version of Circles already available to app-starved socio-lites.

Facebook Groups were clearly the inspiration for the big G’s ‘pioneering’ feature. It must be said that Google has used this idea as a crucial building block for its platform and developed the initial idea significantly, which is highlighted in comparison to the lacklustre reception of Groups – in fact, it has to be said that many Facebook users did not really know about the feature and found no valid use for it. (…Myself included).

THE TWITTER-PATTER OF TIRED FEET

Twitter is the micro-blogging social network that has acquired 200 million users since its launch and it is safe to say that in terms of popularity, this site has literally exploded. The whole concept of Twitter is just a squished-down version of Facebook, taking all of the good qualities that Facebook offers to networkers, simplifying them and condensing them all together to create the hassle-free conversation platform that we all know and love. The process of befriending one of your peers consists of the click of a button and once you’re deemed a ‘follower’ you gain access to their status updates as and when they happen.

There is a bare minimum of information that is actually shared between users. All that’s required is a profile name, your general location and a paragraph about yourself. One of the most appealing things about Twitter is the simplicity of it all, I suppose. Updates are only 140 characters long, so all information that is shared is short and to the point (a concept that Facebook never really understood right from the beginning, with their fancy lists and whatnot). You don’t need to read through a novel of uninteresting information to find something useful. However, what is happening on Twitter is not new – the idea of ‘following’ others and checking out their updates is practically a simplified RSS Feed.

There is a mentioning feature which allows you to let someone know you are talking to/about them, but again this is a meeker version of the status tags on Facebook where you can tag someone in a post. The recent addition of the promoted Tweets feature leaves a lot to be desired, too. Allegedly set up to give businesses the opportunity to stick a short ad up alongside their relevant search terms, the idea is a spin-off of Facebook paid search advertising, which itself is an adaptation of Google’s highly successful Pay Per Click model. Despite its good intentions (for the profitability of businesses if nothing else), the feature seems to have slipped right under the radar and remained so unobtrusive to the point that many users have wondered whether its introduction was worthwhile.

THE MARRIAGE OF FACESPACE AND MYBOOK

Yet the classic case of feature-swapping is best explained by the rivalry between Myspace and Facebook. These networks were both possibly the biggest international social networks going at any time. I remember when Myspace was big. Myspace drew in the younger generation of networkers through its clear focus on custom pages and entertainment, but the novelty soon wore off as users began to migrate over to Facebook. I had a lot of fun on Myspace myself but when all of my friends began flocking to Facebook I had no choice but to join – after all, what is a social network without any friends? You’re just talking to yourself on a pretty little platform.

In an attempt to win back some users, Myspace introduced the same features that helped Facebook win users, such as photo tagging and of course the infamous like button.

We do need to remember, however, that this brutal method of prising users from the arms of the musclier, more exotic newcomer is not uncommon. Resorting to copycat tactics has always been a last ditch effort to win people back.

IT’S BUSINESS TIME

More and more businesses are flocking to social networks in the hope of building brand awareness and generating leads, but this trend isn’t a new one either. In the past, businesses simply had to go it alone. There was a distinct lack of professionalism and strategy behind social media management, with companies stabbing users in the dark with half-arsed promo campaigns, but now social media management has expanded into an actual occupation. Proof of this is that SEO companies and the like employ dedicated social media marketers (such as myself!) to manage the successful manipulation of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. We handle everything, from the basic layout to the select information we share with fans. Companies will invest in this service because, as long as their chosen social marketer knows their stuff, social networks are the equivalent to free advertising – it just takes some time to determine the methods that will work best. But despite starting every social campaign with the best intentions, we have to ask ourselves this simple question from time to time: have those very users we’re looking to influence cottoned on to our efforts? Are they so used to being ‘sold to’ that they simply shake off all our attempts to amaze them? Social networks weren’t set up to cater for big money-hungry brands.

LOCKING YOUR DOORS AND LEAVING NETWORKS THE KEY

Privacy is an issue that’s constantly niggling at the back of our minds. It’s simply human nature to want to keep our information safe and secure; hold our cards close to our chest. The on-going disputes about each user’s right to confidentiality are going to eventually determine the way in which we communicate. We need to understand that the net was made for sharing, yet still have some say in the way in which our personal information is used. Unfortunately, it’s a debate that’s not going to get resolved anytime soon, and here’s why.

Google caused uproar with its real names policy. Even though Plus was still in its beta stages, if Big G believed you were posing as someone else, you got promptly kicked off. Such was the case of Violet Blue, a renowned author and blogger who’s so highly regarded that she once appeared as a guest on Oprah. Violet was invited to the network by Big G itself, yet once the fake names policy was put in place, her account was suspended. Work that one out.

Teething problems, perhaps? I don’t think so. The Google+ team have stuck to their guns and are of the opinion that you need to pay for the privilege of joining their network by surrendering your identity. Using fake names makes it impossible for your closest friends to find you and therefore goes against the entire principle behind SOCIAL networking. But for many, the issue is this: if you’ve been using a make-believe persona throughout your entire cyber life, why should you need to disclose your true identity now? Many enjoy venting their frustrations or meeting other like-minded tech-heads completely anonymously. This ‘real name’ palaver caused problems for many and turned G+ from a convenient communications platform to a definite hassle within a matter of weeks. I reckon all the effort put into restricting usage should have been put into creating a safer, more secure environment for all networkers.

FB-I

There are hugely popular conspiracy theories related to Facebook and its privacy policies. Many believe that the CIA use Facebook as a data mining system, which sees them flaunting the fact that many of us have become dependent on it and will happily choose convenience over security any day of the week.

The well-known ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous have warned that they’re planning to take down Facebook sometime around November 5th. This group of free radicals is being targeted by the FBI and have already infiltrated many government run websites that they consider against their cause. Better back up your favourite pics just in case then, hey. Targeting Zuckerberg’s crowned jewels is no coincidence, though; group leaders were furious after sussing out that Facebook will desperately hold on to your personal information, no matter what you do. If you decide to throw in the towel and delete your profile, FB will ‘hold on’ to your info, just in case you decide to return with your tail between your legs. They won’t just cling to your name and email address; they’ll make sure they store all of your activity history. If I’d have known this when I first set my profile up, I would have avoided joining completely!

Surely, the only move that will truly ‘revolutionise’ social networks would be giving users full control over their own privacy settings. Not just the ability to decide who’s allowed to tag you in their album or who’ll be able to track down your late-night video-sharing – proper, true control of your online footprint. Finding a way to make it harder for close friends and complete strangers can dig through a past that they weren’t involved in. My personal opinion is that having that information available is practically advertising it to be read, so I guess the best way to fight FB’s policy is to be extra careful about what you release.

PROFIT ABOVE PRIVACY

So, keen to overturn this dismal perception of network privacy, Google+ launched with the admirable intention of making sure everyone was upfront and honest about their identity and used their profile for the right reasons. What they fail to tell you is that, once you’ve set up a Gmail account, the bots crawling their servers can pick out keywords from your messages and use what they find for targeted advertising. They’ll pick out frequent topics from your conversations and send you useful (*cough*) ads and tailor-made discounts from relevant companies. Now, if we received our post already hacked to pieces by an over-eager mail man, we wouldn’t be best pleased, would we? So in terms of the way your account is manipulated, is this purely a case of ‘what I don’t know about can’t hurt me’? One step forward, twenty gigantic strides back, big G.

Microsoft actually took a stab at Google’s prying eye and created the GmailMan video to promote their new, slightly more ethical email service. It’s an exaggerated stab, granted, but the root of the problem is clearly raised.

REALITY AND WEB-ALITY

There used to be a clear line drawn between reality and web-ality. In real life you pop off down the pub for a pint and a catch-up; in web-ality you connect with those you never would have met were it not for the internet. Yet it seems that as time goes on the web still strives to become as realistic as possible. It’s important to remember that once you’ve ‘friended’ someone on the web, they’ve generally got unlimited access to your online movements. This isn’t like real life. In real life, if you meet a new friend, you don’t tell them everything about you. Some things they just won’t want to know.

With each ‘convenient’ update released, with each development launched, we’re told that we become closer to the ‘ultimate’ social networking experience. These platforms were set up to make it easier to connect with people, but what if we’re just victims of a communication overload?

This could be said of the latest changes that have been proposed for the Facebook layout (which, by the way, haven’t been received particularly well). The design updates, which were revealed by founder Zuckerberg at the annual F8 convention, include plans to encourage each user to share as much media as possible, allowing each of your friends to watch your online life almost in real-time. To replace traditional profile interfaces, Zuckerberg wants to roll out a vis-audio timeline of your activity, replacing streams with a mish-mash of videos, photos, audio and statuses. Facebook has received criticism from the masses – many have protested by describing the new look ‘too cluttered’ and ‘too complicated’ and are of the opinion that the site has become ‘too difficult to use and enjoy’. There’s too much going on, quite frankly, and users have been put off by the inability to easily shut off particular aspects of their life from certain friends.

The Likely Aftermath

Trying to tie together all these issues in what was supposed to be an upbeat article has been a mammoth task. But at the end of the day, I feel that many of us are still blinded by networking’s glory days and refuse to accept that the networks’ foundations are crumbling. Unless we can break down the barriers that stop social media REALLY progressing, we’ll simply keep getting fed the same ideas over and over until we fall off the wagon completely.

Listen and learn, social networks. Your users don’t want real life, they want freedom, optional anonymity and, above all, choice – three aspects of social media that are quickly slipping out of their reach. Major turn off; major brick wall.

But what do you think? Are you still enjoying social networking as much as ever, or do you feel the concept has been exhausted too?

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Lewis Austin lives in Chelmsford, England, and is the Social media Marketer for SEO Positive Follow his blog on Twitter

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Comment Policy

  • DanniL says:

    I enjoyed reading this, nice one. When I first started reading it I didn’t get why you, as a social media marketer, didn’t just write a post bigging up all the social networks. It’s an objective view of social media which is refreshing and unlike most of the stuff I’ve read online. I suppose above all it highlights the need for FB etc to up their game and remember that user experience is the #1 priority. I know I’m starting to get fed up of hearing headlines about privacy, security etc.

    • laustinseo
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thank you so much DanniL, I was a little bit worried that people would think it is a really negative post, because it pretty much is, especially when I work with social networks everyday! I was hoping people would understand the necessity to think outside the box.

  • Nice post. Lengthy I should say, but a very good one nonetheless. The headline, being a direct contrast to the existing status quo, sure does kindles one’s curiosity. I agree with you on the Facebook Places thing. I don’t see a solid purpose either.

    Nice article. Well done.

  • Karen Scott says:

    Your post title made me read the post, at first I thought, what? Then after reading the post I realized that the post has some good meaning and is very different from the “norm”. I would like to see more posts like this on the subjects of Social Media & Internet Marketing in general.

  • James Lowery says:

    As you say, a lot of the individual functionality within the networks is derivative, and there are people (and businesses) who don’t know when to shut up, but I think that the idea of social networks glory days are behind them is wide of the mark.

    The need to communicate is innate for humans: we’re born to talk, social networks like Facebook and Twitter have brought people closer together, they’ve democratised the ability to broadcast information and made individuals and businesses more accountable than they’ve ever been.

    The platforms may be flawed and I share your concerns about data security, but I think that in part the naïveté of the system is to blame. We’re in a data economy, and social media is the foundation of that system. Facebook has 800 million members. It’s the biggest and most complex idea exchange in the world. They’ve achieved that success simply through offering communication tools. I think that The next few years could be incredibly exciting as people actually start to realise the possibilities that FB offers and gain the ability to become completely creative with the tools it offers.

    Really thought provoking post.

    • laustinseo
      Twitter:
      says:

      Hi James, thanks for the comment, Im glad you agree with some of my ideas about social media, and i do understand that the future could be incredible for social networks, but it is a question of the originality of the features and so on. I just found out today that Facebooks’ Timeline had already been vaguely done by a much smaller site.

  • I like the idea of the more developed “circles” on G+ because I feel that it offers more flexibility to separate personal contacts and business contacts, but I have to say the real name thing and the chatter about G developing an online identity system is just too much.

    I agree with your premise; I also have been feeling the stagnation a-brewing. Nice article.

  • I totally agree with what your saying. Social media has been dwindling away for the past few years now, look at the major attempts Facebook are now taking to try and keep people entertained. Maybe google+ will steal the lead and become the ultimate social network…. time will tell.

    Me personally I simply use the networks like you suggest, brand awareness and one way links to my content.

    Keep up the good work Lewis

  • Michael Q Todd
    Twitter:
    says:

    Social Networking is barely starting. Only 10% of the world participates even once a week. Social is now the default. We just have to learn how to be more open and random and trust that everything we need to see will find us

  • Michael Q Todd
    Twitter:
    says:

    Oh just saw this! Nice feature

  • Sonny
    Twitter:
    says:

    There’s this great quote in the Bible that says (I’m paraphrasing) that there’s nothing new under the sun. The latest and greatest of anything had a predecessor.

    When you think about it, if Google Circles was a takeoff on Facebook Groups, the latter might have been inspired by Myspace’s top 8.

  • There don’t seem to be answers here. What could social networks do that isn’t just eating their own tails? “Likes” have been around since the first reputation system on forums. Smaller social networks like Digg brought crowdsourced quality checks; now it’s not just your friends who filter links… oh wait, that’s from forums too. And everything from forums is just from Usenet. Let’s just be glad the terminology has moved away from “finger.”

    Also, do you see Timeline as a paradigm shift for Facebook, moving from social network to “cradle-to-grave” social copilot? Or is it just window dressing, trying to match the sheen of Google+? What about the role of Open Graph in general, seemingly trying to tie the web together with one website as the lynchpin? If these aren’t new, then they haven’t been used in quite that way before.

    I think your point about privacy places the blame on the wrong person — it’s all about the individual. Despite Facebook’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I won’t be using the “lost a loved one” edge. I won’t be letting it check when I’m logged into certain sites. But I do use the “got a job” edge and let Facebook help me share content on other sites.

    It’s on them to say “it can be done if you want” and on me as a user to say “no I’d rather not, thanks.” That’s how any feature works — you don’t have to use it, and just like in marketing, the savvier person will know what is the better part of valor. I’d like to think that a company wouldn’t just add a feature without knowing if it’ll be used — and I think location check-ins, which were less mainstream when they weren’t part of an existing social network, are now common in statuses and Tweets.

    Finally, I just don’t see the data showing the kind of social networking fatigue across the board. Sure, those of us who started on Facebook “before it stopped being cool” and had a MySpace in high school might be tired of the “next big thing,” but social media saturation seems, on the face of it all, to be only increasing — especially as you include things like daily deals, which show up for most users not on a separate site, but in their inbox. How does this jive with your “social media is dead” argument?

    As Internet marketers of any stripe, it’s important to be able to cut through the “robble robble” of the masses and accurately show to non-marketers that many of the issues brought up here are at worst red herrings. This is kind of like Fairsearch for Social Media — raising points that would be more legitimate if only the more glaring ones were solved.

    • laustinseo
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thanks for the comment Douglas. There’s a lot to think about here and thanks for challenging some of my ideas! I think the main point that I wanted to get across is that this article wasn’t supposed to give the reader any answers, but was meant to appeal to those who are able to think objectively about social media and appreciate listening to a different opinion of networking. Actually, Business Binocular got it spot on by describing the premise as a ‘direct contrast to the existing status quo’ (a phrase I wish I’d used in the post itself!). Too much is said in favour of social sites because users panic that they’ll lose everything they’ve become so dependent on.
      That’s not to say that Facebook etc haven’t got an essential role to play in modern society. I think it’s so important to remember that these sites are supposed to enhance our lives, not dominate them, and this is my mantra as a marketer. Everything in moderation. When it comes to what you were saying about placing the privacy blame on the wrong person, you have a great point – it IS all about the individual. But the individual shouldn’t have to sacrifice their privacy to use the site. Many people who aren’t quite as savvy as us industry bloggers simply don’t know how to arrange their security settings, and they shouldn’t have to read through a mountain of small-print to work out how to keep sensitive details under wraps. Network bosses would improve the entire experience by making it easier to choose HOW you network, not shroud the entire clause in secrecy and confusion.
      “What could social networks do that isn’t just eating their own tails?” – That is exactly what I wanted the reader to ask himself!
      I see the Timeline as a pretty useless addition to Facebook (same opinion as with Places) and most other people I’ve spoken to about its introduction would agree that it was only set up to indeed ‘match the sheen of Google+’.
      Social media saturation is the exact problem with the entire system. Social media isn’t dead. I think that it’s evolved into something that some might describe as very, very far removed from the original concept – whether this is a good or a bad thing is entirely up to you, and increasingly dependent on whether you use networking sites for business or for pleasure.

  • I really enjoyed this post and never really thought too much about how each social media site has evolved. From reading your post you can see the similarities between all of the sites and that they are all really ripping each other off to stay ontop of the game.

    A really well written post full of great information.

    Tristram Lodge

  • Nick Harris says:

    Twitter-patter of tired feet, I love that! I cover ATV news and when something new happens or a story breaks or the latest ATV racing results are in the twitterverse lights up with the exact same message on every profile, almost. Then there’s the army of auto-posted blog entries. I don’t have time to read the same article over and over and over ya know?

    • lewis austin
      Twitter:
      says:

      I thought i had to make the article a little light hearted because it can be seen as quite pessimistic, and i know just how you feel, the problem with that is that one of social networkings’ biggest features is sharing. Some like to be the bringer of news for their followers and so on but others want to receive this news. It has just become such a solid part of social media, it seems that it will always be that way, so we must use that to benefit ourselves.

  • [...] Social Media Suffocation: Why I’ve Had Enough Of Networking Online by Lewis Austin [...]

  • Baby Blog says:

    I can’t breathe! ahhh!