Back in January, I argued that the increasing number of social networks will cause engagement fatigue. Well, it wasn't the number of social networks but the number of ways Facebook found for users to share almost every aspect of their lives that will has led to a deluge of sharing.
"So, what we're seeing isn't the expansion of our social network; it's the shrinking of what and who we care about. My Facebook feed is full of what friends are listening to, what friends are reading, etc. And frankly, I don't give a damn. I would care if they told me personally; I'd even care if they used a medium as semi-personal as Twitter. The effort required to tweet tells me that someone thought it was important. And I do care about that. I will care much less if Spotify and Rdio integrate with Twitter. I already don't care about the blizzard of automated tweets from FourSquare."
Writes Mike Loukides in a recent O'Reilly blog posting. The crux of his argument is:
"If we rely on computational systems for a trust framework, we actually lose our instincts and capacity for personal trust; even more, we cease to care about it. And there's a big difference between trusting someone and relying on a system that says they're trustworthy."
Do you think this is true? What impact does this have on agencies and their social networking efforts?
If fatigue is setting in, or people fear that trust can be lost due to the use of computer-mediated communication then they may be over using it. I've burnt out once, and after a weekend of being unplugged I was back to the same surfing, commenting, and sharing. Frankly CMC tools should just be used as another source to communicate, not as a single outlet. Variety is always beneficial, but it would be problematic to rely on one single source or method.
When I first stumbled onto a page at the Dilbert site in 1994, where people could post pictures of their sock puppets, I coined what I like to call "Hammer's Law" (though perhaps someone else had the same idea many years before and gave it a different name).
In brief, it states that "the cheaper and easier it is to disseminate information, the less discriminating people become about what they consider to BE information". You can bet your sweet bippy that when one had to hire a scribe to commit to parchment by hand, people were not busy telling anyone in writing what they had for lunch or who they had a crush on. When long-distance phone calls were cost-prohibitive enough that one felt compelled to use surface mail, pay the postage and wait, and either write things out in long-hand, or type away, and wait for the white-out to dry before re-typing over an error, communication was much less flippant, impulsive, and superficial.
I can't imagine its the same threshold for everyone, but there does eventually come a point when one yearns for the substantive and concise.
Not 2011. End of 2012. I've been talking about the socialmediabust for the last two years, because it's never (I repeat, NEVER) offered the value most people have pushed. And, as I've posted, how people ACTUALLY USE social media isn't near how all the social media experts and advisors WANT them to use it.
There's tons more of my articles on social media, particularly as i..., here, but thumbnail is that social media has always been based on what I call hype and hope, rather than data and reality. 2012 will bring that home on many levels as growth stops, and people get tired of the platforms.
The bottom line is social media will be with us for a long time, but not in "the image" of the what the social media idealists have been preaching. It will still be used along with its original intent -- connecting people who already know each other, but as a means for creating real community, real dialogue, and indepth discussion, it never happened on a mass scale, and people have voted with their keyboards.
If you look at data and good research, and you just look at things from a farther distance, you see that while many try to start discussions, discussions aren't happening, overall. Govloop is a good example of how users vote with their absence of engagement, despite the wonderful efforts of the govloop staff. It's a microcosm of the social media world.
So, 2012, the shine wears off, and VC speculators are going to pull out, and companies are going to fold, be absorbed and disappear.
(I agree with Mark's comments, BTW, in terms of content issues, but I'll go further. Tweets and status updates are not even being read, let alone remembered, by even the most ardent social media-ists. It's throwaway content, and that, masked in the illusion of social interaction isn't sustainable indefinitely. People aren't reading. If they read, they aren't replying or engaging, so what you have is a situation where people post with good intentions, and eventually realize that even if there's 1 billion people on social media out there, hardly a one is interested, because most of them are doing the same thing.
Given the great replies so far, can we fix social media so that is more engaging and has more of an impact?
Bill, I think the answer is largely NO. (But see below) There's nothing to "fix" with social media, because the general lack of dialogue has to do with how real people use social media. If you put aside all the hype and poor research, and look at user behavior, it becomes clearer.
Involvement in social media is largely passive. I know that's counter-intuitive but if you look at the platforms and blogs, the overwhelming majority generate little interaction between people. There's tons of retweets and "sharing" -- that's a click on a button activity that people do. There's little interaction with each other. You can't easily change that kind of user preferences and behavior. It's like educational television. More people "ought" to view it for learning, but in fact, most people choose to watch reality shows and sitcoms.
A lot of the volume of "sharing" is done by marketers, social media proponents, and that doesn't help since so much "participation" is not about sharing at all, but about marketing.
It's a complex issue, though. Social media has always been based on people, rather than topics or content, which I think militates against discussion of issues. The major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) all attempted to provide content areas (groups, discussions) but they were afterthoughts, and they haven't worked all that well.
So, people interact with people they already know, try to make connections with strangers, and, don't even seem to be reading what is in front of them. They don't WANT to have long conversations about issues, with relative strangers. They surf, literally, from wave to wave, skimming, and not even absorbing the content.
If there is a next big thing in social media, it will be attempts to go back to content, issues, and structuring social media from scratch to move away from the pseudo-people connections to content. Maybe.
Right now, social media is used as a way to unwind, and have superficial kinds of discussions and connections. Users have shown, through their behavior, what they want. And it's not interaction on issues. So what's left?
(I'm working off of what I see OVERALL. There's clearly tons of exceptions, but overall, that's what I've seen over the last two years.)
Well that depends who "we" are. If you mean can people utilize these tools to be more engaging? Of course, but that is all determined by the person's motivation and what they want to get from using the tools. If the tools are also built so well that they greatly encourage a better type of engagement that would be idea, but there is not a lot that can be done to change free will.
I suspect the "we" part is whether the people who run their social media areas can improve them to encourage users to participate more actively.
I remember when my agency started its Facebook page. We were just going to use it as another outlet for our news releases and blogs. Hah!
The public started us asking questions, and now our FB page is more an extension of our ombudsman efforts than a news outlet, and it takes the equivalent of an FTE to monitor and reply to the beast.
I'm waiting for Google+ to grow up a little, and for some tools to appear that will make it easier to manage multiple social media tools. I think Circles would let users self-select the kind of info they want and ward off social media fatigue a little longer.
Kevin, I'm glad it appears to have worked out for you, but is it efficient? What value have you added?
I question whether using multiple social media platforms makes ANY sense whatsoever. But that's another topic.
Efficient? For us or for the public?
It is efficient for us because we can answer a question that previously would have been phone or mailed in and provide an answer that the public can see. It reaches a different demographic than we reach with our magazine and news releases. We don't have to spend as much time trying to drive people to our website; we go where they are and show up in their new feed. It is an opportunistic marketing opportunity.
Part of my agency's mission is to provide opportunities for Missourians to use, enjoy and learn about our fish, forests and wildlife. Some outreach tools have a bigger bang for the buck, but traditional media, especially print news, is becoming less and less effective. Putting our message where people are already visiting makes sense for us.
@Elliot and Robert: Thanks for the thoughtful follow-ups! So, should agencies shift their focus from trying to be on a number of social networking sites to being better providers of information with some feedback? In other words, go back to informing the public rather than engaging the public?
There are lots of great ideas that turn out not to provide much return on investment. Waste occurs when these ideas become calcified "business as usual" without evaluation. If the goal is engaging the public in value-added processes, then, after a time of experimentation, that can be measured and the benefits weighed against costs.
When an agencies request public comment in the Federal Register, does this proceedure add value? I'll admit, I have no data, but I suspect social media is a better way to get feedback.
If the goal is to get some fraction of the public to like your agency more, hrm...is that how I want my tax dollars spent?