I don’t think I am realizing the full power of social media.
I am admittedly ambivalent. I want to believe the pundits and social gurus that say that we have entered a new age. It sounds fascinating to hear about the endless possibilities of personal change and societal development that can come from the positive aspects of collaboration. It gives me hope for the prospect for an egalitarian society that enriches all. I want to believe – but I just don’t see it.
By way of full disclosure, let me share my user profile. I am a user of the 3 main social media sites. I follow around 800 people and have a little over 900 followers on Twitter. I have 500+ connections on LinkedIn and about 200 friends on Facebook. Suffice it to say I am not a power user; but I am around the sites enough to wonder what I am doing there. I look at my day to day interaction on these sites and have become lost in the dichotomy between the soaring rhetoric and the reality of my experience.
Take Twitter, for example. If you look at my timeline closely the first thing you will notice is that the vast majority of the tweets are from the vast minority of my universe. The 90/10 rule.
Following closely behind it becomes apparent that the tweets that I see can be categorized fairly easily into three buckets. Maybe it is because of my personal interests – but maybe not. First there are those who, through strategic links, advance their view of current events. What is interesting to note is that almost all of the tweets in this category are from the left side of the political aisle. No judgment there – just an observation.
Second are the mystics and quasi Zen meditative types whose contributions are mostly around mindfulness, spirituality and the inadequacy of our corporeal lives. With a little bit of astrology thrown in for good measure.
The third (and most prevalent) category are the aforementioned New Age management/leadership/social media gurus who impart their wisdom and vision on those of us not able to see the sea changes taking place in the world around us. Through constantly repeated tweets and itemized lists of helpful tips about how to manage ourselves and our businesses in this brave new world, they are , in fact, pursuing a parallel path – sharing snippets of enlightenment while relentlessly promoting their related book or blog. An electronic medicine show.
LinkedIn is a different animal entirely. A mystery wrapped in an enigma. Supposedly a forum for professionals to network and share insights, it is patently unclear to me what value it holds. The key is in the definition of “network”. Is it the ability for businesses to target customers? Is it the ability to solicit people for jobs? When people tell me that they are on LinkedIn for “professional reasons”, I wonder what those reasons are. Maybe it’s insight gained from the posts. I have posted and read many posts by others and find that the material is generally narrow in scope, many times technical in nature , and tend to center around trends, analytics, or the ubiquitous category of “leadership”. My own included. As I survey my own contributions and others, I find myself asking myself why did I put this there? It seems pointless because the material is not overtly actionable as one would expect on a business site. . By the way, the posts are also closed in nature. You cannot access them for another platform without logging in to LinkedIn. Hmmm.
As far as the opportunity mining is concerned (either for jobs or customer prospects), I suppose LinkedIn provides some value by enabling an itemized list of contacts and a sortable list of fields, interests and spheres of influence. But the rules that apply to the offline world also apply here. You have to find a contact that is interested in what you have to say and offer in order to make a true connection. LinkedIn provides a place online to develop, at the end of the day, what is nothing more than a mailing list. That is it.
Finally, there is Facebook.
As the largest of the platforms and, ostensibly, the most ambitious in scope and vision, one would anticipate great value and the realization of all the power that social media portends. My own experience is otherwise.
First of all, like Twitter, the posts on my timeline can be easily categorized. First there are those who repeatedly share pictures of their kids or their pets (pets are more frequent!). There is nothing more to say about that except that if cuteness is a measure of value than there is plenty of that to go around. But we all know what happens when we eat too many sweets….
Secondly, there are those who never really have anything to actually say, but post “likes” and “share” superficial and obvious slogans dredged from other sites along the shore of the Internet. These slogans are usually presented in a font that is designed to convey an air of wisdom and calm in the tempest of our daily lives. Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey. And there is never anything original.
And lastly, there are the political manifestos. Slogans, links and salvos presented to the body politic for consumption and reflection. On my timeline, these are invariably right wing in nature, bordering on fanatical libertarianism. While the left leaning views on Twitter seem arrogant while mocking the GOP or other conservative groups, the posts on Facebook seem much more ominous; where disagreement is implied as unpatriotic or treasonous – downright un-American.
But while this may all seem self-evident, the thing that really strikes me about Facebook is that those who are doing the posting never take their audience into account. Posts, no matter what category, constitute what is interesting to the person doing the posting. I rarely find something on Facebook that is put out there in the interest of the collective sharing of information or learning. It is just not in the DNA. While Twitter has been criticized for being nothing more than a mini blog, Facebook seems to be essentially that – a place for people to talk about themselves and reveal their own raison d’etre.
I admit that these observations are only my own and could very well be a byproduct of my own mix of followers, contacts and friends. But I would submit that I am, in fact, not alone in my user experience and that, for some, the world of social media might feel the same. The irony of it all is that I will be posting this piece on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and it will be a part of my own strange loop of recursive self-reference. I am biting the hand that feeds me but I will continue to question the validity of the alleged force that is sending us to the next stage of civilization.