Friday, December 16, 2011

No more social media navel-gazing... A Resolution for 2012?

I've had the good fortune to travel widely, to more than 100 countries in all, and one of the recurrent experiences I've had in doing so is also one of the most banal: many people who travel widely spend a great deal of time while traveling, particularly in unusual locales, talking about traveling, particularly to unusual locales.... Now I grant this might reflect more on the people I associate with and the places I go, but it comes to mind when reading two recent pieces about social media. The association is that many people who use social media (Twitter, especially comes to mind first here, but also FB, Tumbler, FourSquare, and blogs) do so largely to reflect on their use of social media. I plead guilty to such navel-gazing myself, occasionally, and perhaps we're all justified with being fascinated, exhilarated, frustrated, or just plain curious about new technologies and the routines and interactions they enable. The real issue I'm raising is one of proportion and arises when the majority of tweets, comments, or posts are primarily self-referencing. Only a few insightful folks can really get away with this -- for me, the few like Jeff Jarvis or Seth Godin --and the rest of us are simply adopting a parallel of the proverbial self-conscious tracking of what one is having for breakfast or ordering at Starbucks.

The two pieces that prompted this thought are from Seth Godin and Alexandra Samuel. Godin's piece is about marketers' (mis)use of social media and the noise it creates. While not directly the problem I'm pointing to, I believe it speaks to the same push-pull of fascination and uncertainty around social media that generates endless (and mostly vacuous) reflections. For marketers, indeed, the imperative is to use social media, any social media, to increase their numbers of fans, friends, and followers regardless of content or the reasons why. The underlying rationale Godin seems to identify is, the more tweets, posts, or other words, the more followers -- while the real result, as he says, is actually just more volume, or noise.

The second piece also speaks to the allure of increasing numbers in social media, though for Alexandra Samuel it is more about personal benchmarking -- again, though, of friends, fans, or followers, in raw numbers or composites like Klout. Her response takes the form of ten commandments for social media sanity in 2012. Threading through the list is a desire to escape the measurement trap and even the resulting dehumanization she sees such benchmarking as possibly contributing to. While that more far-reaching claim deserves a longer discussion than is offered in her post, it does speak to the potential stakes of incessant social media navel-gazing. That all may be worth a resolution, or at least some offline reflections, as the new year approaches.

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