Summary: Social media companies (particularly Facebook and Twitter) seem to be in the process of going for the easy, big bucks of big media companies, and are willing to sacrifice what made their services popular. Independent creators, while still using these services, cannot rely on them any longer. We must be able to reach our audience through internet-standard tools like e-mail and RSS.
I don’t like being right.
Remember a month ago when I posted “The Beginning of the End of Social Media“? Facebook had just started its promoted posts program. Twitter simply had problems with too much of a good thing. And G+ (which I ignored in that post) is largely unadopted, despite (or perhaps) because of the difficulty of putting good content in1 and Google trying to shove all their services into each service.2
That’s why simple services like IFTTT are so awesome and valuable – they let you get information to your friends (or audience, or yourself) across platforms.
But instead of each social network doing its one thing and doing it well (and exposing API hooks so people can find value on your network without having to be on a bunch of them), that’s changing. More.
Overview of Social Media
As mentioned, Google+ is still sparsely populated. And while some of the folks who use it heavily are very interesting people indeed, the value of social media is through both content and (more importantly) the network effect. And the user interface has been growing steadily more cluttered and annoying. (I created a userstyle to make the Google+ interface less cluttered, which helps.)
Facebook is still filtering posts based on what it thinks you want to see (and charging fees of up to a thousand (or more?) dollar to promote a post). While tools like Social Fixer help – a lot – it’s still difficult. Even the “Pages Feed” isn’t sorted in chronological order.
And now it looks like Twitter – once the most egalitarian of the bunch, the hero in sharing the news of the Arab Spring is positioning itself to pivot into something different. It looks like it’s wanting to change into something about consumption instead of sharing, about brands instead of communication.
The Way Media Was Then
It wasn’t all that long ago that media options were extremely limited. Everyone knew the same songs because you had a very limited number of radio stations to listen to. Everyone watched the same programs, because cable was expensive. Getting HBO was A Big Thing. Having over thirty channels was A Big Thing.3 Streaming video was a pain in the ass and rare. And eBooks (and other technologies that have let independent authors and artists make a living) simply didn’t exist in a viable form.
That’s no longer the case.
The Way Media Is Now
The prior media ruling class are upset. Their business models (and presumptions of guaranteed profits) have been burning away over the last decade. They know we’re still spending money on entertainment – entertainment spending has gone up by 6% over the last decade – but with more choices, we’re not always choosing them.
They’re seeing artists and creators exist without them and making a living through reaching out to their audience through social media. At the same time, social media companies find themselves needing to increase (or have) revenue. It’s a match made in some soulless corporate hell.
In this kind of situation, social media companies will try to make their money by subverting their service so it best serves the advertising and promotion needs of big budget advertisers. They’ll try to do All The Things, and do none of them.
Big media companies will (continue) to turn social media terminology into buzzwords – but instead of awkward and laughable attempts at engaging their audience, they’ll instead “suggest” “improvements” to the service to turn it into another tube of consumption.
|They did social media right.|
I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy. I’m saying the economic and social factors in play make this scenario all too likely. Despite some large advertisers who have successfully used social media without subverting it, adapting your corporation to reality seems riskier than buying reality off. Facebook has already gone a ways down this path, and Twitter’s definitely turned in that direction.
It doesn’t look good.
No Longer Relying On Someone Else’s Platform
So what should independent creators (and basically anyone other than the “big fish”) do?
This is the time to continue the DIY and independent ideals that have transformed media. In the last decade, we’ve pioneered ways to exist alongside (and sometimes totally independent of) the old media hierarchy. Social media platforms were seen as a tool, but they’re not. They’re companies that own a tool. This is the mistake that got us in this position. So instead of relying on (yet another) company and starting this whole damn cycle again, it’s time to actually use tools.
- Continue to use social media like you already do. I hope I’m wrong about all this.
- Do not waste your time, money, or energy trying to compete with the “big fish”.
- Keep an eye out for the next social network, particularly one that is actually a tool. Identi.ca, while ugly as sin and poorly adopted in the US, has some good features – combining the best of Twitter and Tumblr in one network. And it’s open-source, so it might point the way to creating a decentralized social network that’s a real tool.
- Invest the time and energy to have platform-independent ways of reaching your audience.
Here’s what I mean about a platform-independent way of reaching your audience: Use tools, particularly ones that already exist and are part of the existing standards of the internet:
- Develop a double-opt-in e-mail list. (Here’s an overview, MailChimp has some interesting stats as to why double-opt-in is a better option overall.) Mine is paid for as part of my hosting package with Namecheap.
- Host your own website and own your own domain name. Again, I use Namecheap for both domain name registration and webhosting, and have for years without a problem.
- Make sure your blog is hosted on your own site or by a company/service whose business is blog hosting (such as WordPress or Blogger). This means that having your blog hosted by a review site or store’s site is flat out wrong. Change this now.
- Ensure your blog has an RSS feed. You can use Feedburner to format the raw RSS feed from your webpage, and it’s really easy to set up. You can use your RSS feed to feed into many other sites, such as GoodReads or Amazon’s Author pages. For example, this is the link for all Alliteration Ink News, and should automatically subscribe you (or present you a lot of options on how to subscribe, depending on how your browser is set up). Feedburner will even send your RSS feed as e-mail – click on this link to subscribe to ideatrash by Email.
- Contact pages (if not your front web page) should have options for these things, and explanations if needed.
- Advertise your e-mail list and RSS feed in your projects.
- Form alliances with other independent creators like yourself – one e-mail that has five cool offers is less likely to be ignored than five separate e-mails with one offer each. (E-mail overload sucks.)
None of these steps will actually hurt your existing web presence. If anything, they’ll make it stronger. And by controlling it yourself, if all social media companies implode tomorrow, you’ll still be able to reach your audience.
1 The whole point of a social network is to share information, not force me to repost it manually. Especially for folks who live as timeshifted as I do.
2 Seriously. When I want Gmail, I don’t want Gchat. When I want G+, I don’t want Gchat. The one time I want Gchat – when I open Google Voice – it’s harder to start a chat (or phone call from my PC) than it is in Gmail. WTF.
3 Kids, I’m only talking about the mid- to late-nineties here.