The tools and technologies that have aided and abetted the social era have grown up and forsaken us.
The big social players have all rolled out features and functions that position them squarely as media platforms that maintain comments functionality, rather than their original roles as social networks.
Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter aren’t the new MySpace, they are the new ABC, NBC and CBS (tweet this)
Our desire to connect with one another (and with companies and organizations) via these platforms is what drove their usage and rise to prominence in the first place, but now that they have our attention (and do they ever), they’ve pivoted to supply us not with more and better ways to interact with real people, but instead more and better ways to consume content that corporations pay to put in front of us. Sound familiar? It should, as this is the exact same model network television has employed for 60+ years; give away something that is truly wanted (programming), and when people take you up on that free offer en mass, monetize that aggregated attention wherever and however possible.
Facebook Wants to Join Coffee as a Morning Ritual
Facebook’s new Paper app is just the most recent development in the move away from social and toward media. The name is no accident, as Facebook aims for its new mobile darling (and it IS slick as hell) to be your primary, catch-all source for information, replacing the bygone era’s newspaper. Remember in August, 2013 when Facebook announced it would penalize “low quality” content like memes, in favor of “quality” content from trusted publishers, like traditional media companies? (good write-up about it here by Brian Carter). Well, Paper is the manifestation of that move toward quality content, and ridding the stream of memes coincidentally frees up more real estate for promoted posts from advertisers.
Linkedin is quietly building the same thing for business content, using their Pulse app, and Twitter already has a lock on breaking news (at least culturally), despite Facebook’s occasional cries that it has more real-time chatter and hashtag usage.
The Product Creator is You
What’s both insidious and brilliant about the Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter moves to become the new networks that monopolize our time and attention, is that unlike TV broadcasters that have to pay for what they put on air, the new big 3 media titans are mostly curators that are simply taking the content that you, me and every other user publishes, and repackaging it as a vessel for advertising adjacencies.
The world’s one billion social media users are history’s largest unpaid workforce (tweet this)
Look at the Linkedin Influencers program, whereby the company has invited thousands of name-brand personages across many business disciplines to publish on Linkedin. These posts create significant traffic for Linkedin, and boost exposure for the thought leaders. But of course, this content is created for Linkedin for free, giving it more advertising inventory and simultaneously building relationships with an influential group. It’s pretty much the most successful blogger outreach program in history. (disclosure: I am not in the Linkedin influencers program, but am evidently “on the list” for inclusion some day).
Social is a Means to an End, and That End is an Ad
The reality is that the Big 3 (as well as Instagram, Snapchat, Vine) do not inherently care at this point about whether or not you are able to satisfactorily connect with your friends and family. “Social” and “Engagement” are a means to an end for them now, a stickiness engine; a reason to keep you spending time with them every day. I don’t begrudge them, necessarily. They are public companies with shareholders (including me) to appease. But somehow it all feels like a bit of a disappointment, as if the “power to the people” sloganeering of the social media revolution was just curtains obfuscating the money-making machinations under construction.
With so much money at stake, perhaps it was naive to think it wouldn’t end up this way. But the truth is that if you want to keep the social in your social media, it’s up to you to do so.
Day-to-day, in practice, what do you think that means?