The 10 Biggest Social Media Lies

Thursday May 24th 2012 by Mike Elgan
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Forget what you know about Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The truth doesn't match the myths.

People say a lot of dumb things about social media.

Once a wrong idea hits the technology-pundit echo chamber, it takes on a life of its own. When repeated enough, even the most absurd falsehoods about social media become “true” through repetition.

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to stop and take a reality check. Here are the ten biggest social media lies:

1. Twitter and Pinterest are social networks.

Who started this one? For years, Twitter was accurately referred to as a microblogging service. But in the past year or two, suddenly everyone lumps it in with Facebook as a "social network." Pinterest, too.

They're not social networks. Twitter and Pinterest are blogging services in the same category as Tumblr, Blogger and Posterous (acquired by Twitter in March) -- services that let you publish your words, along with links and pictures, to lists of people who follow you. The only fundamental difference between Twitter and Tumblr, for example, is arbitrary limits on the number of characters you can post on Twitter.

Yes, Twitter and Pinterest are "social." But what isn't social these days?

And since everything is "social," we need reasonable criteria for what we mean when we use the phrase "social network," to distinguish actual social networks like Facebook and Google+ from social blog sites, social video sites, social whatever sites.

Some things are and should be defined by the existence of multiple features. For example, a home is defined in part by the existence of facilities for sleeping and eating and bathing and so on. It’s not one of these features, but all of them that makes a home a home.

A bathroom by itself is not a home. A kitchen by itself is not a home. A "home" by definition is a building with multiple basic functions for living.

A "social network" also requires a combination of communications media. Facebook, the quintessential social network, let's people broadcast status updates, post on walls, poke, chat, message, Skype, comment, upload pictures and more. It’s these multiple avenues of interaction that make a social network a social network.

Twitter is just “status updates.” Pinterest is just pictures with captions. As such, they don’t qualify as “social networks.” They can’t be meaningfully categorized with Facebook and Google+.

So let's stop being sloppy with language. Twitter and Pinterest are not social networks.

2. Social networking is for the young.

Everybody talks about social networks as the exclusive province of the 18-24 crowd. In fact, all ages are heavily represented on all the social networks.

About two years ago, a rash of studies shocked everyone by pointing out that older people are more active on social networks than younger people. In fact, as of 2010, the biggest segment of users was in the 35-44 age group. The second biggest segment was users in the 45-54 group. And even the 55-64 year old group was slightly larger than the 18-24 crowd. A whopping 79% of all social media users were over the age of 24.

3. Everybody loves Facebook.

Predictions for Facebook's IPO were all over the map. Most experts thought Facebook would do great right off the bat. They haven't.

The conventional wisdom about Facebook was that seasoned, professional investors wanted nothing to do with it. The IPO was too heavily hyped to be a good investment, and the fundamentals and direction of the business too unclear.

But not to worry, we were told. Facebook's rabidly enthusiastic fans would gobble up the stock out of pure love.

It didn't happen. Why? Because people don't love Facebook.

Facebook is the Microsoft Windows of social networks. It makes practical sense to be on Facebook because everyone else is on it. But real passion about Facebook itself is hard to find.

People love the people they love, and the people they love are on Facebook. But nobody loves Facebook.

4. Nobody loves Google+.

Google+ is the Macintosh of social networks, the service with fewer but far more passionate users.

In fact, the original Mac evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, recently called Google+ the Macintosh of social networks, and said that seeing Google+ for the first time was a "religious experience," just like when he saw the Mac for the first time.

People love Google+.

5. Google+ is a "Ghost Town."

Pundits and writers keep repeating the myth that Google+ is a "ghost town," a service that nobody uses.

Meanwhile, pop star Britney Spears recently passed the 3 million followers mark on Google+, only eight months after Google+ opened to the public.

Ashton Kutcher was the first person to reach 3 million followers on Twitter, a milestone reached in the summer of 2009, a full three years after Twitter launched.

Eight months vs 36 months to reach the same milestone.

Google+ is the opposite of a ghost town; it's a riot of user activity, and growing faster than Twitter or Facebook ever did.

The "ghost town" myth comes from the measurement of public posts and public activity, and does not account for private posts and, doing things like following and reading about and commenting on and sharing and doing Hangouts.

To accept incredibly narrow and misleading data as truth is stupid.

It's like measuring how much food is eaten nationally by looking at only restaurants, and ignoring food eaten at home, school, work or in cars.

Google+ is not a “ghost town.” It’s the fastest-growing, most active new social network ever launched.

6. Automatic sharing of user activity is a compelling feature.

Facebook recently launched a series of add-on features that let people automatically take advantage of “frictionless sharing” of what articles they’re reading, what music they’re listening to and other content consumption.

This the dumbest idea ever. Nobody wants to broadcast details of everything they read and hear. And nobody wants to hear everything about what others are doing.

If anything, the automatically sharing of content consumption on Facebook has caused people to lose respect for the people they used to respect. “Oh, look. My formerly respected co-worker is reading an article about some celebrity busting out of her bikini.” Not impressive.

That’s why it’s no surprise that so-called “social news apps” are failing catastrophically.

7. Google is forcing everybody to use Google+.

Online pundits and celebrities have been whining about how Google is pushing it’s Google+ service on everybody, shoving Google+ social signals on search, and requiring YouTube users to sign in to Google+ in order to “Like” or “Plus one” videos.

Google has explicitly stated that they are unifying far-flung services into unified, integrated services.

Who says a company can’t unify its services?

If Google had launched with all services integrated into one, nobody would complain. But because they’re boldly unifying services after the fact, everybody is claiming falsely that Google is forcing Google+ on people. In reality, Google is bringing it’s services together into a single super service.

8. Companies can “game” and “use” social networks for profit.

Public relations and marketing firms continue to cling to the delusion that they can manipulate social networks from the outside for the monetary gain of their clients.

This will never happen. There is no way to truly influence people on social networks without participating. Real people have to actually engage with others on social networks or no influence is possible.

9. Social networks will monetize with banner advertising.

Another problem with the Facebook IPO is Facebook’s business history as being dominated by old-and-busted display advertising.

Nobody is going to get rich with banner ads. The future of social networks is social signals combined with artificial intelligence to serve up advice and promotions very narrowly targeted at individuals.

Banner ads are just a stop-gap source of revenue while companies figure out how to take it to the next level.

10. People care about privacy.

Nobody cares about privacy. Everyone will whine and complain about bad privacy policies, and Facebook’s notoriously complicated features for overcoming the default settings, which violate the privacy of users.

But dangle any minor benefit, discount or convenience in front of the public, and they’ll give up their privacy without hesitation.

Social networks have become important. It’s time to stop accepting the myths and falsehoods about social networks that the pundit echo chamber would have us all believe.

Social is important. Social is the future. But the lies you’re being told about social networking need to be challenged, refuted and killed.

Stop accepting social networking lies.

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