Are Your Social Media Profiles A Wasteland?

This past weekend Leo Laporte made a troubling discovery about his social network that’s having him question everything he’s done with social media over the last few years and giving him one giant buzz kill.

Google Buzz on an iPhone

For the last few months Leo has been posting to Buzz and having what he posts to Buzz also appear on his Twitter account. On Sunday he noticed it wasn’t working. His Buzz posts weren’t being displayed on Twitter, leading to less engagement in his Buzz feed. They hadn’t been displaying for a couple of weeks. Things like that happen, of course. It’s not a big deal as far as the technology is concerned and I think Google has already discovered and fixed the bug.

The troubling part is that no one noticed. Not any of Leo’s 220,000+ Twitter followers and not Leo himself.

In his own words:

It makes me feel like everything I’ve posted over the past four years on Twitter, Jaiku, Friendfeed, Plurk, Pownce, and, yes, Google Buzz, has been an immense waste of time. I was shouting into a vast echo chamber where no one could hear me because they were too busy shouting themselves. All this time I’ve been pumping content into the void like some chatterbox Onan. How humiliating. How demoralizing.

Leo goes on to mention that fortunately his most important content is under his own control and in front of an audience that would notice its disappearance.

A castle's outpost

Social Sites are the Outposts – Your Website is Your Home Base

Adam Singer picked up on the post pointing out the absurdity of of yielding your presence to the stream.

In Adam’s words

While there are many reasons to maintain an independent presence Leo is experiencing the poor signal to noise ratio within these networks, and the fact that they simply are not places to carve out a voice for yourself.

and

You would think that Leo would understand the importance of self-publishing all his content and simply using things like Twitter as outposts to grow interest there.

Imagine you own and run a brick and mortar store. On weekends you have a couple of people on your staff set up a limited supply of your goods at a local flea market. That generates some extra revenue for your business, maybe even a lot of extra revenue. Even more it’s a way to build your brand and market your store.

Flea market

If people like your merchandise at the flea market, it seems reasonable to think they’ll stop in at your store during the week.

The flea market is your outpost. It probably doesn’t generate enough revenue to keep you and all your employees working at the level the store does and you have to be prepared for a day when the flea market decides to close. If it does your entire business is gone in an instant without the store.

Online your site is your home base. It’s the real estate you control. Social sites are the outposts. They can generate new followers and fans and sometimes even revenue, but they aren’t under your control and they could go away overnight.

If you treat social sites as your home base and give them all your best content, be prepared for the day when that content is no longer accessible. If on the other hand you treat your site as your home base, the content you create will always be there (as long as you want to keep it) no matter what happens to any or all of those social sites.

Why build someone else’s business instead of building your own.

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England

Are You Focusing on the Wrong Things?

I also want to pick up on a different aspect of Leo’s post, the idea that many people mistake the single tree for the forest when it comes to marketing a business online.

It’s why people mistakenly focus on PageRank as the end all and be all to Google traffic. It’s why people think how many followers you have is the most important thing in social networking. It’s why some blogs write one useless list post after another without anything more substantial in between.

Forest

Too many people mistake waypoints along the path to success as the end goal for success and fail to see the big picture of how everything works together. Again it’s staring so intently at a single tree that you think that one tree is the forest itself. Those points along the way are often important, but they work within a larger plan or strategy and not in isolation.

Redwood tree closeup

Imagine you’re running a marathon. Looking over statistics from past years you discover that 90% of all winners reached the 4th of 10 check in points first. So you decide to concentrate all your efforts and training on reaching that 4th check in point before anyone else. When the race comes you do reach check in point #4 first, but you do so in a way that most of your energy is gone.

You’re passed before the 5th check in point by a few competitors and by a few more before the next. By the time you’re approaching the finish line the winner has long since been crowned victorious.

That 4th check in point was simply something to get through on the way to the finish line. It wasn’t the finish line.

Marathon runners

The problem with social media is that often people treat it as the end goal. They see a successful person with tens of thousands of followers and assume it’s the reason why that person is successful. The focus all their efforts on gaining followers through any means without stopping to consider what the point of all those followers is or how they fit into a larger plan.

Someone who follows you isn’t automatically paying any attention to what you say. Some are, most probably aren’t. People follow you at times, because they think they’re supposed to or in the hope that you’ll follow back and pay attention to them. The problem is people focusing on quantity at the exclusion of quality.

Networking is about genuine interactions with people. It’s about engaging them in real conversation. It’s not about saying hello to as many people as possible.

A few weeks ago Smashing Magazine tweeted a link to one of my posts. Unfortunately something was wrong with the shortened URL and the link wasn’t working. The link was soon corrected in another tweet, but you’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how many people retweeted the broken link. What does that tell you?

It clearly shows none of those retweeters bothered to visit my post to determine if they thought it was worth telling others about. They didn’t stop to read it or consider what value it might or might not have. They certainly weren’t interacting with me or Smashing Magazine for that matter.

They retweeted because they blindly retweet anything Smashing Magazine tweets, perhaps because they think they should or perhaps in the hopes that Vitaly will notice and tweet something they wrote.

That’s not social networking. That’s people mindlessly and blindly performing actions. Those people aren’t paying attention. They’re not understanding the point of social networking. Those are the people that didn’t notice Leo’s Buzz posts had stopped appearing on Twitter.

Small Business Forum logo

My Forum

As many of you know a couple of years ago I started a small business forum. Since day one my goals has been to maximize the signal of the forum. We catch spam as soon as possible, delete it, and ban the spammer like many forums do. However we go beyond that and delete all the useless “me too” one liner posts. Too many short meaningless posts without meaningful ones and you’ll find your account in the same place as the spammers.

It may at times seem unfair to some and a bit on the ruthless side, but unless you’re going to genuinely interact with the forum community, you aren’t going to be around for long. Those who do contribute find a lot of value and when and where I can I thank them. In time I’ll be able to offer more substantial thanks in the form of advertising or monetary rewards.

The forum has and will likely continue to grow at a slower pace than how it could grow if we let it fill up with as much content as possible. However what would all that content and all those extra “me too” members be worth? Not a lot and even nothing in my opinion. We’d have the same watered down forum with so much noise you see in so many places around the web.

It will take a little longer, but we’ll end up with a forum that is mostly signal that can become a great destination for small business owners to learn from and interact with each other. We’re building and will continue to build a real community of people.

Landfill

More Garbage isn’t Better. It’s Just More Garbage

The amount of followers you have on Twitter or fans on Facebook is not the goal. You want to have a lot of followers on Twitter? Follow every other person there. Enough will follow you back because they feel like they’re supposed to and you’ll have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of followers.

Think any of them will actually read your next tweet? Think again. In isolation your follower count is meaningless.

More followers is not the goal. Becoming a genuine part of the community isn’t the end goal either, but it’s a better waypoint toward the end goal and before you get something back from a community you need to put something into it.

In some respect the issue Leo had wasn’t a big deal. A couple of weeks of absentia isn’t a lot. Had no one noticed after several months then it’s a problem, but a couple of weeks…? Bloggers take vacations. Readers get busy and can’t keep up for a little while. There are a ton of other things out there to keep our interest and cause us not to notice one thing missing.

Things happen. It is a bit odd that no one noticed with that many people supposedly paying attention, but things do happen. It’s also possible Leo has built his network in a way that created more mindless sheep, than truly interested people.

Absolute radio

I’m sure many of his followers are interested in what he has to say as Leo does have many interesting things to say and I assume it’s why many people are following him. How many though, are following because they feel they should or because they want Leo to notice them?

How many are paying enough attention to find their way and listen to his radio show?

Is the real issue that we’ve given our content away to sites that may or may not respect that content months or years later? Or is it more that too many of us are chasing metrics like followers without truly understanding why?

Are we putting our time in to attract as much noise as possible instead of trying to attract the signal within the noise, because we assume more is always better?

Where’s the signal? Isn’t that what we should be seeking? Shouldn’t we sooner look to connect with the handful of people that genuinely want to interact with us and us with them. Why are we seeking the masses who couldn’t care less?

radio signal

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39 comments

  1. Loved this post. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not the size that matters it’s what you do with it that counts. Of course, you won’t get anywhere with social media if you’re only connected to 5 people so I guess size matters a little.

    I’ve been really focusing on trying to engage people in conversation on all platforms as well as whittling down the ones where I don’t engage. Yes it takes more time than randomly spewing out garbage, but the results are so much better.

    It’s the same attitude I have in real live networking. My goal at a networking event is to meet three interesting people I’d like to talk to again, rather than collecting business cards from everyone in the room. It works the same in social media.

    Thanks for such a great post!

    • Yeah, having more connections does help, but those connections still have to be meaningful to some degree. What’s the point of having 1,000 people follow or friend you if none ever pay attention to what you say.

      Very true about the offline network. It’s the same situation. You have to make meaningful connections with people there as well.

  2. Great post Steve. How many of us actually read 100% of the tweets we receive from people we follow? Unless someone is a “favorite” and their tweets are singled out for special attention, much of the time it is just an endless tide of blah blah blah. Not a sound foundation to build a business on.

    • I’d like to tell you I read 100% of the tweets I receive, but I’d be lying. None of us can keep up with that much. What I do have though is lists set up of the people I want to pay attention to most so I can better read what they have to say.

  3. This morning I was driving my husband’s old van. It has AM radio, and that’s it, but I like music while I drive so I had it on. Listening to the DJ, I thought, what a lot of mindless chatter—how can people listen to this stuff all day? It’s just like people who walk around with a cell phone glued to the side of their heads. I don’t get it. Personally, ringing phones make me cringe, and the appeal of empty conversation baffles me.

    Then I came home and found this post waiting for me, which leads me to connect the train of thought that I had in the car to my life on the internet. Though I’m trying to get a grip on it for business purposes, I don’t really understand the appeal of “friends” you don’t really know, and I don’t see value in an endless stream of minutiae.

    Because of this, though barely into it, I’ve already been rethinking my use of social media. Sometimes it all seems like nothing more than a whole bunch of marketers trying to sell something to each other—rather than to a real customer base. So I wonder, if I establish a worthwhile blog with lots of subscribers, is it really necessary to feed everything I can into an army of social applications?

    But then I think of that popular AM station and all those folks who have their cell phones stuck to their heads. Just because I don’t care what every stranger has to say, it doesn’t follow that others feel the same way.

    It’s all very confusing. I believe my personal self and my business self are at odds.

    By the way, Steven’s blog is one of the very few that I subscribe to–always worthwhile. Not mindless chatter. Thanks Steven.

    • Thanks for the story Carol and you bring up some great thoughts. I feel the same about AM radio, but clearly there are people who like it. I feel the same too about the endless stream of minutiae. What’s the point. Then again a lot of minutiae seems to be followed by a lot of people.

      I think for business you do have to make a meaningful connection when networking. Meaningful doesn’t have to be a strong relationship. It does have to be a connection where the parties are paying attention to each other or at least one party is paying attention to the other.

      If no one is listening, what’s the point? Is there really even a connection other than the display of a number on two profiles?

      By the way, thanks for the compliment.

  4. Brilliant post! Makes me think that maybe I spend too much time reading other people’s blog instead of writing on my own.
    I love reading blogs and I can’t get enough, but you’re right I should be using that time a little more on creating my own content.

    Thanks for the reality check. Appreciate it!

    • Yes, you should stop reading everyone’s blog, except this one of course. :)

      There is truth in what you say. I read a lot of blogs myself. I’m subscribed to about 550 at last count. I think staying connected with your industry is important.

      However about a year ago I stopped reading every post. Now I scan through all the new posts and most I pass on. I save the few I really want to read for later in the day and I’ve been able to get a lot done.

      At a certain point you won’t learn more from the advice of others. You have to do things for yourself and learn from your own experience. Then you can come back to reading and see the advice with a new perspective.

  5. I’ve been online a long time. The social networks still seem like a newer thing to me. My site has always been my home base and the other networks I write for (whether as a guest or member of the network) are tools to bring interest to my base. I think a lot about the signal to noise issue. Often I feel bloggers now are preaching to the choir rather than finding something new which could add value to the content online.

    • Laura I think I do the same thing you do. I’ve been debating this with a few people on my forum the last few days who consider the social site more important than their own site.

      I hear you too about bloggers. I understand why they do it and I do think there are plenty of great bloggers out there who do continue to produce great content that’s original and adds value. Sadly it’s not the majority.

  6. When I read the first lines about Leo and his 220000 followers I had to laugh out loud realizing that this article maybe is the best idea to show two great problems of social networks and the internet in general – lets call it quantity instead of quality. And the little illusion of glory ;-)

    Thanks for the genuine and amusing story, every twitter and facebook user should read.

  7. Yeah I agree. Most of us don’t really pay attention to the tweets/posts etc that we follow. And the content has to really stand out to capture the attention of the readers. Thanks for sharing this :)

    • And in all fairness no one would expect us to pay attention to all of them. It’s when you build up thousands of followers or friends and none are paying attention to anything you say that it’s really a problem.

  8. Interesting yes! food for thought and sentimental value. It is pure chance that I came across your article, looking to add pages to my facebook. I choose not to add twitter into my daily profile because I feel tmi would pull my attention away from my follwers and my own sheepish comments “BAH BAA” I thank you for your enlightenment

    • Thanks Mary and funny how you found your way here. I guess there is something to be said for being found through social media. :)

      I used to have so many things on my Facebook wall that were pulled from other sites. I think I dropped most of them, though I imagine my wall is still sometimes filled with content I posted to another site.

  9. Well, I do read the relevant tweets since it helps me find great content all over the web. Who needs to look when you have guys like smashingmag, techcrunch et al doing a great job of finding great content on the web anyway!

    As far as individuals are concerned, people with cult followings, perhaps, don’t really need to market themselves on twitter since their minions are going to read their content like they read their email. However, you do need social media in order to at least develop a cult following!

    • There’s no question some people pay attention to tweets. You do. I know I do as well. Do you pay attention the tweets of everyone you follow? I think many follow others not because of what they tweet, but because they think they’re supposed to in some way.

      You mention the idea of a cult following. Is a cult following one that’s truly paying attention or one that blindly follows?

  10. Steven,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. My twitter account says that I am following 50 people and I have 37 followers, mostly the same people I followed. I never thought that having a huge count of followers or people followed would work for me since I had a very clear idea on what I wanted to get from Twitter: Learn from experts of my field and I don’t see how following 35000 people will help me with that, there is no way you can keep track of all of their tweets and truly take the time to learn what they are sharing (in my case Photography)…at least if you want to keep your day job.

    Perhaps it is just that I am on the learning phase of these social media, but as you pointed out it is not quantity but quality. I laugh as I’ve had people disqualifying my thoughts on a subject because “I only have 37 followers” and they have 2000. I mean, really guys, that’s just childish even when having a larger number feeds our egos.

    • Thanks Luis. Sometimes I wish my Twitter account showed I was only following 50 people. I’m following about 1,000, but it’s really impossible to follow that many people.

      You’re building real connections with people, which is really what social networking is all about.

      Do people really dismiss what you say because you don’t have thousands of followers? That’s ridiculous. You might have nailed it with the idea of lots of followers feeding our egos. Can anyone honestly pay attention to what 35,000 people are saying?

  11. Excellent post, on the one hand it confirms what I had always assumed about twitter, but on the other it tells me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel-that is,twitter does makes sense, but perhaps I haven’t found the way yet. I run a directory-like website where you can find trainers, coaches and speakers based on a range of preferences, and started “collecting” followers, mostly by following them: coaches, training companies, etc. Follow 400, being followed by 200.

    Whenever I try to engage them in conversation based on their tweets (asking questions, commenting on their articles, posts) I never get any responses. I also ask questions in my tweets, with the same results. Which, so far, has made me think that this whole arena was nothing more, than, as a previous commenter said, marketers trying to sell to and overshout each other, Without, of course, caring the least bit about what the others are shouting about. (Any advice, by the way?) Thanks again for your post.

    • Thanks Tom. I know how you feel about the lack of response. The same thing has happened to me. Some of those people will respond to you. They may have simply missed your tweet. Unfortunately a lot of it is people following just so you’ll follow them and then can push their marketing message at you.

      Don’t give up on Twitter though. You can make real connections with people. You can also strengthen connections with people who you also connect with in other places.

  12. Great post, Steven. The endlessly re-tweeted broken link says it all. It’s exactly what happens when people forget to treat tools as tools, and make them ends in themselves. We’ve got a finite number of hours on earth to live, love, eat, work, learn, and share…I don’t want to spend any more time re-tweeting broken links than I absolutely have to.

    • Thanks Stephen. I thought so too about the broken links. It wasn’t even an hour later when Smashing Magazine retweeted with the correct link. It tells you though how many people blindly retweet.

      Good point about treating tools as tools. Something so many forget at times.

  13. Nice post Steven. There is no meaning in re-tweeting the broken links…you correctly said” its not quantity, its quality”…
    really every twitter should read this so that they come to know the reality…

    • Thanks Peter. Quality is definitely more important than quantity. More of a good thing is good. More of a bad thing isn’t For some reason people seem to think more of anything is better, which it isn’t

  14. Social Media profiles are not a waste, they are a great way to promote, advertise and market your brand if done right. Social Media is not a 2 minute done deal, it is a full time job for larger companies and needs to be addressed. Social Media work is the most popular form of online marketing now.

    • 1. You should read the post and comment on it instead of what you think the post is about based on the title.

      Nowhere did I say social media profiles are a waste in general. I’m suggesting some people might be going about building their profiles in a way that isn’t as beneficial as they might think.

      2. Please don’t drop links into your comments. It’s been removed as has the one normally on your name. If you’re going to spam my blog I see no reason to allow either link.

      If that’s the way you do business then I’d suggest you really need to read and understand this post.

  15. Steven, can you please explain why you think that people are afraid of quality over quantity? It seems that from your previous posts you go back and forth and that probably adds to people’s anxious desire to do soc.media in qual over quan. So if you could plz expand so we can get your point. thanks. Also, what do you think of mashable?

    • When did I say people were afraid of quality? I’d also ask where I’ve gone back and forth?

      I think I’m rather consistent between this and my previous posts. Since the day I started this blog I’ve emphasized quality over quantity in just about everything.

      Do you mind pointing out examples of where I’ve gone back and forth. Maybe I have and I’m unaware of it, but I think I’ve been rather consistent.

      I generally don’t read Mashable. They don’t write much I find interesting or useful.

      By the way is there any reason you keep commenting here with a different name on every comment, but the same IP address, and asking the same question and linking to Mashable? Should I just assume you’re a spammer working for Mashable and block your IP?

  16. I am about to take a plunge in SMM n your post was recommended by Ratan KK as a must pre-requisite.This is a real eye opener and probably saved me (and many others) from making the same mistake n learning the hard way! THANKS A LOT.
    I have subscribed to your blog!

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