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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?