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Control and Social Media

All day yesterday I got hit up by people excited about Facebook’s announcement of their new groups feature. (Actually, this is a very old feature with some newish features.) Mashable wrote about it. Techcrunch wrote about it. And tons of youth workers were left saying, “This thing is going to be great for youth ministry.

Here’s what I’m thinking. No one, not even the creators of Facebook, can predict what the next cool feature on Facebook will be.

Mini-rant about Mashable, Techcrunch: These are now just hype factories for the big social media companies. I’m tiring of their private parties and exclusive access. All that tells me is they are all in bed together. Other than publishing social media companies press releases, their utility is gone for me. My trust for those sites impartiality has vanished.


Open Theory Never Works in Closed Systems

When it comes to social media hype never equals mass appeal. The best you can do is create something and hope people discover it and like it.

  • Google spent plenty on Buzz and it has largely been a failure.
  • Apple spent plenty on Ping and it remains to be seen if its anything but a music version of LinkedIn.
  • Tumblr never intended to be the new Xanga but it is.
  • Formspring.me never intended to be hot with middle/high schoolers, but it was on fire last year.

That’s the funny thing about social media. Open system theory defies hype and that’s what makes it amazing. Big companies and their R&D departments [and overhead and patents] simply can’t predict what will be hot. (And almost always shoot themselves in the foot because they need ROI when the only way to grow is to acquire customers.) So the game isn’t now, never in recent history has been, about creating cool things. It’s about masses of people (cough, 12-19 year olds) adopting the technology as their own and it spinning out of control in unexpected uses.

Closed system thinking implies that you can control how your users interact with your product. Apple is really the only organization on the planet that gets away with this. They decide what features you will like and they force them on you and you like it. But every time Facebook tries it they get hammered by user backlash. Microsoft learned the hard way that this just forces customers to another product like Apple or Linux. Their latest media campaign is a direct attempt to lie to you by convincing you that their ideas are really your ideas. “I’m Adam and Windows is my idea.” Windows isn’t your idea. If it were it’d be free.

Open system thinking implies that users control how they interact with the product and the owners/app developers respond. This is the secret ingredient for Apple’s recent success. Twitter will be the first to tell you that they do everything in response to how users utilize their app. To some extent, this is why Facebook has survived to date because the app developed on their open API have people hooked on crap like Farmville. (Their growth of late has been in middle-aged folks using Facebook for gaming, largely at work.) I’ve done dozens of consults with ministries and businesses trying to make a name for themselves with a new technology– I tell them all the same thing, which they balk at. “If you want to be big, build a Facebook app that your audience will love. Then, when you have their trust (and personal information) launch your own site. It’s about users, not money.

This is why I teach social media principles and don’t do a lot of tutorials

I don’t know if Facebook groups will be hot among high schoolers. But I do know that the same principles I’ve used to engage people online for more than 10 years will always work, no matter what the technology.

Principles are timeless while technology is is an ever-morphing magma of response.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

6 replies on “Control and Social Media”

ok ob1canobe…. help me out. 🙂 I’ll confess I’m not this internet smart and half this thing went over my head. But I think I get the gist. Here’s my question…. is there a follow up post that tells me your “timeless principles you’ve used to engage people online for the last 10 years”? I would like to read that.

Love it, and totally agree, but my question is this: is there any way to be proactive in movements, instead of simply having to wait to see what the masses will do with a new technology? Mavens seem to attempt to do this, though they also can fall into the snare of hype.

I think you are proactive by watching and waiting to see what works and what is just hype. When something new comes out I’m quick to go look at it, play with it, and hypothesize how I could use it… but I don’t automatically jump into using it until I see some level of adoption by my audience.

So, I was on Twitter 3-4 months before I started using it. I joined FB only after all of my college students said it was amazing.

I’ve got this little phrase I use at YS that might help you understand what I mean, “It’s really expensive to lead the pack.” In other words, it’ll cost you a ton of resources to be an early adopter. Why? You may get some level of benefit for being super early to the party. But it’ll also burn a ton of resource by having to educate and convince your audience on how to use it. If you make that a habit— you’ll burn a lot of resources.

And likewise, you’ll also invest a lot of time in the Plurks of the world. For everything I look at that sounds cool, only about 10% of them ever get big enough where its worth my time.

Boy, I’m spitting a lot of philosophy today!

In regards to your comment on Mashable, I agree. They try to make all the “calls,” the “next viral video” with less than 5,000 views, etc. etc. They have a lot of good stuff but they hype it up WAY too much.

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