You know how sometimes you’re out walking the dog when a bunch of alien interlopers abducts you. Before you know it, you’re warped off to the planet Q’Zog in the Fourth Quadrant, your brains picked clean en route, only to have other vile experiments visited upon your person on arrival.
Yeah I know, it happens all the time. So what’s new? Well this week, during one of these otherworldly episodes, my alien hosts subjected me to experiments based on research into web-based social media patterns on Earth. It turns out that a few millennia back they went through the same thing themselves and were interested to see if we were making a mess of it all yet.
Eventually, I cracked under pressure and told them about spontaneous uptake, web 2.0, multi-channel integration, SEO benefits, corporate blogging, Mobile blah, micro blah, digital blah and so on. They rubbed their chins, nodded sagely and did that thing with the sides of their mouths that universally means “If only they’d bothered to ask us, we’d have told them how to avoid getting everything wrong”.
So I did ask them. “Where did social media go wrong for you guys?” Quickly followed by “…and do you mind if I pick your brains for a change ask your advice”. It seemed to do the trick. The big alien, the one who usually does all the cross-species sexual experimentation (but that’s another story) picked up his MacBook Core DecaQuadro, running OSMXM Sabretooth and fired it up. He pressed a few keys and Hey Presto! They launched qzogblog.com and clicked onto the category entitled ‘Social Notworking’.
And they talked me through the tale of woe that once passed for social media on Q’Zog.
Once upon a time the ordinary aliens of QZog found it fun to keep in touch and cement friendships through social media sites. A load of them sprang up – TrouserBook (they use a different body-part for speech and visual recognition), Twaddle (like us, there are lots of them with nothing important to say and they like to say it a lot), Flockr (they like pictures of sheep) and so on. Eventually people thought they could make money out of these sites with PPC and other propositions. In time, corporates started to notice that they were being cut out of the loop. No one was going to their websites to find out about their products. The alien masses were asking each other and liberating their buying habits. So the corporates moved in to try and find a place in this great new SpaceBook. And for a while all was well on QZog. But it didn’t stay that way.
The first problem was all about money; isn’t it always? Social networking, it seems, was just too difficult to monetize.
Strangely, back on Earth, this dynamic is now beginning to show its face also. Google has begun to make less than optimistic noises about it. Google Chief Financial Officer George Reyes has said. “We have found that social-networking inventory is not monetizing as well as expected”. Which is Earth-speak for “Oh Shit”.
My alien hosts went on to talk about too many players flooding the market. Particularly white labeled channels (i.e. a site full of pre made functions which can be branded so that people can create their own versions of e.g. Facebook). The more this happens, the more dispersed and fractured the user base becomes. And sure enough, free, open source and plentiful white label options have also made it to earth
It was noticeable that my extraterran hosts were pretty ticked off with corporate intervention in social media. Over commercialization was clearly a killer in the Fourth Quadrant. What started out as a one to many tool, became a corporation to consumer tool and all the people got fed up with being sold at and went somewhere else. I thought about this for a while. Surely as social communities form, Earth’s marketers would not dream of piling in, taking over and crapping all over the experience. Would we?
There was a problem as well with inaccurate member data on sites. This is less important to socialization so users didn’t care. Additionally, identity fraud in the fourth quadrant led to users purposely loading inaccurate data. From a commercial perspective, this began to create problems; CRM is only as good as the data validity. All that effort aimed at the wrong people! Strangely, on earth this seems to be happening. Some say as many as 33% of users load duff info into their profile.
Another issue over in the Fourth Quadrant was the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of these social media strategies. As with earthly hosting, if you want to deploy a campaign via a social network, you can’t access the host’s server data and logs by automatic right. You can manually monitor the interaction on the site, or measure click through, but it is almost akin to redeploying slate and chalk as a core technology.
Data privacy also started to unravel the network. You may think that this could not happen on Earth, what with all the regulatory concern and cautionary tales. But then again,Facebook had already been caught tracking and releasing user habits back to developers and others involved in advertising initiatives. And what if your average Joe Alien wants to leave. Well have you noticed that no matter how often you opt out or don’t opt in, the level of spam keeps going up? You have to think that the data options are being somehow abused. Surely not on Earth? Well think again, it’s a bit like a religious cult. Once you’re in, they don’t let you leave. These are the very things that eventually dissuaded Q’Zogians from joining social media sites and led to their abandonment followed by collapse of the network platforms.
Here’s a new phrase for all of us on Earth: “Social Network Fatigue”. It started on QZog with people getting fed up with maintaining multiple spaces on multiple platforms. It further manifested itself with people just falling out of love with the whole thing because, like nostalgia, it just wasn’t what it used to be. It might not sound like we have that problem down here, but on closer inspection, there are people writing PhD theses about it.
The QZogians also started to experience a slow-down in the use of social media platforms. It peaked over a few years and then declined. Perhaps because of the tedium of the operation, or something else happened, but it stopped being the next best greatest thing. And, you guessed it …Earth is seeing the same pattern.
The Q’Zogian saga continued to get played to me out like a Greek tragedy. Networks had inconsistent performance, companies got fed up with employees cyber-sciving, so they started locking social media sites outside firewalls. The sites variously suffered: scaling issues; user overload leading to downtime; hacking and scandal. The social media moguls largely fiddled with their Geek-Up PowerPoint presentations while their empires burned.
“So”, I asked. “If you had your time again, how would you make sure that this didn’t happen?”
“Easy” they answered “We could have kept it all together, increased the marketing value to business, re-enfranchised the users and made a packet on the way. We’ll drop by next week, pick you up and tell you how you get this entire social media gig right.”
“Oh and by the way…” they said as they dropped me back by my still walking dog, “… Has anyone talked to HP about their pay-per-post digital camera social media campaign on YouTube. It really sucks”