I Share, Therefore I Am.

January 15th, 2013 by

We all had a good laugh seeing the promotional video of  the “Gotta Share!” musical. It’s very well done, and what the lyrics say is just so true. But what is it that keeps us hooked to all those social sharing things? And what are the bushiness models behind them? If it’s free, you’re not the customer, you’re part of the product. We’ve all heard that many times. But we seem to prefer forget it as fast as possible. 

What keeps us hooked on Facebook, Twitter, & Co.? In my view it’s two things.

On the receiving side, it’s simply FOMO (fear of missing out). We might miss something important, so we keep monitoring. In an infamous interview in the New York Times in the early days of Facebook, a student who supposedly totally abandoned any other media in favour of Facebook, was asked whether he’d not be afraid of missing important news when setting aside TV and newspaper. His equally short and pragmatic response was: “If the news is important, it will find me.” How true. At the time this was read as the death of classical media and as a sign that Facebook would eventually replace the Web. As we know, neither has happened just yet. But set aside this, doesn’t his finding also bear the core  of the death of Facebook, Twitter, & Co.? If the news is important, it will find me. Whether I check my buddies’ status updates, or not. So what applies to political news, equally applies to personal news. It will be simply a question of time until a significant number of people get to this conclusion as well.

As George Colony, CEO of Forrester claimed: “…social is running out of hours and running out of people.” As oft, reports of anyone’s sudden death tend to be exaggerated, but it will for sure be increasingly difficult to keep people hooked to social. So what keeps us posting and following? Social platforms pretend to provide us some sort of proximity with peers. Facebook even dares call them “friends”. But what is the actual level of interaction? We post a status update, and keep our fingers crossed that many, or even the right people read it. They may read it sooner or later, or never. So what we actually get is a promise of intimacy that is never kept. We are left with a surrogate, yet we keep hoping for the real thing. That seems like reading a recipe book when you’re hungry. For a brief moment it may feel rewarding, but in the long run you’ll be left frustrated. And you knew it up front, didn’t you?

And the business side of things? “Sponsored stories” on Facebook, “featured tweets” on Twitter, you name it. These have two facets: we read them, and we forward them; well maybe we do. On the sponsor’s side, the model is very simple: he pays rent for advertising real estate on the social platform. This is IMHO threatened by two things: content blockers in Web browsers, and native clients. Both prevent you from seeing the ads in the first place. But even on the sponsors’ side these models have not seen unanimous applause.

In summary, and in my view, I think we are now probably somewhere near “peak social”. The open questions are: when will the decrease start, and just how gentle is it going to be? The currently prevailing social platforms have started out with a free model that worked for them. Now they should be worried about their migration paths towards paid. In terms of business strategy, the hot question will be: just how much paid-ness can there be in social platforms?