Social Media is (still) heading in the wrong direction – don’t follow

I published an earlier version of this post back in 2013 on our platform exploreB2B. The platform and original post are now gone. But reading it again I believe that this is more relevant than ever – so I decided to add a little more thought to it and publish again today. Below this introduction you will find the original post first, and below it I will add a few more thoughts from the perspective of today:

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The only reason this post has a slight chance of getting your attention is that I am tweeting it, and I designed the headline to catch attention. Since my Twitter account has a considerable reach, a few people will retweet it without ever having read it. My sister and co-founder Susanna will tweet it, as will our company account. These retweets will ensure that it gets a bit of attention. Is this a real quality indicator?

Let me start with this – I am not sure this post deserves your attention at all. It is a rant, complaining about the direction that one of the greatest inventions of all time has taken. Yes, I am talking about social media, not the cure for cancer.

(Actually, I am pretty sure this post does not deserve any attention, I spent about 20 minutes writing it, no editor has ever seen it. The wording is probably crap, and I can be happy if it gets the point across. But, if anything, it is my true opinion. Please share it IF you liked it.)

I once had an interesting discussion on Twitter:


“Does anybody have the feeling that good content on Twitter gets lost very easily?”

[email protected] I consider it a research tool as much as a social and content distribution platform, for exactly this reason.”

Ok, did I just read right? I am complaining good content gets lost, and the first answer I get is: Yep, that is why I use it as a research tool! Oops…

I also had a very interesting discussion with @_NateBerg about whether Likes, Shares and Retweets are the right way of getting quality content. We finally agreed to them being no perfect indication of content quality – but are used and advertised as such. The last thing he told me was:

@jogebauer Absolutely…that’s a massive task but great opportunity.

Meaning better quality indication in social media is much needed.

Why? When was the last time a university research paper went viral? There are many papers about interesting research that I would think would qualify as great content. But for their distribution to interested readers, we still rely on standard publishing processes via journals and university websites. Social media has failed on the promise to delivering “good” content and is now focusing on delivering “shareable” content. Meaning we all spent more time on making the headlines catchy than on making the content valuable.

The only reason this Social Media post has a slight chance of getting your attention, is that I am tweeting it and I designed the headline to catch you.I am not saying that there is no good content being shared, nor am I saying it is wrong to like your friends party pictures – these are relevant content for you, so you are of course wanted to say so. But very few things of true importance to humanity ever show signs of viral spreading.

Take a look at the tweets about the North Korean crisis for instance – truly relevant to most of us. But the most tweeted article I have seen is: “North Korean missile test delayed because of Windows 8”. (Really? I thought making fun of Windows is so 90s.)

Someone once said: “Social Media gives everyone a voice.”

I say: Social Media gives everyone a voice, but it did not change who we listen to. Content only gets seen if someone famous talks about it.

Same as ever. But I do believe, this could be changed by introducing new mechanisms for relevance and quality into the mix. But Facebook and Twitter won’t do that – they are focusing on Traffic, and getting people to like and retweet is giving them more traffic.

Repeat - someone famous said it. Image from The Simpsons.

Repeat – someone famous said it. Image from The Simpsons.

This was the original post. But let me add a few new lines to it:

As said before I still regard the above post as highly relevant. If anything, the problem of quality indication on the social web has become worse – not better – since 2013.

I am sure that many of you will be tempted to regard this as a rant about clickbait headlines and posts. It’s not. I am not one of those people who complain about clickbait at all.

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Here is the thing – I don’t click on the clickbait that I don’t want to see. And when I click on a clickbait headline I am usually not disappointed with the content I get. I’ve spent a lot of time on researching how clickbait works – and the truth is that it needs two mechanics to work well:

  1. The headline, image and other characteristics that are visible to web users that haven’t clicked yet need to bait them into clicking (hence the name)
  2. After consuming the content, the user needs to have had a good enough experience with the content to be inclined to share the content on social media

When complaining about clickbait we forget the 2nd mechanic: Clickbait wouldn’t work without us (the consumers) sharing the content. If the content is bad, why do we share it?

This comes closer to the point of the original post – although I have to admit that sharing clickbait is probably better than the behaviour described in the introduction: If you share clickbait – the chances are that you had actually clicked on it and consumed the content before you decided to share it. _You had checked the content quality before you shared it – how cool is that?_

You might have guessed it – I am actually a defender of clickbait.

I do however read all posts that I come across that bash on clickbait sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed. And I have never ever read a single anti clickbait post that asked why people share them. They all criticise that the headlines are crafted in a way so people click (while I fail to see why that is a crime), but they never explain why people share.

Which is the more important part.

Because when you have a post that get’s clicked you get an initial audience – when people share it you get real traffic.

Which leads to the real questions:

  • Why do people share crap?
  • Is crap really crap when it get’s shared around on social media?
  • Is a share on Facebook a quality indicator? Or an indicator for SCGV (Social Crap Gone Viral)?

Content gets created by demand on the web – and demand is not measured by what we consume or want to consume anymore. In the age of social media, demand is measured by what we share with others.

We cannot blame Social Media companies like Facebook and Twitter for what we share, and we cannot blame Upworthy or Buzzfeed for creating content that we share – that we actually like!

If we want a different web then we need to create it ourselves – and the tool we have is not just creating better or different content, it’s sharing better content.

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This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

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  • Don Sturgill

    Amen, Jonathan. Zillions talking and few listening. A flamboyant title (even without content) can get shared to the ends of the Earth.

  • Omar Khan

    Well, you had me at the Headline! I read it and loved the content. I believe there is nothing wrong with sharing click-baits or attention grabbing headlines if the content is somewhat relevant. However, when the click bait is used for totally irrelevant content and it also gets shared then it’s a crappy double whammy. That is absolutely without merits and unworthy of forgiveness.

  • sumrando

    University papers don’t go viral because they are published behind paywalls and copyrights. Meanwhile, pizza rat.