Social Media Really Isn’t About Anything Social

Content Insider #798 – Social Targets

By Andy Marken –

And now one for all the nostalgics out there. A blast from the past all the way back from 2003, that beautiful time when people refused to accept that the future was just around the corner.” – Radio Announcer, “Children of Men,” Universal Pictures, 2006

Excuse the analogy but social media is a lot like coal.

You know, they’re both bad in so many ways, but people just have a helluva’ time weaning themselves off of it.  

We’ve become more efficient, more effective at mining coal.

Ditto social media.

Environmental scientists around the globe don’t pull punches when they point out the continued use of coal to produce energy will possibly/probably cause significant damage to our climate.

Sociologists and clinical psychologists have found that a constant feed of social media touches all of the emotions, including making people feel depressed, lonelier.

Touching Emotions – Even more than real or fake news, social media can move people through a wide range of emotions; but the more they view, the lonelier people seem to get.  So much for connecting with friends/family/others.  

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that reducing the use of social media actually made people feel less lonely.

Of course, that’s just plain silly.  

How else could people around the world watch endless hours of cat videos and stupid guy tricks; see pictures of each other’s babies in Halloween costumes; share photos of their dinner; connect with family, friends, and colleagues around the globe; prove to everyone/everywhere that they really exist?

That’s right, people talk with/share with people.

Think About It – Putting a drill to your head like a Shaolin monk is a little extreme for getting rid of headaches; but there are dumber things posted to social media … just so people can prove they can do something.  Breaking bones, death and other dark activities just encourage other bizarre activities that aren’t funny, aren’t cute.  

So, what could go wrong?

After all, the social media sites let you do it all for free!

Okay, so they did collect “a little” data about you; but you said was okay after you thoroughly read and signed the user agreement.

Despite the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), all of that data grabbing was for your own good.

What most people don’t understand is that social media isn’t about people getting together and chatting.

That’s just a nice little byproduct because social media firms are really just ad machines.

Google started the ball rolling in the ‘90s, then everyone jumped on board and developed their own twist on giving people free service in exchange for data and ads.  

The more users, the more data to show marketers how they could precisely/effectively target their ads and BAM! more money started rolling in.

And they got better and better because the more users become addicted to living their lives on line, the more data they collect; the better their analytics can slice and dice the global audience and the more tailored, more precise, more effective the advertising can be.

All About You – Social media’s data gathering activities are continuous and thorough.  It probably won’t surprise you that they know more about you than you know about you.  

It’s actually a compelling sales proposition and traditional media took a huge hit – newspapers, magazines, appointment TV.

The rest of the ad stuff they send your way you probably don’t give a rat’s behind about so they’re really providing an added service.  

All they need is “a little more” data.

Okay, a few people disagree:

Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, said, “Facebook is the new cigarettes. Its addictive. It’s not good for you.”

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, emphatically said, “The narrative that some companies will try to get you to believe is: ‘I’ve got to take all of your data to make my service better.’ it’s a bunch of bunk.”

Addictive – Certainly, knowledgeable people know social media can easily go from something mildly interesting to unhealthy reliance.  Social media’s data scientists know just what it takes to keep you coming back again…and again…and again.  You could think of social media as a major enabler.  

Harvard’s Shoshana Zuboff gave the advanced technology a great name – surveillance capitalism.

Disney’s Bob Iger said in an interview when he launched his recent memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned, that he was inches from acquiring Twitter but walked away from the deal because of the nature and tone of the posts – let’s just say less than civil.

Social media folks figured out how give people their own view of reality and make it a saleable commodity.

They followed what people do online and offline and use predictive analytics to project what they might do in the future; and once they had that thoroughly tested and revised, they had a new, better service/solution marketers are more than willing to pay for.  

All of this came about back in the dotcom era when Google was scratching for an epiphany that would keep their investors from bailing on them.

They looked around their machine room and found all of these data logs that had been discarded, ignored and gave the stuff a sexy name – behavioral surplus.  

Instead of taking all of this surplus and trying to improve their products/services, they put it to work to predict user behavior.  

That’s stuff you can sell!

That’s why social media firms gather up as much info as they can on what you do on their service.

 If you’re not using their service, no problem because they buy credit card purchase data and other offline activities.  

That allows them to serve up ads you’re interested in.

Of course, there are certain government agencies in a wide range of countries that found all that information would be helpful in things they were also doing.  

The agencies have access to the same search and collect technology and are pretty good at using it.  But, if they’re in a real hurry, they just go to the company and say we want the info.

 If they don’t get it, they can make things “very difficult for you” in their country.  

Determined to keep individuals’ private information private, the services say, “yes, sir.”

What was started with all of the best intentions – survival and service – surveillance capitalism has suddenly gotten out of hand. 

Don’t think the problem exists solely with Google and Facebook.

Like Printing Money – Social media sites make a lot of money for themselves by using data and analytics to precisely place ads in front of individuals who most fit a marketer’s best customer profile.  Done right, they provide people with the information and ideas they need exactly when they need them.  

According to Carnegie Mellon’s Tim Libert, the school’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute has found that across the top million websites, people will be tracked on 91 percent of the sites!

He noted, “The results are always the same: you can’t browse the web without being tracked, period. Companies track you when you visit medical, pornography, legal, political, newspaper websites and the same goes for apps.”

In other words, if you’re online…you’re in view!

No wonder you get news, information and ads from companies you never even knew existed.

It’s little wonder that people around the globe don’t trust online platforms.

Lamenting the problem, a friend recently said, “People are dumb, but they aren’t stupid.”

Perhaps that’s why social media companies aren’t growing as quickly as they used to; and in some cases, aren’t growing at all.

Global Reach – Social media may have peaked in the U.S./North America and other connected countries; but there are still opportunities for them to educate, inform, persuade emerging countries.  

In the U.S., things are even worse for them: They’re shrinking. 

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat are no longer adding new users in the states. 

Facebook’s daily user base has been the same for the past three quarters, while the others have  lost users in the U.S. or North America, in back-to-back quarters.

It’s not totally clear why these networks have stopped growing, except in Facebook’s case it is increasingly apparent that all the people who are going to use the service use it.   

As a result, they’re offering new ad/marketing options, testing streaming video services and offering connectivity products.

Despite the shortcomings, Pew Research has found that about 40 percent of Americans still feel that social media is a net positive for society. 

On the Go – The rapid growth of smartphones also enabled social media to grow more rapidly because the screen/connectivity is always with you and increasingly, people don’t want to feel they might miss something.  

Interestingly, the saturation of social media in the U.S. has paralleled the saturation of smartphones. 

In January, Pew Research reported that 69 percent of American adults said they used social media, the same percentage that did so in 2017.

During the same period, 77 percent of adults said they owned a smartphone.

Overall, 65 percent of people say smartphones have made their quality of life better.

But in an effort to halt or slow the targeted advertising business model and surveillance capitalism, which are unregulated and unmanaged, the EU enacted GDPR.

Other governments around the globe are watching closely to see if the EU’s efforts can slow and reverse tracking and targeted advertising.

This should worry all social media organizations.

At the same time, users need to consider cutting back on their online time to reduce/eliminate the loneliness and depression that was cited earlier.

Go online to any of the sites and it’s pretty easy to come to the conclusion that everyone else’s life is way cooler than yours.

The truth is their life is probably just as dull and unexciting as yours; and if you’re not following/envying them, you’ll probably feel twice as good.

And the social media folks will have less of an idea of whose ads will interest you.

After all, you’re better than this; and if you don’t believe us, just  remember what Jasper said, “Everything is a mythical, cosmic battle between faith and chance.”

Andy – is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. Internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields. Extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.

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