Social media is a time sink. Time is precious, so social media requires spending something precious. People are precious, too; and connecting with them can be one of the best ways to spend a life. And then, Twitter hit the news and many of us are asking fundamental questions about it and social media. Great! I decided that Twitter’s chaos is a great opportunity to take a look at the cost and the benefit of the choices. Alas, this will be largely subjective because an objective analysis would probably be enough for a Masters project. Let’s see where this goes
If Twitter goes away, something that seemed unlikely last year, which sites can fill that need for my business, or what I want to have in my personal life? I’ve been teaching about social media for over a decade, so some of these sites have history for me. Remember Google+ and Klout? There must be hundreds of social media sites, but here are the ones I re-tested for the last week or so: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, reddit, Instagram. I also have accounts on places like Pinterest, but either they don’t do what I want, or I haven’t figured out how to use them well enough. Newer sites like Mastodon are new enough that I will play with them later. They might be good places to jump to, but for now I’m on Twitter until the end, and can probably get by on sites I am already using. Or can I?
What are these sites?
Facebook – You’ve invited a bunch of friends to a party in your living room. They might be uninvited guests, but you’ve got some control over that. Politeness suggests keeping the topics light and conversational, but don’t be surprised if someone brings up religion or politics. Someone might forget their manners for a while, but we can all have those days. Cute baby and pet pictures are popular.
Twitter – You’ve got something to say and you decide to walk outside and shout it to whoever wants to hear it. You might follow people and people may follow you, but there may be strangers out on the same sidewalk. Fortunately, you can filter what you hear by building Lists and using Hashtags. One advantage, it is easiest to use when you know how to be concise.
LinkedIn – Welcome to office casual. Topics include sales, hiring, firing, milestones, positively positive progress notes; but the site was designed to connect people in business, so electronic shmoozing may be the most important activity. Sure, some people are good at using it to spread news (connect with Stephan Schwartz), but most posts are like Successories posters. Rah. Rah.
Tumblr – Can I play, too? Someone told me Tumblr was supposed to be a mini-blogging platform, but there are so many blogging possibilities that mini-blogging isn’t much of a distinction. The site does have the ability to post as much as any, has a clean look, and pays more attention to hashtags, but where are the people? It feels to me like an empty warehouse waiting to be filled.
Reddit – Gird your loins. Buckle your helmet. Diving into Reddit is for the brave, but with the risks come the rewards. Do you read something? Have you read it? Then you can post a link or a comment on Reddit. (Get it? You ReadIt.) Reddit is known for passionate opinions. Instead of a living room, or the sidewalk, or the office Reddit is more like a mosh pit where ideas are tossed around and voted up or down. The votes matter because they drive the links higher and lower. The idea was that folks read stuff, others voted on it, and the good stuff will rise to the top. Here is where things can go viral. Here is also where chaos can reign. But like at any chaotic event, there are side rooms, pockets of sanity, places where it is possible to have quieter conversations. There’s the gold; but do you have the emotional armor to find it?
Instagram – Welcome to the new kid on the block. Insta- this and insta- that. Remember the Instamatic camera? Quick and easy but like a photo from an Instamatic camera there will be compromises. Despite being insta- the site drives you through various image enhancement screens and crops the photo which takes enough time to be slower than other sites. And the product is photos. Words? Who needs them? This may be an art gallery or a graffiti wall, but having something to show is more important than having something to say. And yet, photos are so available that Instagram is popular for communicating or at least advertising.
Feeding the sites
Facebook started with photos, then heavily went to text, now will take either. Facebook, however, drools over videos. Facebook also seems to drool over displaying ads, and can be spooky about guessing what you are interested in. Post a link and it will probably try to pull a graphic if you haven’t already done so.
Twitter started with ~140 characters per tweet, added the ability to include photos and links, and then doubled the number of characters. Post a link and Twitter might add a graphic, but only maybe. By the way, one way to get around the character limit is to take a picture of what you wrote – unless the print is too tiny.
LinkedIn started with resumes and job ads, but they’ve added the rest, including adding graphics from links. Unfortunately, I think they were bought by Microsoft, so sometimes they get a bit Clippie. Remember Microsoft’s overly eager, disruptive, and annoying assistant? Yeah, I get that feeling from the site.
Tumblr seems to be trying to be everything to everyone to the point that text is uploaded separately from graphics, and hashtags can be loaded separately. Pretty, but pretty annoying when I am trying to use social media efficiently.
Reddit wants links and maybe text comments. It will take graphics and such, that’s how so many cat videos are found; but it has the slang version of read, e.g. redd, in the name.
Instagram goes the other way, feed it photos. Text is optional.
There are more ways to slice and compare the sites, but I have to decide how I will use my time.
Facebook has the largest world-wide audience, but I don’t need to maximize that. I already have at least 800 ‘friends’. They should suffice, especially considering who they are. But Facebook has stumbled so many times that the way it manages connections and businesses and groups and privacy concerns mean it can work, or not, in surprising ways.
Twitter gives me access to about the same number of followers, and also makes it easy to reach beyond them. Last month 764 people checked out my profile and my tweets received over 14,000 impressions. Impressive. I’ve also made the most powerful connections there. But, Elon happens.
LinkedIn has that nice professional feel, but it also seems like a facade, one-dimensional, officious, and filled with congrats and cliches.
Tumblr, well, Tumblr isn’t too inefficient, so I’ll keep feeding it, just in case the others fade or fail.
Reddit gets to stay. My most popular posts gained hundred-fold increases because of Reddit, but it really is like trying to have a conversation in a bumping and loud crowd.
Instagram. Sigh. Some love it, and I’ll use it for pretty pictures, but much of what I post is text; and Instagram is built for the -grams.
So, what will I do?
I’ll keep using the sites I’ve been using. I usually post posts to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Tumblr (as a test). They work similarly enough that posting to all four only takes a few tweaks.
Social media sites are fragile. I never used MySpace or Friendster, and I already mentioned Google+ and Klout (not a direct comparison). Facebook isn’t too big to fail. Other corporations like GE and GM managed to lose prominence. Microsoft could get bored with LinkedIn. Twitter, oh Twitter. Tumblr? I’m not sure what’s keeping it alive.
And as a real-life, practical example, I’ll post post to my blog because I can control that; and then from there I’ll share it out to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Tumblr and let you decide which one works for you – and that will work for me. A web site, a blog, something outside social media means I have more control. I can share from there.
Hmm. But what graphic goes with all this text?
How about this one from my previous study? Spending Time On Social Media