Feeding the Social Beast

by · July 2, 20135 comments

I’m starting to wonder about the whole social media equation and whether the penalties and prices of swimming in the new social pool are sometimes (or maybe inevitably) greater than the sum of the many returns. What started, for me, as a toe in the water has become something that often feels more like a face-full of firehose or a desperate crawl against a torrent of social obligations.

Social media is literally, figuratively and virtually insatiable. It is the beast that cannot even pretend to stay fed.

When it all started to emerge (When was that? When bloggers started allowing comments? When Facebook opened up its API, instantly relegating MySpace to the minor leagues?  When an obscure microblogging service decided to limit all posts to 140 characters?), I knew I’d have to find out all I could about this new medium/channel/proto-juggernaut.

Whenever I do something new and potentially embarrassing (like taking that first cellphone call on a bus or sending that first tweet), it helps if I can do it under the cover of professional interest. I can tell myself (and people at parties), “I’m not doing this to be like the kids, I’m doing it because it’s my job to understand this stuff.”  When social media started ramping up in earnest, I could see that, even if we never used it for the greater glory of Velocity, we would surely need to deploy it on behalf of clients.

That didn’t just give me permission to learn all about it, it made not doing so tantamount to marketing malpractice.

Fortunately, I love learning new things.

We’re all in at the birth of something huge. Something that has changed not just marketing but society and culture forever.

And learning all about social media has been really, really fun. We’re all in at the birth of something huge. Something that has changed not just marketing but society and culture forever in ways that we’re not even beginning to understand and probably won’t begin to understand for a few generations. How cool is that?

With each new flavor of social media, we learn more. More about what works and what doesn’t in that specific flavor. More about social conversations in general. More about social etiquette, the dynamics of engagement and the social voice.  More about the subtle implications of each new service. What works in Instagram is different from what works in Pinterest or Path. YouTube rewards different behaviors than Slideshare. Each LinkedIn Group has its own vibe (ranging from ‘unashamedly dump links to your crappy content here’ to ‘subtly insinuate links to your crappy content here’).

I really love watching all of this stuff bed down. Watching a massive user group collectively make decisions about the new rules of a new medium with almost no explicit discussion about it is like swimming around in the world’s largest petri dish.

In fact, the yee-hah ride on one of history’s steepest and swoopiest learning curves is probably the greatest of all social media returns. If the R in ROI is made of hundreds of little r’s, the fun of learning all about it alongside a few dozen million of my fellow pilgrims is, for me, the most rewarding.

But now we’re, what, five years in? And if I add up all the little micro- and mega-tasks that go under the heading ‘Doing My Socials’, the total is enormous.

Every new social channel that opens up represents a new set of demands.

Every new social channel that opens up represents a new set of demands. Like a new-hatched bird in the nest, it needs feeding. One example: when Pinterest was new, I spent, say, 20 hours figuring it out, then 3-5 hours a week for the first five weeks, then down to an hour a month or so.

That’s sounds sustainable. But I’ve got an account in over a dozen social channels – not to mention all the monitoring and engagement tools and widgets. Some are core, like Twitter or LinkedIn, and I spend up to an hour a day in these.  Others are peripheral but still make their demands – and they all accumulate in my mind, clutter up my desktop, jam my To Do list and add to my guilt trip catalog (think War & Peace).

Add up every tweet, re-tweet, DM, blog post, comment, thank-you, guest post, slideshare, pin, poke, pimp, plus-one, like, list, link, favorite, thumbs-up, share, show, scan, discuss and upvote, and I realize that I’m spending a fairly hefty slice of my waking hours – my LIFE – in places you can’t go to with people I don’t really know and often suspect I may not even like.

If a lab rat started to exhibit behavior like that, you’d want to know the source, nature and dosage of the buzz.

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to suspect that, for me, the buzz is not entirely under my control. That the rationale of professional interest and marketing return is a cover for something more basic and less flattering.

Maybe I’m doing all this for the tiny hits of self-validation I get whenever someone notices something I do out there in Social Space. Maybe the higher on the validation scale the noticing goes, the more of some as-yet-undiscovered social hormone hits my hypothalamus.

Maybe all of this has nothing to do with content marketing and everything to do with ego candy.

So I’m starting to get a vicarious thrill from people announcing (on Twitter or Facebook) their imminent social sabbaticals.

When all those interesting little interactions start to aggregate up into statistically significant guilt trips; when I find myself half-watching some stupid TV show while half-engaging with a bunch of self-aggrandizing strangers; when I wake up and check the view-count on my latest Slideshare instead of checking the up-and-down blanket-swell of my sleeping daughter… maybe it’s getting time to take a break, step away from the Tweetdeck and see what happens.

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About Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler is co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, the London-based B2B content marketing agency. Doug has written a lot about content marketing including the B2B Marketing Manifesto, the B2B Content Strategy Checklist and Crap: Why the Biggest Threat to Content Marketing is Content Marketing.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Dave Link

    Great article, Doug. I’m seeing more and more pieces that discuss the inability of many users to simple keep pace with the number of social platforms and apps that have become so deeply ingrained in our daily lives. It’s actually gotten to the point where I’ll dip a toe in the water of a new platform, but if there isn’t a compelling reason to stay there or work functionality into my daily routine I’ll ditch things just as quickly as I signed up. I value my personal time far more than a status update. :)

    It’s even more imperative for businesses to figure out which platforms work for them and focus more effort on those channels. What works for one company may be a dead end for another, and the sooner that those “bonus” channels are moved to the fringe the sooner the social media popcorn brain begins to dissipate.

    • http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/our-blog/ Doug Kessler

      Couldn’t agree more, Dave. I’m seeing lots of the symptoms of social media burnout out there, too.

      I need to get better at pruning back the stuff that isn’t working.

      • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

        Please let me know what that list includes.

  • http://inthekisser.me/ Erica Ayotte

    Doug–the title of this post caught my eye because I often describe social media as a beast that’s always hungry for content. Great post here and I share your enthusiasm for trying out the next new thing. If if weren’t for a few daring souls who are willing to embarrass themselves regularly, we’d still be running around naked grunting at each other. Or at least still using Friendster, which is almost as primitive. This is one of the reasons I find the term “social media” so insufficient. We’re really “emerging technology pioneers” (as BS-ish as that sounds). Social’s tentacles are wrapped into so many other technologies, we’re at the point where it’s becoming difficulty to distinguish one type of technology from the other.

    • http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/our-blog/ Doug Kessler

      Thanks Erica. I do agree — ‘social’ doesn’t really describe what’s going on here…