by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
For a long time now, we've all been told, and have told each other, that corporate social media is the way to build businesses, audiences and brands. What if this is about as true as the old saw about real estate prices only going up? What is “dark social media” and how is it different from Twitter, Facebook and the rest.
Top 10 Reasons Why Corporate Social Media is Not Your Friend, and Dark Social Media Is
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
everybody's on it, everybody's doing it...
For some time now, we've all been told you simply cannot build a business, find old friends or organize much of anything without the indispensable aid of corporate social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. But what if this is about as true as some of the other stuff the supposedly wise and informed told us in recent years, like that real estate prices could be counted on to always go up?
Human societies are based on lots of horizontal communication. What if corporate social media is little more than a gigantic scam to extract revenue from the otherwise ordinary communication the internet permits between groups and individuals, between people and businesses, and among communities of interest. What if corporate social media ultimately aims not to open up but to throttle and restrict those conversations to make them artificially scarce and valuable commodities. What if corporate social media's business model is to thrive on content its proprietors don't create, and to place itself between that content and prospective audiences, even to substitute itself for the web sites, email lists and media offerings of content creators?
With a billion users, Facebook is far and away the largest player in the world of corporate social media, so all these criticisms apply to Facebook. But many also apply to Twitter, Pinterest and their little brothers as well.
Here are the top ten reasons why corporate social media is NOT your friend, and dark social media is.
Facebook currently limits the number of your “friends” who can see your posts to about 7 or 8%. What? You thought that “friends” list was yours? It's not. It's theirs. And think about it, if you had a thousand friends, and 25 of them, that's 2.5% posted 3 or 4 times a day, another 25 posted once a day, and a hundred posted once a week, that would be at least 150 daily posts for you to comb through, leaving little room for Facebook to insert ads and promoted content which customers have paid for into your news feed.
Facebook will let you talk to the other 92 or 93% of your friends, but you have to pay for that privilege. You buy an ad, or you “promote” the post by paying Facebook. Essentially Facebook is “broken on purpose” so it can extract payment from you to do what you imagined it would do anyway, keep you in touch with your friends. You can get around this to a very limited extent by “tagging” each post with the names of individuals, or joining dozens of Facebook groups and individually sharing posts in the groups. But this is a time consuming process which has to be repeated with each post. If Black Agenda Report, with only a dozen or so new articles each week, we'd be on Facebook three or four hours each publication day.
Facebook, along with Twitter and other corporate social media platforms provide you no way whatsoever to contact or individually identify your Facebook “friends” outside their own own walled gardens. Again, those lists of Twitter followers, and Facebook friends aren't really yours at all.
Facebook limits the “organic reach” of your business or nonprofit organization page to about 3% of those who say they “like” you. Presumably those people “liking” your page imagined this would keep them up to date with what you're doing. Not so. Neither Facebook nor Twitter provides you any way to identify those “likes”, and Facebook won't allow you even to send a message to them. Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose you've got a business or a worthy cause, and a list of thousands of customers, prospects, clients, or past and potential volunteers and like minded donors. If I offer to take care of deliveries to that list, but won't let you see their names, their email addresses, or how many and which of them I actually deliver to, would that be OK with you? No? Now please tell me again why corporate social media which pretty much does exactly that is essential to building your business, your brand, your cause.
Facebook will gladly sell you advertising directed at the 97% of your “likes” who otherwise might never see your stuff. Actually, these people WILL see what you offer if they go out of their way to visit your Facebook page. But with that same amount of effort, they could have visited your web site independently of Facebook, couldn't they, and had access to vastly more information.
Third party vendors are eager to sell you all the “Facebook likes,” “Facebook friends” and Twitter “followers” you're willing to pay for. They might be located in Egypt, Sri Lanka or Croatia, and they'll likely never interact with your product or page again, but you can count them as “likes.” Twitter and Facebook do not endorse these parasitic vendors, but the mythology around corporate social media being so important to your business or organizational “presence” on the web keeps them in business as well.
If someone hostile to your politics, your business or your person lodges a spurious complaint to Facebook, or Yahoo, Google or YouTube, say, that you're an anti-Semetic copyright-violating whistle blowing vegan child molester, what these providers generally do is simply cut your account off without notice. Their terms of service often relieve them of the bother of even sharing the exact nature of the complaint against you let alone investigating it, and explicitly state that “your” lists are really theirs. I know people who've lost thousands of business contacts and years of content in Yahoo and Google groups, email accounts, lists and YouTube contents this way.
Facebook, Twitter and other corporate social media platforms don't just track your every move while you're on Twitter or Pinterest or Facebook. If you close the browser tab without logging off or purging cookies, they usually continue to record and transmit all your internet activity home for data miners to crunch. Such data, both raw and refined are major revenue sources.
While Facebook, Twitter and all the social media platforms rely on YOU and people like you for their compelling content, they deliberately aim to place themselves between you and your readers, customers, and clients, to substitute your Facebook presence for your own offerings elsewhere on the internet. Do you actually visit all the articles you pause over in your Twitter feed? Nobody else does either. We habitually comb through 140 character snippets and hundred word Facebook brain farts while seldom leaving the corporate social media plantation, and imagine we've actually visited those web sites, those sources. There are already folks whose ONLY daily internet experience is Facebook, and books like “The Shallows” explain how our internet reading makes us practically unable to read book length arguments, reluctant to follow any single line of inquiry for more than a minute or three.
Dark social media is “dark” because it's social media untraceable by Big Data and corporate marketers. It's direct email sent from your own lists and your own listserves. Dark social media was around before Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and remains the proven way for individuals, causes and businesses to reach, retain and maintain contact with friends, customers, clients, and like minded souls. Using dark social media to expand the reach of your business or project, to engage audiences directly and without an intermediary is often a more fruitful way to spend scarce resources. Corporate media won't tell you this and neither will the “social media consultants,” sometimes because they don't believe fat meat is greasy, and other times because disinformed customers are more profitable.
Remember all those real estate professionals and “wealth building experts” who told us home values would never go down? Some were just gullible enough to believe that swill. Others knew better, but were watching their own bottom line, not those of their customers or the public. This is not so different.
Facebook does some really nice things, enabling many of us to recontact old friends, and interact (online at least) with tons of interesting people. But it may be time for your business, your social movement or project or you as an individual to reconsider the effort and resources devoted to maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter and corporate social media platforms. If you've already got two or three thousand Facebook friends or tens of thousands of “likes” that aren't fakes a bit of continued effort on Facebook and Twitter is probably required.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party and a partner in an internet technology firm. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via this site's contact page or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.