Is the Numbers Game Over for Social Media?

Is the Numbers Game Over for Social Media?
Mini Me(me)

So off we go again. New year, new ideas, new intentions. And I’ve noticed a minor ‘trend’ rippling through my networks over the last week or so. A ‘mini-meme’, if you will. It’s one of being more considered in the use of social networks in 2013 – paring back on ‘friendships’ and focusing more heavily on quality. And it’s coming from all sorts of people, both casual Facebook users and some of the big hitters in the social media world. Which begs the question: is the honeymoon over?

Are social networks maturing to a point where the novelty is wearing off?

I first noticed a couple of people in my networks mentioning that they were thinking about reducing their network sizes early in December, but shrugged it off as nothing more than end-of-year naval gazing. Then over the Christmas period I saw more people taking action – culling Twitter follows and Facebook friends. They included those such as the highly-respected Jason Falls, who made a cry for more relevancy on Facebook as 2012 turned into 2013.

The comments below a post by Lindsay Bell shortly before Christmas on her abandoning Twitter are also very revealing. They talk of a boredom of surface-level connections and a desire to affect deeper relationships; trying to follow too many people and the frenetic pace this creates; and of life away from social media. And they ask how much social media do you actually need?

So what’s going on? Is it simply the introspection that greets a new year or is, in fact, the tide starting to turn in the world of social media to a new focus on smaller, tighter networks? Will you be stripping back your number of connections in the coming months?

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Posted by Paul Sutton

  • Jason Falls

    Great point of discussion. I think the numbers game has to change if you want to participate in the social media world as a receiver. There are only so many inbound messages one can handle. So if you want to list, engage, learn, etc., you have to curate. But there are those who need or want to broadcast more than receive. Perhaps their business model depends on promotions and sales, etc. They will always be playing the numbers game. The good news is that it’s not a matter of one way or the other. Each person or organization can prescribe their own balance. I just found myself recently needing more relevancy from the receiving end, so I filtered a bit.

    • Paul Sutton

      Very fair point regarding the difference between receiving and broadcasting, Jason. From a ‘broadcast’ point of view, I guess we all want to be heard by as many people as possible – people reading our blogs or our tweets or whatever – whether our goal is for sales or respect or reputation or anything else. But as you say, that leads to overload on the receiving end, and I do wonder whether maybe, just maybe, this is the inkling of something where people grow tired of the ‘noise’. Outside of the bubble, that may not filter for another 12 months or couple of years even, but it has to happen at some stage. Doesn’t it?

  • belllindsay

    Love the question you pose here Paul – how much social media DO we really need? It’s such a conundrum. Those of us who work in the industry need to be on top of the latest and greatest, but the pace is overwhelming. Personally I feel absolutely inundated with connections, information, lists, posts, numbers, data, etc., to the point where I just want to shut it down and start again. And, partly my fault – I will cop to not being a great curator. I’m not a list maker, I find something very organic about just letting it all flow by. So I guess as per Jason’s comment, I am part of my own problem, but I really do think that we are reaching a saturation – dare I say ‘tipping’ – point. The question is – what happens after the tip…?

    • Paul Sutton

      While I’m happy to take the credit for the question of how much we need, Lindsay, to be honest it was someone in the comments of your post who posed that one. What happens after ‘the tip’? Not sure, but you do have to bear in mind that this is something that, in general, is probably more relevant to those of us working in the industry with great numbers of connections and large networks. Although I’m with you – there have been times I’ve been at least a little tempted to ditch it all and start again. In fact, I know someone who did and will be asking him about it on this blog in the coming weeks.

  • Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich)

    I’m definitely scaling back this year. When we wrote the proposal for Marketing in the Round, the publisher asked us to beef up our social media presence. Soon I had more than 1,000 friends on my personal FB page. I don’t like that. I have a business page for a reason; there is no reason on earth I need that many people on my personal page. So this year, if it’s your birthday and I can’t think of anything personal to write as my message to you, I’m unfriending you. With the subscriptions now, those people will never know they were unfriended. They just won’t see the few posts I create only for my friends.

    • Paul Sutton

      I find it hard to believe that your presence needed beefing up, Gini! 1000 Facebook ‘friends’ is extreme, and I think that’s where Jason’s original comment came from too. I like the ‘personal message’ rule though – nice rule of thumb to live by for both current and new friends…

      By the way, I believe that Geoff’s been facing this same conundrum recently too, so that’s probably where it came from with him as well.

  • Hugh Anderson (@hughforth)

    Great question, Paul. From my personal experience I do agree as I find myself completely overwhelmed by the amount of ‘content’ that I have to sift through. Time is an immensely precious and scarce resource – I can’t cope with the firehose of info from all directions, so a natural reaction is to curate based on quality and relevancy.

    I’m not sure if it’s a tipping point, but there is definitely an increasing role for clever curation and influencer tools as the content universe expands exponentially.

    • Paul Sutton

      Coincidentally Hugh, I had a brief chat with Danny Brown before Christmas about content curation, and we both agreed that this area could be something that gets a lot of attention this year. There are different tools starting to appear that attempt to solve the problem, although I don’t think that anyone’s really cracked it yet. But it’ll come at some stage.

  • Rachel Perry

    Personally I have been filtering for well over a year. I regularly unfollow on Twitter, especially if someone’s having a rant or RT bad taste jokes. I feel that I’ve rather have fewer, worthwhile connections than read lots of fluff from others, but thats not always the tactics used by accounts I manage for others!

    • Paul Sutton

      Having fewer, more worthwhile connections seems to be the order of the day if the comments I’ve had back on Twitter seem to be anything to go by. Like I’ve said elsewhere though and as you rightly point out, this is far from the approach used by most. Whether that’ll change, who knows?

  • Luke Williams (@alukeonlife)

    I think there’s a bit more going on too; I wrote this yesterday about Social Network Normalisation

    – to me there’s 3 main factors causing it:
    More considered posting
    Friend reduction
    Network normalisation (both users and cross network)

    • Paul Sutton

      That’s a good post Luke. And I agree with most of what you say. My only thought is about how much this behaviour (and to a large extent what I’ve talked about) will filter from inside the social media bubble through to the masses. I’ve seen some evidence that it’s happening, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it doesn’t take another 12-18 months for what you’ve described to become mainstream.

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