A Social Waste of Time

Will Goodlet

I started this post with the intention of writing about ways that we photographers can be effective. I like the word effective better than the word productive, because 'effective' seems to indicate that we are achieving an outcome rather than completing a task. However, I was waylaid by item one on the list: “Shutting down ones presence on social media.”

I've been unhappy with social media for a while, so much so that I have shut down my Instagram account, closed Vero, ended Google+ (it's ended on its own anyway) and deleted my 5 Facebook pages - I now operate only on a personal profile with a degree of begrudging curmudgeonliness. I’m still on YouTube which I don’t count as social.

Social is a bizarre but brilliant model. Here we are, essentially paying a company to take our hard won images, ideas, thoughts, addresses, personal likes and dislikes, ideals, goals, political beliefs etc… in exchange for a blue thumbs-up symbol that we can't do anything with.

It's like a gambling machine that ingests real value and spits out gold stars.

We create a post and pull the lever and out comes some shiny new Likes - or more accurately a little hit of dopamine (ever wondered why there is no 'dislike' button? Hint, you don't get a dopamine hit from dislikes...)

I wonder what Facebook or the other social sites get out of this? I think the answer is our time and eyeballs, in exchange for taking our post and showing it to a few other people, they get to show us some paid-for branded content.

Let's get a little more cynical. What if the Likes we get paid don't come from people? What if they are made up by a machine? Facebook has already been sued for similar behaviour on branded videos. They are accused of inflating the video statistics. The plaintiff's legal filing stated that “Facebook’s internal efforts behind the scenes reflect a company mentality of reckless indifference toward the accuracy of its metrics.” (Fortune.com)

Quite often, on my old Facebook page, I would be told that a post was doing well - so why don't I boost it to reach more people? For a fee of course! I’m not a business so I don’t want to promote my posts.

I can’t help asking myself the question: “are those people flesh and blood real?”

Are some of them actually from a Like farm or are they a bot or a dummy account? Maybe some of them are even invented by Facebook so they can take my cash?

There are no rigorous reporting standards for Likes. They aren't mentioned in the International Financial Reporting Standards or indeed audited by anyone to my knowledge.

How do we know what we pay for is actually delivered?

This encouragement to pay for reach is even more dubious when we consider that digital Likes have little depth. In other words they do not correlate with real behaviour.

I can vouch for this personally. My most successful Facebook post reached over 138,000 people but what did it actually do for me? The answer is zip, nada, nothing. I just got some anonymous Likes and some less anonymous pushy and aggressive comments from strangers demanding that I reveal exactly how I took the shot.

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Indeed Harvard Business School conducted a study with Discovery here in South Africa, aiming to determine if the branded content on Discovery's Facebook page made any difference to the behaviour of Vitality participants (a rewards scheme for healthy decision making).

Here's the conclusion: "we suspected that Vitality’s investment in branded content on its page might be for nought. Indeed, when we compared the two groups of participants, we found no difference in behaviour."

Worse than this, having paid for sponsored posts designed to attract Page Likes, we have no guarantee that any future posts will ever reach these subscribers!

What is the hell is the point of a Like on a Business Page if it doesn’t translate into the ability to show up on a persons Newsfeed from time to time???

In effect there is 'Like' inflation, just like a Zim dollar and Facebook decides on the exchange rate.

The degree to which our post is shared to 'fans' or even to family members is totally dependent on Facebook.

It's actually incredible that 80% of Fortune 500 companies have active Facebook pages when there is so little tangible evidence that this frenzied vortex of activity produces any financial benefit.

Where it has been proven successful, it is as a result of using these Likes as a means of targeting direct paid for advertising toward a specific audience.

For most photographer's this model makes virtually no sense, especially if they do not make a living from photography.

To engage in a model to target Likes (paying for them in many cases) to then use the metrics to target further paid advertising is ridiculous - it means paying twice.

To engage in this model on the basis of organic, free-range Likes, is futile as these are both heavily throttled and massively time-consuming to accumulate. I'd expect we could generate more real interest at less cost in time and money by actually talking to people we meet in day-to-day life or better, doing something tangible together, like organising a joint gallery show.

When one considers that much of the activity on Social is also automated, even to the extent of comment engines and simulators, it's actually laughable that many of us are trying to operate as humans in an online social world where much of the activity is simply one Bot talking to another Bot.

The only valid excuse for accumulating Page Likes these days is as some form of social proof because even pages with hundreds of thousands of Likes are limited to about 2% organic reach (and less as social grows further).

Think of the investment in time and money that would be required to build a Page with 300,000 subscribers! These days the value of that count is not measured in access to people but rather in social proof or perceived influence.

No. None of this crap is for me. I am quitting.

I am only interested in Social's ability to deliver some authentic interaction across distance, in effect its ability to deliver news of ones family and friends.

© Will Goodlet