How Social Media Experts Keep Users Ignorant
For a while I’ve been troubled by the fact that there seems to be a never-ending stream of how-to articles concerning social media, yet people apparently still don’t know how to use these services. Then along comes a fluff piece like Kelly Clay’s 5 Places You Shouldn’t Check Into on Foursquare and I understand why. It’s not because social media services are particularly arcane or their users particularly dense, but rather due to the poor quality of the commentary surrounding these services.
Perhaps it’s the relentless demand for content, but social media commentary seems prone to a number of problems: prescribing complex solutions for user scenarios that weren’t problematic in the first place, failing to provide readers with a basic understanding of the services in question, and then pitching this as expertise. Clay’s article manages to highlight all of these in spectacular fashion.
Problem #1 – You’re doing it wrong.
Clay’s premise is that there are places Foursquare users go that they don’t want anyone else to know they frequent. Her solution is that you shouldn’t check-in to Foursquare when at these locations. Might I suggest that the issue there is your friend list, not your check-in?
Foursquare is a game. It’s a game that encourages social exploration and activity based on the recommendations and gameplay of people you know and trust – your friends. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the in-game achievements which include badges titled “Bender”, “Crunked”, and “Douchebag”. This is a game for friends, not a professional network, so why would you choose to add people to your friend list who might be offended by your check-ins?
And let’s say you’ve chosen to befriend your co-workers but still want to check-in to one of Clay’s taboo locales, what then? Simply slide the “Share with friends?” slider to “No” and check-in off the grid – it’s that easy!
Problem #2 – You’re making it worse.
Articles like this are a disservice to social media. They foster the idea that users have no control over social media services and are therefore not accountable for the dissemination of personal information. Users need to understand that social media services are just another publishing platform, and it’s our responsibility as the “social-media-savvy” to alert them to this fact. Perpetuating the idea that social media participation requires being friends with all and sundry is no good for anyone. What’s the first thing I did when my boss installed Foursquare on his phone? Teach him how not to post to Twitter, Facebook or his friend list. Second thing I did? Refuse his friend request.
Problem #3 – You’re killing me.
The worst thing about this is that the unknowing reader may think it’s valuable insight - after all, people actually tweeted links to this thing. Now, it’s possible that no one else actually read it and just blindly retweeted it when they saw it was from Pirillo, which is problematic in itself but less distressing than the possibility that people actually think this is worth reading and are thereby contributing to Problem #2.
If we want our field to be taken seriously we need to stop with the Mighty Oz act, get out from behind the curtain and actually provide readers with some value.
Clay’s piece also raises the issue of public and private online personas, and the hypocrisy of a social media echo chamber that advocates for authenticity and honesty but then demands that users apply a professional filter to non-professional activities – but that’s another post.