How The Share Button Is Ruining Social Media
If you’re anything like me, your social feeds are a mess right now. A quick sample of mine: festival flyers, ads for a CRM system, open letters to Donald Trump, a defense of Kim Kardashian, and ads to join Yahoo Mail. Even without the necessary evil of promoted posts clogging up the feed, it feels like the initial promise of social media – a hub of digital connections between physically separated people – is lost.
The following is an excerpt from the Fame House White Paper, "Owning Your Audience: Building a Direct-to-Fan Strategy in 2016".
Download the complete paper here.
Fewer and fewer of my friends seem to post something significant about themselves; meanwhile, algorithms dictate which news articles, photos, upcoming events, and viral videos appear on my feed. It’s not compelling. And it’s not social.
So how did we get here? Many point to native advertising, the practice of serving users advertising in a form that appears similar (if not identical) to organic content. There are some examples of the practice that do well, such as this article on incarcerated women sponsored by Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. But for every brand that does a good job creating something new and interesting for their fans, there are a dozen that are slapping their own hashtag on some Twitter meme or retweeting Beyonce’s latest single with new, “hilarious” lyrics and a link to their online store. This sort of junk pervades social media in 2016, and it leads to the obvious argument that in brands’ quest to create “relatable” content for fans, the line between promotional and non-promotional posts has blurred beyond recognition. Everything looks like an ad.
Unfortunately, this is only half the story. While advertisers might be an easy culprit on which to place blame, the real problem is also the very thing that’s made social media so valuable to publishers in the first place: the Share Button.
The Share Button is awesome and vital. It allows you to quickly push things you like to other people. This is important for big ticket creators too; the relative freedom of content on the Internet has fostered an environment where publishers need heavy traffic to survive. But there is also a central contradiction within the Share Button. It proposes personalization through secondhand content selection while at the same time devaluing the personal elements of firsthand content. We’ve become so trained to “share” what we like by clicking a button that we’re putting less of our actual personalities out into the world. We’re amplifying instead of analyzing, letting others speak for us through the media we share while our thoughts are generally segmented into an expandable column underneath. It’s a game of affirmation, rather than a true starting point for discussion.
This way of responding is also affecting the way content is packaged. Social algorithms and patterns of online behavior have conditioned us to create things that are more clickable or viral or upworthy or snackable or whatever other buzzword we’re using this week. We fit into character counts and chase optimum image spacing requirements instead of creating interesting media. We generate listicles because there’s a higher percentage click-through rate on an article with a number in the headline. It’s just The Way Things Are. But any practice that is justified by traditionalism (or outright complacency) will always have opposition—or in this case, a countermovement that claims our current form of media consumption is not The Way Things Have To Be
We’re already seeing the signs that people are tiring of this ecosystem and leaving, fleeing to less aggregated and interconnected platforms like Snapchat and VSCO. This isn’t a trend that’s going away anytime soon, and for good reason. These types of channels place a much higher value on a first-person experience, in many cases literally showcasing content from the perspective of friends. In this way, we get back to the original promise of social media, and to succeed in this atmosphere, brands are going to have to adapt to it or die on the vine.
Look, I’m a marketer. I fully appreciate the value of getting information about what you and your company like out to new fans. It’s how we connect with people, and the direct feedback loop that results is one of the things that makes digital marketing so financially and emotionally rewarding. But if you want fans to truly buy what you’re selling (both figuratively and literally), you need them to care about you. You won’t get them to care with a meme with millions of likes, but instead by telling stories that will cut through the noise and encourage people to seek you out.
You don’t want a Share Button on your content; you want a Subscribe Button.