So many writers rush onto social media with tunnel-vision. All they can see is 99 new ways to blitz others about their books, and it makes me kind of sad because there are a lot of benefits to being on social media that have little to do with marketing or sales. When we look out at our fellow human beings and can only see them with dollar signs on their faces, we shortchange them, but worse, we shortchange ourselves.
In a sense it makes me think of a documentary I watched the other night about the redwood forest. Did you know that those leviathan trees, the tallest living thing on earth, used to make up much of North America during the days of the dinosaurs? Even into the 1800s, the redwood forests were still quite large…and then came the lumber industry.
Businessmen soon realized that one felled redwood could make 200 picnic tables. All the lumber industry saw was dollar signs, and they clear-cut the trees until they’d virtually destroyed the redwood forests. The current forest is a mere fraction of its original size and has never recovered. Likely, it never will.
I have spoken at length about the dangers of tools and automation when it comes to social media, but today I am going to probe deeper and explain why using machines to connect for us is just a bad plan. Sure, we gain some short-term advantages—more time to write instead of tweeting—but, over the long term, we destroy the very platform we are working to build. We clear-cut the community, planting no seeds of relationships.
The Law of the Fax Machine
Metcalf’s Law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users to the system (via Wikipedia).
Metcalf’s Law is, by some laypersons, referred to as the Law of the Fax Machine. In the beginning, when there was only one fax machine, how valuable was it? Not very. Why? No one to fax. Yet, as more and more companies bought fax machines, the value of the fax machine drastically increased because there were more people capable of receiving a fax.
This is true of any telecommunications tool from the telegraph to the telephone to the cell phone. What good was a calling plan when no one we knew could afford a cell phone?
Thus, the number of connected users drastically increases the value of any telecommunications tool. Same with the Internet. The more people hop onto the Information Highway, the more content they contribute, the more valuable the Internet becomes. This applies to search engines and….you ready for this?
Balance is Key
This is one of the reasons that my Law of Three—1/3 Information, 1/3 Reciprocation, and 1/3 Conversation—specifically includes conversation. Why? Notice how Metcalf’s Law states that the value of any telecommunications network is proportional to the square of connected users.
When marketers start abusing various forms of telecommunications, what happens is that people withdraw to go hang out where people are. Humans are wired to be social, not just to part with cash to buy more stuff.
The Days When the Telephone Ruled
Many of us remember the days of the telephone. I recall being so excited when we got an extra long phone cord, because then I could drag the 30 pound phone into my room and talk all afternoon and evening with my friends. I was the Master of Three-Way Calling and many teenagers like me tied up the phone so much, that this forced the invention of Call Waiting.
But then something happened. Telemarketers.
Invasion of the Marketers
As more and more marketers started calling our home phones, this prompted more and more inventions to avoid these marketers. Answering machines and Caller ID are two that come to mind. We started avoiding our home phone. More marketers called and we started gravitating to using cell phones even more to escape the non-stop barrage.
People who knew us understood that, if they wanted to actually talk to us, it was just better to call our cell phone. Pretty soon, it got to the point (for many of us) that we knew if the house phone rang, it was someone trying to sell us something. Eventually, using our home number was a worthless way to connect with us.
Because to avoid being sold to non-stop, we had set of a layer of filters (barriers) to weed out the telemarketers. Our friends and family knew they’d have to hop the answering machine and Caller ID barriers, and that the quickest and best way to reach us was the cell phone.
As more people gravitated to using cell phone networks, cell phone network providers were able to offer more and more bells and whistles for cheaper and cheaper. Thus, the amount of connected users of cell phone networks has increased exponentially in the past 5-10 years, and, as this has happened, the value of the telephone has steadily decreased in value.
There are fewer and fewer connected users. The telemarketer, in my opinion, killed the home telephone.
Newsletters–Not as Powerful as the Good Old Days
Spammers have made marketing using e-mail less and less effective. This is one of the reasons I am unsure how much value there is to be had in giant mailing lists. As spam filters get better and better, most newsletters are more likely to end up in the spam file, and, unless the fan is eager to get our content and goes looking for it (which won’t happen unless we engage), then the newsletter will effectively die a slow lonely death in the cold of cyberspace.
Click-through rates are dreadful (how many people actually open a newsletter) simply because modern humans no longer only have a handful of e-mails to manage. We have hundreds. This clutter renders most messages (including newsletters) invisible.
I am not saying that newsletters and large mailing lists are worthless. I am only saying they are less effective. Sort of like a four-year degree is still valuable, but it is no longer a guarantee to a high-paying job. This isn’t 1983. Any marketing approach that fails to account for changing social dynamics is a plan that will fail.
We can’t rely on tools that worked famously…ten years ago. We have a different, more sophisticated audience with different thresholds and expectations, and we either appreciate this or we waste a lot of valuable time and effort. We must appreciate that spammers have clear-cut the e-mail environment, and now the harvest isn’t what it used to be.
Connect or DIE
One of the reasons that it is dangerous to automate on social media is that it is too easy to get lazy and rely on automation. Now, if this wasn’t a common human tendency, then we wouldn’t have a problem, but it is part of human nature to slack off. We all do it.
Yet, when we start automating our messages and not engaging with others, we need to remember that other people will be doing this too. The more automation invades a social site, the less effective that site becomes. Why?
No Connection, No Value
Value is related to the amount of connected users. Less people connect because either 1) they have automated everything so they have time for more “important” things or 2) they are avoiding Twitter, Goodreads, etc. because they are tired of all the spam and just want to talk to another human being, because it is called a social network not a shopping network.
Ads have crippled or killed many social platforms, and, if we want to reap advantages of these large pools of fellow humans, then it is our job to contribute instead of take. Yes, we can post links to our blog or posts that interest us, but the Law of Three is designed to keep this in balance.
When we don’t take time to talk to people, they move on, and if no one is present to see our link, follow it and part with money, then our Twitter account is as useless as those e-mails about my inheritance in Ghana from relatives I didn’t even know I had.
Social media, in ways, is a delicate ecosystem. Harvest its fruits, but remember to plant more seeds. Clear-cutting is only profitable short term. We should want Facebook and Twitter and all our current social networks to thrive. If they continue to thrive, this saves us from having to rebuild on a new social network.
We should want our current networks to grow and to be there long-term. We have better things to do–like write more books—than start from Ground Zero on a NEW social site because no one logs on to Twitter anymore because of the non-stop spam.
And trust me, link after link after link, automated or not gets spammy. We are on Twitter to chat with people too, and when that goes away? Then Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads all join the ranks of the home telephone, and the only people who hang out there are the spammers, marketers and bots. Don’t believe me? Go check out MySpace to see the devastation of social clear-cutting.
What are your thoughts? Opinions? Concerns? What social sites have you started avoiding? What would you like to see change? Do you miss MySpace? I do. I was really saddened that the ads ruined it. Which platform is next? What platforms do you now avoid that you used to enjoy?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of September I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck! I will announce August’s winner on Friday.
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.