I find this disturbing.
I'm not excusing myself on this, either. I'm always looking to grow my following online and promote it every chance I have. Go to any site with a company or person seeking authority online, and you'll see them asking for more followers to. It's out of control.
At the same time, folks like Facebook pretend to be concerned about your privacy – providing privacy guidelines that you should only connect with Family and Friends. Really? Then how come Facebook is always recommending that I connect with people that are not my family and are not my friends?!
Twitter, on the other hand, is pretty blatant about what they're trying to do. In their privacy guidelines, they state, “Most of the information you provide to us is information you are asking us to make public.” and they tell you that they are, indeed, pushing that content to the world in real-time.
As security breaches and privacy information become more and more prevalent in social media, this urge to grow everyone's network by sheer volume needs to change. As well, the benefits of more eyeballs needs to be aggressively downplayed by marketers. We're sliding right back into ‘eyeball' mode when it comes to social media. Traditional media touted big numbers forever and it's never worked.
Anyone can cheat and go add tens or hundreds of thousands of followers (go find someone who has no authority with over one-hundred thousand followers and begin following all of their followers – I'll guarantee most of them will follow you back). Once you do, you're immediately sought out as one of influence by any number of applications online – even sophisticated algorithms such as Klout are being manipulated.
Now as disturbed as I am, it's the game that we're in today. If my clients are going to compete and I'm going to try to reach and sell more to more, I'm going to play the game too. I'm also going to recommend that my clients grow their following. When a friend from a company recently asked me how to break into Twitter, I gave him three pieces of advice:
- Provide value for your followers.
- Speak when there's something worth discussing.
- If people don't follow you, then buy some followers to jumpstart your following.
Holy crap, did I actually advise someone to buy followers? Yes, I did. Why? Because you guys keep following people that have a large following instead of caring about the relevance of their content. Not all of you, of course, but most of you. (PS: There is a risk involved in buying followers… if you suck at social media, they'll leave. It's not a huge risk, though, so everyone is doing it nowadays.)
Eventually, we'll reach a point of saturation where everyone is following everyone talking about nothing and the medium will be abused and diminished as we've done with every other traditional medium in the past. At that point, marketers will forget about the volume and start acting responsibly to sponsor social media resources with a relevant audience.
Until then, I guess we'll just keep collecting eyeballs.