Identity Crisis: Why Social Media As We Know It Won’t Last Forever

Posted by · October 23, 2012 8:31 am

Identity Crisis: Why Social Media As We Know It Won’t Last Forever

Groups, circles, hashtags, pinboards – It all starts to run together at a certain point. I mean, seriously, how many social media logins does one person really need to keep sufficient tabs on his or her top interests? Take me, for example. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn – heck, I think that I might still be on MySpace. But how much does that actually do to increase my knowledge of or participation in the things that I love?

If I’m being honest with myself, the answer is quite little. And I would be remiss not to argue that, given an honest assessment, most people would probably respond in a similar manner.

The problem? Social media is too broad, at least in its current state. As I implied at the onset, we are vastly approaching a critical mass with social networking sites that I believe will ultimately render their purpose – connecting people that share common interests – null and void. That is, the current competition between social media sites turns primarily on the style of messaging that each site espouses.

For Facebook, it’s Wall posts, status updates, and the ubiquitous “Like” button. For Twitter, it’s sending thoughts, links and catchy hashtags that fall within the 140-character space cutoff. For Pinterest, it’s sticking digital “pins” in pictures of the things we love and subscribing to each other’s feeds.

Now, you may be wondering what the problem is with the strategy social sites use to differentiate themselves from the others. Some people are better with strict guidelines and concise thoughts. Others may prefer to communicate in pictures. Still others want no limits. They want to post pictures, post long, obnoxious updates, and share just about anything without having to change forums.

This is true. In fact, I’m not suggesting that this kind of differentiation is inherently bad. However, for that to be the sole, or even primary determinant in one’s choice of social networking sites is to go against the grain when it comes to the way that humans naturally socialize. When someone walks into a loud room full of people s/he’s never met before and tries to meet people, that person’s first instinct isn’t to find people who share identical communication styles. Yes, it plays an important role, but the very first step of this process involves that person finding people that s/he would identify as peers.

What kind of values do they have? What kind of work do they do? What did they study in college? What kind of experiences have they had?

To put it more succinctly: Whom do I identify with?

These are the questions everyone asks when they walk into a room full of new people. More technical distinctions like one’s preferred method of communication don’t happen until later.

Which brings me back to my original concern: social media is nearing a point of identity crisis. Other than delivery method, there is little that major social sites do to distinguish themselves in a manner that draws peers together in an organic manner.

As TechCrunch blogger Jay Jamison said in an article entitled “Beyond Facebook: The Rise Of Interest-Based Social Networks” back in February of this year (emphasis added):

Interest-based social networks have a markedly different focus and approach than Facebook…Facebook offers us a social utility to deepen social connectivity with our existing social graphs, while these new interest-based social networks enable users to express their interests in new, engaging ways and offer authentic, high value connectivity with people we don’t already know. The different approaches of these interest-based services are distinct from Facebook, and they are powering the massive growth and engagement we are seeing in these new services.

In other words, people are migrating toward something to which they are already naturally predisposed when it comes to socialization. While Facebook and other currently popular social sites might be great for connecting us with people we already know, that’s not really what social networking is supposed to be. Instead, it is meant to connect users with peers, not old acquaintances or people that they already speak to on a regular basis. This means more social networks that appeal to users based on shared experiences – like breast cancer survivors – or common interests – like food and photography.

In today’s globally oriented, digitally connected society, the Internet is that room full of new people, representing an endless variety of values, interests, and experiences. It is imperative that social media blue chips recognize that it’s going to take more than clever hashtags and strategically placed “Like” buttons to make people feel like they’re part of a unique, lasting community.

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