Monday, August 13, 2012

Social Media, the Bad (and the Good)

One cannot be a designer nowadays (or many other things, for that matter) without being cognizant of the importance of social media. It can be a great way to connect with peers, mentors, clients, fans a great way to dig up new leads and build a support base.

There is a flip side, however, to a mentality that prizes sheer numbers of likes and friends and followers. It might be a great ego boost to have followers to the nth degree, but how many of those followers are real, and how many are active? I thought it would be good to explore some of the bad, and some of the good, when it comes to social media.

It was recently reported that both the Obama and the Romney campaigns may have bought a good portion of their Twitter followers, potentially about 30-40% each. Research scientist Jason Ding of Barracuda Labs noticed that Romney’s followers had increased by 17% during a single weekend in July, only to then see 10% of those accounts later suspended within weeks, and about a fourth of the accounts had never sent out a single tweet themselves. Now, this is not a partisan thing – Romney’s campaign is not the only one showing potentially fake followers, as Obamas does as well. And this is not just happening within the world of politics.

In fact, almost 50% of Twitter followers of companies with active profiles might be fake, according to a study by Marco Camisani Calzolari, a corporate communication and digital languages professor in Milan. Using software tools, one can now analyze accounts for activity indicative of a real, active person. Even performers like Lady Gaga are not immune to having apparently fake followers. And being that some people, such as Kim Kardashian, Snoop Dogg, and Charlie Sheen, are paid thousands for a tweeta tweet that is supposedly going out to millions of followers who will hopefully retweet and act on the tweetit is no small issue.

One cannot just blame Obama’s campaign, or Lady Gaga. Companies and celebrities and the like often delegate their public relations activities, including social media activities, to third parties. And sometimes these third parties choose to take shortcuts. But of course, it is ultimately not useful for companies to be sending out their messages to tons of fake followers who produce no results.

To be honest, however, the only thing really shocking about any of this is that people seem surprised at all. If things are made into purely a numbers game, someone is going to game the system. And even I have been blindly solicited by people offering to sell me followers – me, just a simple Twitter user. And in fact, awareness of the ability to buy followers has been around for at least a few years. Although it may seem that current technology and social media move at breakneck speeds, awareness still seems to take a while to trickle down.

All is not so bleak, though, when it comes to making use of social media. It can be a powerful and effective tool when skillfully wielded.

Coming up: Social Media, the Good: Team Coco

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