Social Media Clutter: Will Consumers Tune Out?

How many friend and friend details can we possibly track? With how many friends – or brands – can we sustain meaningful engagement? Using a loose definition of “friend” including those whose updates or status we follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and other social networks or communities, the attention required to manage all those updates has grown in multiple, exponential ways. Not only do we have many, many more friends but each friend has many, many more updates across many, many more devices, apps, and platforms. Just about every online activity has a social component or implication. How long until we get lost in a cacophony of noise and what filters do we have besides our time and effort (precious commodities) to help us find relevant nuggets that actually bring value to our lives? Exponential growth is already astounding and while the trend for social media participation is undeniably sharply positive, some people are dropping out of this race that has no finish line.

How are they dropping out? Some are culling their friend list to include only real, real-world friends. Some are adjusting privacy settings to exclude subsets of information or data. Some have forsaken tweeting or location check-ins after the novelty has worn off and before we, as marketers, have seen significant benefits to consumers. The value of a curated content stream is diminished when the population from which it pulls becomes too broad. To cope, some people are designating certain platforms or networks as broader and others as more protected. This preserves the value of the curated content stream from trusted sources.

Burn out seems to be inevitable – at least among some portions of the population. Some are turning to an increasing array of tools and tactics to help manage the workload of social media participation and there are numerous social media aggregators, applications, publishers, plug-ins, and add-ons that attempt to simplify and sort through the noise. Most of these tools focus on the ability to simultaneously post to multiple profiles or platforms or to aggregate content for easier viewing in a dashboard or through e-mail.

If the answer were as simple as a tool, then those with a lower pain threshold would simply dial their activities back to a level comfortable for them. However, as the sheer volume of information and input increases, relevancy and appropriateness of the community for certain tasks changes. For some queries, events, or communities the crowd is perfect – even if most of the crowd is not truly known to you. For other interactions only those within your closest circles will do.

In the bigger-is-better mentality, we lose sight of the fact that the marginal value of more friends might actually be negative. Having more friends creates more noise and more management load and might in some cases actually reduce the value of your network and create a disincentive to participate. Again, everyone’s threshold is different. Just as some in the real world run with crowds of dozens, hundreds, or more and others cling to a few close buddies, in the online equivalent legitimate differences certain apply. The right network will vary with the nature of the exchange and therein lies the problem. It is not always easy to maintain both close and extended networks simultaneously. When you need expert advice in a niche area or you want feedback and exchange from those with similar tastes or experience, a small subset of your network might be a better fit then your whole network. However, the tools to allow for that flexibility are still crude. One size definitely does not fit all. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to manage these varying social media needs.

Marketers now also face their own clutter in social media. In much the same way that consumers have been trained to ignore most of the advertising messaging with which they are bombarded, a consumer’s ability to sustain meaningful participation in social media across brands and communities is realistically going to be capped at some point far short of the number of marketers who desire a social media relationship with that consumer. Fast moving and smart marketers may have first-mover advantages if they bring together key populations. We’ve seen that in the mommy category, among others, but claiming your space is not all there is to it. Marketers who offer real value in exchange for consumer time and attention will be winners. As more marketers approach consumers in social media with good and bad, strategic and ill-conceived efforts the, albeit, growing consumer pool in social media may become more discriminating. Consumers have to.

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