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Why social media is going to hell in a handcart

The reason for my pessimism is that the social proof model – the cornerstone of the social web – appears to have stopped working.

There used to be a time, back in the early days of social media, when the popularity of a piece of content was directly linked to its quality.

It made sense. If people liked something, they shared it. The number of shares correlated directly to the number of people who enjoyed reading it.  It was a model you could trust.

But then two things gradually started to happen.

First, the volume of content began to increase. And it never stopped increasing. The web was soon chock full of virtually every kind of content. People had less time to consume, so they became more reliant on the recommendation of others – while also having less time to make thoughtful recommendations themselves.

Second – and most insidiously – people realized that if they too wanted to have influence on social media, they needed to share more and more frequently. They began to think even less about what they shared – which they had less time to read anyway. The most important thing was to be active. Eventually their own social media influence depended more on their activity levels than their trustworthiness as recommenders.

The result was indiscriminate, unthinking sharing, which has not just lowered quality levels, but destroyed much of the moral fabric of the social web

If you don’t believe me, think about the thousands of B2B brands out there trying to keep their Tweet level up (because a social media consultant has told them they need to “get involved in industry online conversations” and “be part of the debate” and that means at least 5 tweets a day). They look around the social media channels for something of interest. They see something familiar. And again. And again. They don’t have time to read it. But heck, it has had over 100 retweets. They retweet it. They perpetuate the myth. It is this vicious circle that is making much of the social web a turgid, repetitive and uncreative place to be.

This is why there are so many low-grade repetitious pieces of content getting lots of clicks.

This is why the social proof model is broken.

And this is why, unless we find a way to deal with it, social media may well be going to hell in a handcart.