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The Death of Social Media Wed 23 Dec 09

Are spam, hackers, privacy concerns and commercialization killing social media?

50 social media icons ivan walsh Social media comes in many forms and flavors with new types coming in and some older ones slowly dying out. It has become so ubiquitous that we rarely think about it when we use it.

I primarily use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and LinkedIn, in addition to my blogging, but I have become less and less enamored with social media over time. Although I was never a rabid user of Twitter, I did initially use it on a regular basis but now will frequently go days between tweets or without even looking at it.

The reason for this isn't just the novelty of it all wearing off. It's more that it's become less pleasant due to the amount of spam that is permeating the social media space, coupled with the overbearing commercialization that is taking place. Layer on top of this the erosion of privacy and it doesn't look good. Even my college-age daughter, a prime demographic for social media, complains about these same issues.

Many of the people that I get as followers on Twitter seem to offer nothing more than a continual stream of advertisements. It seems that a growing number of "Internet marketers" are taking over Twitter, trying to get business in teaching people how to grow their follower counts and sell advertising.

It's not that business doesn't have a place on Twitter; it is possible to project a corporate presence in social media without it simply being a way to advertise. A good example is Scott Monty who heads up social media for Ford. Monty is very effective in getting Ford's message out by talking with customers rather than just talking to customers.

Social media platforms are also becoming increasingly attractive targets for hackers. Sometimes they do it to get at your data, sometimes it is to hijack your account for spam or phishing purposes and sometimes it is simply mischief. Whatever the reason, it just creates one more impediment to people wanting to use social media.

When we use social media technologies, we are putting our personal data in "the cloud" and very often under terms and conditions where we relinquish rights to our data to the media provider. Because of its popularity, Facebook has gotten a lot of attention regarding its privacy policies and has changed them a number of times due to public pressure--but only due to public pressure.

Facebook's original Terms of Use stated that the company basically had perpetual rights to your content and could use it however it pleased. Facebook has since changed its user terms to give the company full rights to your content subject to your privacy settings and until you delete your content or those that you have shared it with delete it. Although somewhat better, the terms still give Facebook the open rights to your content, something most people don't bother to read about.

So, is social media dead? No, it isn't dead and will likely be around for some time, but I do think we will start to see a significant shift in how it is used. My prediction is that while social media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook may continue to grow in terms of numbers, you will also see more churn as people try it for awhile, become disillusioned and stop. I also expect that those who do stay with it will use it less on average than today's users.

Does this mean I was wrong to advocate the use of social media in the corporate world? I don't think so. I stand by this because I also think we'll see changes to counteract the downsides I mentioned. I think this will be in the area of premium service; we'll pay to avoid the spam and to maintain our privacy.

This premium service will extend to the corporate world where companies will be able to easily deploy in-house solutions that they can keep separate and private from the outside world. The driving force for this is when more executives start asking the question Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff is asking: "Why do I know more about strangers on Facebook than my own employees?"

Premium services will be a big shift perhaps, but one that I think is inevitable.


This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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» Is Twitter Dying? - An Update from Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms
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