Is resistance futile?

What was it that Margaret Thatcher said? “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Oh, social media. How you have opened the connections between corporations and the public, helped so many find purpose and their “people”, given a voice to ones who were once ignored, and, frankly, opened a whole can of disgusting, slimy, unscrupulous worms. Or maybe Pandora’s box of horrible wonders? Or released the Kraken? Whatever the metaphor, oh wow, what a web we’ve woven.

I suppose I’ve been actively participating in “social media” for around a decade. Long before we called it that, that’s for sure. Ryan introduced me to the wide world of the internet (beyond my email doors) back in 1998 and I’ve never looked back. I blogged on Xanga before “blog” was a household word, joined Facebook when it was still strange to see your high school sweetheart all grown-up and filled-out, and have been on Twitter for over four years now. Things have changed a lot since I first ventured into these waters. I don’t want to sound like a Negative Nelly and say it’s gone downhill, but with the introduction of large companies/ads/paid content/sponsored updates into what used to be a space for people to connect with others, share human experiences, write, and simply be, well, it’s just different. In some ways that’s fantastic and in other ways it’s infuriatingly not.

Having run a fairly successful small business for just over five years, I was privy to different sides of social media. As a product-offering entity, many people followed or became a fan of my pages in the hopes of receiving discounts or (more often) free product. And for awhile, I was certainly happy to oblige, in the name of furthering our reach and increasing business. But at the end of the day, the majority of the freebies we handed out were much like dust in the wind. When I was nearing the end of my time with my business, I attended a conference where I handed out a product to some attendees. Meant for my friends with whom I’d connect at the event, I found that utter strangers had no qualms about approaching and descending upon me with grabby hands out, snatching the products from my bag. I felt like Nemo; a piece of tasty grub. I hated it. Those weren’t friends, they weren’t “connections”. Those were swag-hungry beasts I wanted nothing to do with. I literally took a step back from my own bag and watched people crowd around it, digging through like animals, searching for their own freebie (can I add here that they were worth maybe $8 retail? Not really worth the struggle).

Now, having been on the consumer side of the situation has been interesting, too. I’m often invited to PR events where a company hosts some “influential”, socially active types in the hopes that they spread the word of some product through their social webs. This was incredibly fun for awhile, I admit it.

(original source unknown)

Who doesn’t love something free? I know I’m a fan of “gifts”, but at what price? We all know nothing is really free, right? So what’s the hope here? That we, the attendees, encourage others to pay for the products or services we’re offered for free. It’s the same with reviews, right? They hope we love the item(s) enough to use our trusted voices to sell to others. They hope we use our friends. It isn’t free. There is an expectation. I encourage everyone to revisit Mauss’ theories in The Gift.

There are always discussions about this type of event on Twitter. It seems that while once upon a time, the events stirred interest, whereas they now stir feelings more akin to anger, resentment, jealousy and frustration. I’m fairly sure this is the precise opposite of the intention, right? There’s a lot of talk of muting hashtags and link sources, so if this is happening, what’s the end result for the companies hoping to expand their reach? I’d say it’s time we take a look at how (and to whom) things are being doled out, don’t you? What’s the point in building resentment instead of interest?

There are a lot of people bragging about numbers of followers; what does this really mean to brands? There are also many people out there buying followers, so if you haven’t grown a base of really fabulous connections/friends on your own, what good are those numbers? Brands are desperate to connect with the true influencers, but when bloggers band together to boost each others’ traffic, does that really help a brand? The same circle of a few hundred bloggers can’t possibly positively affect sales, can they? When someone on Twitter tweets incessantly about a party they’re invited to and half their followers mute them and the message dies, lost in cyberspace, what’s the point?

It seems to me, that those squawking loudest about how “influential”, “PR friendly” or “connected” they are, are the ones with the least to truly offer, yet the brands are lapping it all up and handing out the swag. So, why? Those who are honestly, genuinely connected are the ones unwilling to use their followers as a commodity through which they garner these perks. If you have to tell people you’re influential, chances are, you probably aren’t, or we’d already be aware.

It’s a funny thing, because someone like Ryan, who doesn’t have even a third of the followers of some “influencers” I know, has in reality influenced more people than anyone I know, in truly substantial ways. His reviews of vehicles have sold at least five cars that we know of. (My father bought a Cruze thanks to Ryan’s review, our sitter bought a Veloster because of him, and a coworker bought a car immediately after hearing Ryan’s thoughts on it, off the top of my head.) Countless other people have come to him for advice, taken him seriously, and followed through with advice he’s given them on so many topics. But is Ryan invited out to lots of events? Thrown swag? Offered perks? Not usually, no. Though he has built relationships with some brands, he’s certainly not wooed, and you’ll also never hear him talk of his so-called “influence” or brag about connections. Interesting, right?

It’s hard to be on either side of this relationship now, I find. I only attend the events I really, truly want to attend. I don’t need anything free badly enough to sell out my Twitter feed and annoy my followers. I’m not interested in being an advertising conduit through my own voice, and my opinions aren’t for sale. But sure, I love being a part of fun events, I adore trying new products and of course I am very happy to share what I love. People know that when I say I like something, it’s an honest opinion. I want that to always be the case. But oh, who doesn’t love a party?

But I won’t beg. I won’t kiss any posterior. I won’t cheat the system to fake a following. I don’t want to make anyone feel left out or less-than. And I sure as hell won’t stand around comparing numbers that mean virtually nothing to the majority of people in the world. Because really, if I have to tell you I’m important, I’m not.

image source: StarTrek.com

So where does this leave us? I really don’t know. But what I do know is that it has left me with an extensive list of muted hashtags and “friends” whose feeds I used to love reading before they became part of this new Borg.

 

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Alex

66 thoughts on “Is resistance futile?

  1. So. this is such an interesting topic. When I started in this world in 2004, there was none of this. No Twitter, no ads, no BUSINESS. So, when the business started, I didn’t really become a part of it…I didn’t have the time (due to a full-time job, several children etc.) and I didn’t really care—I just wanted to write.

    Nowadays, social media is, in fact, part of my full-time job, but I feel like I am somewhat in the dark about a lot of THE BUSINESS of social media and blogging etc. There are parties—sometimes I get invited, sometimes I don’t. I don’t participate in twitter parties…they are not my thing. I don’t block hashtags, because I don’t even notice them enough to be annoyed by them. I rarely tweet at events. I rarely instagram 800 photos of me at a party where other people are not. Just not my style.

    Maybe it’s bad BUSINESS. and maybe it means that I’ll never be a BIG BLOGGER.
    but I’m okay with it. I’m in this social media world to chat, to discuss, to share, to talk, to dish, to whine (sometimes). Much like I did back in 2004. And I’m okay with that.

    ALSO,
    who in the hell calls herself an influencer? Who tells other people how important she is? That’s just gross.

    1. I think there’s plenty of room for all kinds in the space, but I really don’t know what it means for businesses. Truly.

  2. Well said, as always. I will probably never be what they call “influential” in the social media world, but I am ok with that. I once applied to be a part of something and was told, not until you can garner 5,000 unique page views a month. Um, ok. Guess I won’t be doing that. I think the sad thing is that companies forget is that there are “ordinary” people out there who don’t have huge numbers but really do influence people because they won’t shill just anything. People who are loyal to brands and companies because they truly believe in the product.

    I way prefer to make friends, engage in conversation, and have fun. If that gets me things then great, but if not, I’ll still be me.

    1. I don’t even know what the criteria are for becoming an influencer. And it doesn’t matter anyhow. 😉

  3. This is a truly interesting topic and we can talk about it from a consumer & advertiser’s perspective for days. I personally am not that interested in freebies. I mean, I like free stuff, but I’m not willing to sell my ass for it. When I do make it to an event that I’ve been invited to, it’s because it interests me, and when I tweet about it, it’s because I genuinely want to. My biggest turn off is when people/corporations ask me to tweet or blog about something… that’s guaranteed silence from me. This entire social media/branding “phenomena” can get really ugly & I don’t want any part of it. Nice post Alex.

    1. It’s so fascinating! I’d love to hear what the big corps think of this stuff, or what happens at a campaign wrap-up meeting.

      1. I don’t think they really know what to think Alex. Mostly, I think they are confused and just going with whatever comes their way.

      2. I am interested to see where this leads, though. Within about five years, it’ll be fascinating to see how it all changes.

  4. Lets see, currently muted hashtags… Chicken farmers, Kindermoms and anything 140 in Ontario come to mind immediately (also anything soccer related that doesn’t involve my kids playing). If it wasn’t such a staple of our diet, I would boycott chicken, I refuse to buy Kinder stuff (seriously, decent chocolate but not great and soon-to-landfill-made-in-some-Godforsaken-foreign-sweatshop piece of debris) and the 140 thingy in Ontario surrrrre reeks of opportunism and a $-making venture by the organizers that it makes me physically ill.

    Here’s an idea… If you really want to pimp a product or event, create a twitter/Facebook profile that has NO CONNECTION to your personal accounts. Build “influence” as a reviewer of stuff and seeker of free stuff. What, you can’t do that? Well, you are not really that influential, are you? In the mean time, quit trying to sell me something you didn’t pay for or create yourself.

    Now, down to business… I’ve started working with this company called Amway. No really! It’s just buying stuff you already use blah blah blah. Would you ram THAT down the throats of your friends?

    1. I don’t mind reviews, I don’t mind hashtags for events… but there’s a fine line, right?

    1. Count on me for that drink as well. You guys know that I like all things good writing and abhor all things ‘social media expert.’ I’ll admit to feeling left out when my friends all get invited to something that I would actually really enjoy, but in the end, as I’ve said many times, I don’t want to win the internet. I want to win a Pulitzer.

      1. I feel left out too. Not left out because Brand XYZ didn’t invite me, but left out because most of my friends will be going to a party that I wasn’t invited to. I go to BlogHer to see my friends, so it sort of defeats the purpose when most of them end up somewhere different than I am.

    2. But, Annie, I LOVE parties! I just don’t want to sell my soul (or friends) for an invite.

      But yes, I’m sure because of my opinions on this stuff, this is the invite I’ll be accepting. 😉 Plus, I love any excuse to hang out (drink) with you!

    3. I’ll be hanging out on-site, too. I did that last year, as well, and I had the best time. Largely because I got to meet you.

      Sign me up for drinks!

  5. The thing is, I think we can lament how it used to be and how it air quotes “should” be, but of course people can use social media/that space/whatever however they want to. If you don’t like what I tweet when I tweet out a sponsored post or participate in a hashtag as part of a blog campaign I am participating in, then unfollow or mute me. If I don’t like it when someone begs for inclusion in whatever they feel they are missing out on (and gosh, I really don’t), there’s a good reason to unfollow or mute them. It’s your stream. Make it what you want to see.

    Everything feels like a game these days – I agree with you there. And gosh I’m getting tired of playing it. Or even mostly sitting on the sidelines, watching it all go by. Getting to the end of my career, perhaps.

    1. I don’t lament anything. I like how stuff has changed. I like that there’s the opportunity to make money off something like this. Hell, why not? I started a blog to connect with people, to write, to procrastinate, to challenge… and if I can make any money doing that, I’m all for it.

      But when I see people sad about being left out, that sort of stings. I was invited to the event I referred to this past weekend. And had Story agreed to go, I’d have been tweeting about like crazy, because hey, that looked SO FUN. But it hurt so many people (and I’m not saying whether that’s reasonable or not, just stating a fact)… it’s just so often I hear, “Why are the same people always invited/given stuff…”. Maybe it’s childish, but the end result is the same: where does it get the advertisers?

      I just like discussing it all, I guess. I also don’t have a clue how to effectively work the system or play the game, even if I wanted to.

  6. I don’t know that I’m old enough in the social media world to ‘get’ all the business side of things. I see it on Twitter and on some blogs. I’ve noticed people calling themselves influential and typically I ignore it. I dove in because I write and I wanted to meet, chat, and have fun with like-minded people, and some with different perspectives.
    You’re so right. Nothing is free and I’m not a grabber kind of person. It makes me feel a bit odd to see that happening. I’m with you for the parties though – the real life ones.

      1. To be completely frank though, if I was invited to an event that I thought fun, cool, or was right up my alley so to speak, pretty sure I’d be excited to go. Just don’t ask me to promote bad coffee and cheap wine.

  7. When I first started on Twitter, I participated in a lot of Twitter parties and tried to follow back every person that followed me. I was excited to be a part of something. I even won a couple of things. That was very cool.

    As I became more experienced in the Twitter world, I realized how much I appreciated real conversations with people more than prizes. That $50 gift card isn’t worth reading through 100’s of sponsored tweets/links anymore.

    I do think that there are people on the Twitterverse that have found a balance between being a brand ambassador and still being an engaging, genuine person. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with everyone. For this, I’m thankful for the unfollow button.

    We are all influential in our own way. Personally, I can think of a few companies that I am already a huge brand ambassador for and they haven’t paid me for it. I would gladly take their money 🙂 if they were paying me, I would be honest and upfront about it. I’m accountable to myself and my followers.

    I was one of the people who got a lanyard from you at Blissdom. I was very grateful for it and have worn it to other conferences since. I certainly hope I had the common sense to thank you for it 🙂

    I’m on Twitter to talk and connect with people. If I believe in the product/service, I might join a Twitter party, but those are few and far between. I do like some Twitter chats though and find I learn a lot from them.

    1. You’re one of the friends I expected to connect with at the conference, you know. Not a single one of the vultures is someone I’d ever communicate with beyond that weird experience. 😛

      I totally love connecting with the brands I love, I do! And I’m happy to talk about all the things I really, truly adore. But that’s where I draw the line. It doesn’t matter what I get for free: if I don’t like it, I’m not spreading positive word about it.

  8. What bothers me is as to how these brands pick out who has the most influence. I think in the World of social media companies should target “small” people too, I think there words might be stronger than knowing somebody ho got paid for this is talking about them.

    Your feed, your tweet, do not follow those you do not believe in.

  9. (places finger over upper lip to fake mustache, drops voice one octave)

    I really enjoyed your post, Alexandria. Especially the part about your husband, Ryan, I think you said his name was. Sounds like a real terrific fellow, probably handsome and a snappy dresser, to boot.

    Regards,

    Brian Durro

  10. Oh, I totally wanted to BUY one of your lanyards! 🙂 They were so darn cute and my one at the office is so ugly.

    I don’t know the answers to everything raised here (naturally, since I rarely know the answers to anything!) but you’ve expressed so many internal debates that I’ve had with myself as well.

    I kinda wish I was going to BlogHer now because the non-party drinks with Annie, Karen and you sound fun!

    1. Did you get one, Julie? I really was SO happy to give them to friends. That’s why I brought them. It was the complete strangers who frightened me.

      I wish you were coming to BlogHer, too!

  11. I’ve thought for a long time that there is a real divide between longtime bloggers (who are *usually* in it for the writing/connection/communication) and bloggers who have heard that “there’s money in them there hills” and are writing online without actually saying anything beyond “buy, buy, buy what I got for free!”

    I know that it’s not that simple and I don’t intend to hurt feelings here. The internet is the great equalizer and there is room for all of us. I have every right to mute/unfollow/unfriend anyone/anything I don’t want to listen to. Same with everyone else. I hate the whole “you’re doing “. This stuff is open-ended for a reason – there is no ultimate right way – the web is just too big for that.

    I have no problem talking about things/products I love online. If I’ve found something that works for me, I want to share that info, the same way as I would offline.

    As for Blogher, the size of it intimidates me. These conferences also sometimes make me feel small, because even though I’m in it for myself and the writing, it’d be nice to have better numbers. My numbers will likely never be good enough to participate in any campaign, and as a longtime blogger, that ticks me off. Which is stupid, because I’m not supposed to care. But sometimes I do. Like that statement “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.”

    I think my issues are showing so I better sign off now. 🙂

    1. There absolutely IS room for everyone, and I don’t actually feel like there has to be a divide between wanting to write and doing reviews. It’s not that at all. It’s that the whole thing has become so false, that in the end, it’s serving no positive purpose at all. And that’s unfortunate.

      And hey, we ALL have issues. A-plenty. 😉

  12. Buying Followers: It is my considered opinion that if you have over 17,000+ followers and I mention you in my real life world and people go “Huh?”, you’ve bought them.

    Getting followers is not an easy task. Case and point, I’ve just sent out a social media release within a highly publicized mailing that goes out quarterly to homeowners. 940,000 homes received this….they gained 2 followers on both Facebook and Twitter.

    Regarding Business Social Media: I encourage them to promote their business via bloggers. However, I make them well aware that possibly an 1/8 of those taking advantage of their promotion will stay. That is their target. Don’t get all hyped up over followers from a contest….get hyped up with the design of the strategy to target those few in the crowd who will stay, listen and engage.

    Regarding influencers: I tell businesses to talk to everyone; big or small. I go to parties and I see the same faces each and every time. There are few new faces and that, to a brand, has to get boring. Especially when the majority talk all day to one another.

    Reading the hashtags from the same people, every time enrages me as a blogger and as a consultant. Change it up a bit! Ask Little Sally sitting in the corner to write about you, tweet it out with hashtag #whatever, and also share it with their 300+ Facebook friends rather than fans. That’s where all of my viewership comes from because I’ve already earned their trust years ago in real life.

    As well, I warn them that talking to the cliques within social media will get you no where. In fact, sometimes going on Twitter is like talking to a brick wall for most people. I know it is for me and many others that I have talked to and trained.

    Taking Social Media to Real Life: I have a client who was approached by an influencer. They were dubious based on things they seen, I said “Are they your target market?” They said “Definitely not.” I replied, “Don’t do it and don’t feel guilty!” If you have to kiss ass to anyone (influencer or not) who doesn’t fit your target to save face….then your compromising your mission and value statement.

    Take every social media connection into real life situations. Invite them into your world, share with them your value, and you also have the chance to really see if that person is who they say they are.

    Good post Alex…many things I agree with you. However, these bloggers work hard to put food on the table. I say Kudos to them! If they can leverage their following to bring in some cash then they’ve done it honestly. I can’t say enough about these people who don’t have it handed to them on a silver platter!

    My blog is for my personal enjoyment. I fund all of my outings and I try so hard to get interviews to take my blog up a notch. It doesn’t work the majority of the time but it’s the thrill of the chase that I’ve always enjoyed and then sharing it on my blog. If I get some free stuff to try along the way, well…..I do my due diligence and write about them. If not, then so be it too.

    1. Thanks for the response, Trina! I want to be clear that I’m not at all disparaging review bloggers. I adore a well-written, thoughtful, useful review. And I ADORE many of the ambassadors as personal friends. This isn’t about them.

      We’re saying the same things, you and I.

    2. “Buying Followers: It is my considered opinion that if you have over 17,000+ followers and I mention you in my real life world and people go “Huh?”, you’ve bought them.”

      Sorry, not true. I doubt many people in your “real life” would have heard of me, but I have a lot more than 17,000 followers (rather arbitrary number). None of them were bought. I have better things to spend my money on than followers.

      1. Well I would say that you are very fortunate, but I think if you look deep that many are generated from your speaking engagements as well.

        Real life platforms gives you a much larger following.

  13. Alex! Loved reading your post, and all the comments. I am a long-time reader of blogs, but newish to blogging and new to twitter myself. Over the years I’ve seen some favourite writers turn very corporate, and they’ve gradually fallen off my radar. I’m just not interested in reading reviews of air fresheners, so I go elsewhere – as Melissa pointed out, that’s the beauty of the Internet!

    Anyway, as we’re on the topic of business branding taking over, I have to add this anecdote:

    I went to a cattle branding on the weekend, my very first one! It was exciting to see the cows and the horses and the people and the kids (who at 2.5 yrs old were climbing the cattle pens and herding the animals – for reals!). I mostly sat on the sidelines, and tweeted a bit about what I saw, and included the hashtag #branding. You know, because I was at a branding. It never occurred to me that #branding would mean something completely different on Twitter! (Did I mention I am a neophyte?) That evening I had half a dozen new twitter followers, which is unusual for me…. turns out they were all from PR firms or ‘social media experts’ with ‘branding’ as part of their Twitter Handle or 140 character bio. If they had actually read my tweet instead of auto-following everything with a branding hashtag, it would have been quite clear I was talking about a completely different kind of branding – one that involved hot iron and cow hide!

    1. Although, Laura, I have to say that your tweets were probably far more interesting than ones about brands– er, companies. 😉

  14. Interesting topic. I myself have been feeling rather disillusioned by the whole thing lately and yet I’m not going to lie and suggest that I don’t want to make a living off of blogging. I do. And still I’m not. And so I wonder how much of my soul do I have to sell to make that living? I have done one sponsored post I regret totally (way back at the beginning of blogging) and made a promise not to do anything from then on that wasn’t a fit for me. And I haven’t. I also don’t want to be so consumed with “sponsored” obligations that I can’t be me anymore.

    For all the time I put into blogging and social media, I often wonder what it’s all for? Pretty sure I’m not alone on that one.

    1. I’m right there with you, Candace. I’m happy to no longer have a business I need to promote through SM, frankly. It was all getting to be too much for me. And while I’d also love to make a living blogging, I’m really not sure that that’s a reasonable goal for me anyhow. But I do know that I love reading your blog. 🙂

    1. I don’t want to come across as disapproving of reviews, or perks, either. As someone new to blogging, you’ve got a whole world to explore! Thanks for popping by. 🙂

  15. Hi Alex! No, I didn’t get one (and we didn’t know each other) — I just remember seeing them there and admiring them. I was going to go to BlogHer this year (I can never resist NYC!), but my in-laws are coming in to visit us from Australia. Next year? 🙂 Julie

  16. Interesting conversation with some great points. I think, like everything, there are a few sides to the story. I definitely believe there is an echo chamber with the same people attending/tweeting/retweeting/blogging about said product/event. I only learned recently about the buying of twitter followers (seriously?) and the whole behind the scenes aspect of bloggers working together to boost blog numbers (WTF?).

    But I also know from my personal experience (and I’ve written about it) that I DID used to get jealous when I saw others going to events/getting things that I wasn’t getting or being invited to (OMG, worst grammar ever). If I’m being completely honest, that said more about me than the person who was tweeting. It wasn’t until I sat down and assessed what I really wanted that it sort of freed me from being jealous of what others were getting and focusing on what I wanted and what I needed to do to get it.

    I see a lot of passive aggressive tweets on twitter – I think that more than anything, drives me insane — because mostly, they’re just sent out to be spiteful. If you have a problem with someone or think someone is tweeting too much, maybe send them a DM or an email. Because if one person is thinking it, then most likely others are thinking the same thing. I personally would like to know if I’m annoying people and a “I need to mute some people” tweet doesn’t really help anyone, ya know?

    At the end of the day, I think we all just need to stay true to who we are, which is exactly what you do Alex.

    Also, SUPER EXCITED I can finally leave a comment. Yay!

    1. You’re right, Sharon… it says a lot more about the person feeling jealous, but the fact is, that at least I own my jealousy where some others can do nothing about it, right? They live in remote places where tweet-ups aren’t promoted by bigger brands, or they aren’t talkative or they just aren’t invited to fun parties. It’s still sad, and it sucks. I’m totally jealous of the crew who went to DisneyLand last week, but I’m also totally ok with talking about it! Ha!

      As for passive-aggressiveness, well, sure it would be nice if everyone could own their feelings but it is pretty rude to DM someone and say, “Hey, shut up a bit, would you?”. I know I tweet too much for people, and that’s ok. They’ve unfollowed. And I’m ok with muting hashtags of stuff I am not interested in, but also happy to keep following people for OTHER conversation.

      All we can do anywhere is be ourselves, really. For better, worse, followers or unfollowers. 🙂

      (and I am super happy you can comment now, too! YAY!)

  17. I’m weeks late stumbling upon this discussion, but I wanted to say how much I loved your post and enjoyed reading the comments. If people are upfront about what they’re doing and true to who they claim to be, then others can (as Emma said), make the decision to follow or not follow, to mute or unmute, at will.

    I connect with people online because I love people and ideas. Those who stick with me put up with a very wide range of topics — and I reward that by following back a large percentage of my followers. (I don’t follow back naked people or mega-spammers — and sometimes I accidentally forget to follow back really good people.) I figure if they’re going to listen to me, I owe them the courtesy of listening to and getting to know them. But that’s just me.

    Thanks for starting this conversation, Alex.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Ann.

      I would like for this to be an ongoing chat, really. I wish more people would publicly discuss this kind of thing. It seems that having an opinion one way or the other just leads to someone being offended, and that shouldn’t happen.

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