How We Killed Social Media

“Should I write pieces made for the front page?”

“Should I spend more time on StumbleUpon?”

“Can Twitter seriously do my blog any good?”

“What about Reddit? Del.icio.us? And what the hell is Sphinn?”

If I go four waking hours between hearing one of these questions from a home business client, it must be a religious holiday. Everybody wants to know about social media. But they don’t want to know just anything about social media.

They want to know what they’re doing wrong.

They’re doing all the right things. They’re getting involved in the community. They’re putting all the right buttons in all the right places. They’re networking. They’re making friends. They’re voting up other people’s content. They’re doing everything Skellie and Maki told them to do.

So why is nothing happening?

Even a few months ago, your article would get Stumbled. You’d get a few thumbs up. You’d feel pretty good. Your article would get 5,000 visitors in a day.

Today, a comparable article gets Stumbled. You get a few thumbs up. You feel pretty good. Your website gets a few visitors. You get a few more thumbs up. Your article gets 5,000 visitors in a month.

What happened?

What nobody’s talking about is that you’re not doing anything wrong. The rules got changed and we didn’t get the memo.

So who changed the rules? We did.

We exploited the loopholes.

Let’s imagine you find an IRS loophole. You make a killing, and then you tell everyone you can find — you want to be seen as an expert, after all. “What a cool idea!” they say, and they try it themselves. They tell all their friends. Some get in themselves, some don’t, but soon enough, the IRS catches on.

If one or two people exploit an IRS loophole, it becomes the IRS’s dirty little secret. Not worth the time and money to fix it. When dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people exploit the same loophole — especially after the originals publicly broadcasted how they made their killing — it becomes worth it, and the loophole gets shut.

No killing for you. You lose.

Digg made headlines in January when they changed their algorithm, insisting on a diversity requirement for submissions to succeed. Why did they do that? Because we tried to screw the system. We said, “Hey! If I get 200 people to Digg all my stuff, I’ll be on the front page every day. I’ll be the Social Media King of the World!”

Uh, did we seriously think they wouldn’t catch on?

We watered down the hooch.

Let’s say you’re having a party, and you’ve set aside a certain amount of booze for all of your guests. When you have 10 guests, everybody gets happily loaded and goes to bed with the wrong people and the world is as it should be.

But imagine that each of your friends invited 10 of their own friends. Or 100. Or 1,000. Then you’ve got 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 people sharing the original amount of hooch. No-one’s drunk, and everybody’s looking at each other and wondering why.

What the hell did we think was going to happen?

I don’t use StumbleUpon anymore, but I still have the toolbar installed. Clicking “Stumble” three times got me these three cream of the crop websites:

Support Save — “For just $897 per month each, you can have a full-time dedicated employee or team of employees with the skills you need. Your employee(s) will have excellent English skills with almost no accent.”

Franchise Direct — “Franchise Direct’s directory provides you with a wide list of franchises for sale and business opportunities for sale. It represents top franchises and businesses.”

Wikipedia List of Acquisitions by Google — “This is a list of acquisitions by Google, a computer software and an online search engine company. Each acquisition is for the respective company in its entirety, unless otherwise specified.”

Is this seriously the best of the Internet? The best of the best? The crème de la crème? We added shit to the wine and then wondered why the wine tasted like shit.

We didn’t lose the point. We tried to screw the point.

Let’s think about the colloquial definition of “stumble upon”. When you’re going about your business and you STUMBLE UPON something noteworthy, so noteworthy that you think you should tell your friends, you want to have a way to tell them. StumbleUpon gave you the opportunity to do so. The key here was that you were going about your business. Not paying a few thousand bucks to a marketing consultant to pretend like you were going about your business.

How about Digg? According to their website, Digg defines itself like this:

Digg — All News, Videos & Images.

News. Video. Images. Go take a peek at the last thing that you dugg. Was it video? No? Was it an image? No? Was it news? I highly, highly doubt it.

Everybody’s freaking out about the bury brigades, storming around Digg and burying what they believe to be “spam”.

“But it’s not spam!” we scream.

No? Is it news? Would Dan Rather cover it? The New York Times? Hell, Kelly Ripa? USA Today? No? THEN IT’S NOT NEWS AND IT’S NOT FOR DIGG.

What about bookmarking? Remember bookmarking? You’d find something you thought was worth coming back to later, and you bookmarked it. Del.icio.us made it possible for that to be web based, so you can access your bookmarks from anywhere. If you wanted, you could even give other people access to your bookmarks and they could check out what you thought was cool.

Then people started writing posts about common factors of articles that made the front page of del.icio.us. We noticed the headline tricks and that the number 7 worked in the title and that if we put a “bookmark this” button in our copy, that we could screw the system.

Now the system is screwing us.

Is social media marketing dead? Of course not. Will it ever be the same again? Ditto.

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Image credit: freeparking

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.