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5 things about social media, 10.10.2016

1. The discourse around social media is always, always, about marketing. This isn’t how users experience it. We use social media for various reasons – friendship, networking, learning – and while it may sometimes be true that we use it for shopping (Pinterest especially), that’s really not the point. So talking about how blogging or Twitter or whatever is “over” creates a weird disconnect. It tells users our experience of the medium isn’t valid. And it tells us we exist only as consumers.

2. I’m not comfortable selling; I want to make friends, not followers. I also really hate being sold to. I love discovering great stuff and great people, but if I feel they are talking to me only as a market I turn off so fast. I’m sure I’m not alone, although I suspect not everyone has the same resistance to selling that I do. We know “authenticity” is an illusion – our online personas are not us – but we crave that human touch. Social media works because it connects people. Not because it shows us stuff.

3. The view of social media as marketing creates a very peculiar dynamic in which follower count and likes are assumed to have value in themselves. This is bizarre. And it leads to bizarre behaviour like following accounts purely in the hopes of getting followed back. This is not how making friends works. And if social media has any value at all, it has to be about real relationships. Even if they’re superficial, they must still be real. 

4. A lot of people steer clear of social media because they feel too exposed. Others find that their online expression changes as their profile grows. Personally, I’m caught in this weird tension between revelling in my relative anonymity (and hence freedom), and kneejerk anxiety over my lack of reach. That’s the problem with using the same platforms for self-expression and marketing. 

5. Social media bleeds into other media. Instagram has created a whole new photographic aesthetic (the square flat lay, which is really not my favourite) that can be seen all over the web, not just on Instagram. Pinterest has resulted in pressure for blogs to become “pinnable”: if you want your post to have reach, it must have images in vertical format (preferably really looooong so that it takes up a lot of Pinterest real estate), with text on top so that everyone knows what it’s about and where it’s from. This is a lot of work and more importantly, it doesn’t serve the blog readership. Come on. It looks crap on a blog. It doesn’t support the text, it just gets in the way. But this is the received wisdom: if you’re blogging now, it has to look like this. 

I think all this is crap. I’m not immune to the general trends and pressures, but I make most of my choices based on what I love about social media. I use Twitter as a lifeline. I use Instagram to celebrate beauty. I use Pinterest to collect ideas. And I blog… well.

I blog because:
– It helps me process my thoughts. My weekly 5 things has become a treasured ritual; sometimes I collect moments through the week, sometimes I have to scramble for them, increasingly I write 5 things on a theme that I’ve been thinking about. It’s enormously narcissistic, but it’s important to me. Similarly, a lot of the lengthier posts I write exist because I wanted to chew something over.
– I love the community – even though it’s far less of a community now than Twitter or IG, and I hardly ever get comments here (which is fine), I still feel like I’m talking to friends.
– I like that a total stranger can come to my site to check out my patterns and get a sense of who I am as a person. Maybe they’ll stick around, or follow me on Twitter. Maybe not. I’m less filtered than I should be, which is a conscious choice, though possibly a stupid one. (Maybe not that conscious, either. I mean. I’m pretty unfiltered in person too.)
– And yes, it’s marketing, too. The tutorials, the pattern introductions, the occasional business topics… of course that’s a marketing move. So my blog is pretty schizophrenic, what with the personal posts and occasional rants, and then the semi-Pinterest-optimised “content”… Yet another reason it would probably make sense to split the personal stuff off completely into a private blog. But where’s the fun in that?

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