Social Network Abuse

It seems that the world has finally woken up to micro-blogging. For many years ICQ, IM clients, forums etc have offered facilities for displaying a “Mood Message” or “Status Message” to sum up, in one brief sentence, what’s happening in our lives and how we are feeling at THIS precise moment in time.

Personally, I often use mood messages to decide whether or not I actually want to talk to someone. For example, women with status messages such as “Feeling a little tender and needing a hug” should be avoided at all costs; anyone with a status such as “anoyd wiv ma bst m8” should be instantly removed from your contacts list BUT “Anyone fancy a pint?” is your new best friend.

Recently (well recently in the grand scheme of things!) Facebook has capitalised on the need we all feel, to tell everyone what we are doing, every second of the day. Reading and writing status updates probably makes up a good third of what we all do on the site. It stands to reason that sooner or later (and again, I mean in the grand scheme of things) someone would release a web service that provides ONLY status updates. Of course, I’m talking about twitter.com which has recently come to the forefront of the great unwashed’s attention.

(NB: For the record, I first started tweeting back in May February ’07 – but seeing as noone else was doing it, I abandoned the idea! See twitter.com/beetlejoose for evidence!)

Now, the title of this post is Social Network Abuse for a reason; as with anything new, the marketing world are jumping on Twitter as a potential new revenue and advertising stream and it winds me up! I know I shouldn’t get annoyed about things like this – after all, if we didn’t start monetising the Internet I’d still be installing printers and running EPOS systems for a living, but just how far can we go? Advertising is everywhere, we can’t get away from it and marketeers will always find ways to get round restrictions in order to pedal their wares.

I’m sure you have all experienced this at least once in the last month or so. “Follow <Client Name> on twitter for your chance to WIN WIN WIN”. This particular example is <Client Name>. Now, I built this competition. From start to finish, I wrote every line of code. The eCRM guy at my company moderates the Twitter feed and Facebook “fan page” and he knows me quite well. So why on God’s-green-Earth has the brand started to follow me on Twitter? It’s simple. As soon as you get the email stating that “<Client Name> is following you on Twitter” you have the uncontrollable urge to find out what they are tweeting. So you do.

Most lesser mortals then click “Follow” in return; either out of courtesy (“Well they’re following me, it’s only fair for me to follow them”), out of the ludicrous requirement to have an overflowing contacts list (“Ooooh just one more and I’ve hit double figures…”) or – and heaven forbid this should actually be the case – they ACTUALLY want to keep up to date with that brand.

All this is par for the course with any social networking facility, like it or not; the problem I have is that we pay a lot of money for the items we buy. The justification for this is that producing, packaging, shipping and marketing these products cost a lot of money and these costs need to be factored into the price that consumers pay. Well that’s simply not true anymore. Marketing companies cost a lot of money, but the actual marketing itself doesn’t! Take <Client Name> for example – they’ve had one crappy 20 second TV ad for the website that I was working on Christmas Day to finish – this ad probably cost more than the whole website to produce and looking at the stats, the most frequent referers were Facebook and Website advertising (at the time of writing!).

So how can we save money on marketing but reach more people than we could before? Utilise two “free” services and spam the e-world with more and more junk. This reduction in marketing costs should be reflected in the price we all pay for our products. (Welcome to cloud-cuckoo land, My name is Sebastian and I’ll be your host today).

When <Client Name>’s Twitter feed was first launched there was a huge introductory missive, broken up into 140 character bites, which really annoyed me. It’s a micro-blogging service. We are given 140 characters to tell people what we’re doing and how we’re feeling; we can do this as often or as rarely as we like – this, in my opinion, is not an invitation to spam the world with an A4 sheet’s worth [wow, using paper sizes? Showing my age!] of terms and conditions for a competition!

The other gripe I have with all this is the same across all social networks: “Dave Randombloke wants to be your friend” or “Freddy Neverheardofhim [Following 32157] is now following you on Twitter“. Now, Dave Randombloke, we’ve never met, I don’t know any of your friends (maybe you don’t either!) and the likelihood of you ever buying me a pint is slim-to-none, so why on earth would I want you on my MySpace contacts list? And in a similar vein, why would you want ME on your list? I call this “MySpace Popularity Syndrome“. It seems to affect pretty much everyone on these social networking sites. Facebook never used to be like this, most profiles are only available to people you have approved or those within the same “networks” as yourself but now… I’m getting add requests left, right and centre.

A good example of this occured just last week. I went out for a couple of beers with some friends and we were joined, for all of about five minutes, by one of the lads’ girlfriends. We had a very brief introduction, shared about four or five words and that was that. The next morning I awoke (with a sore head!) to a friend request from this girl! I gave her the benefit of the doubt, accepted the request thinking that maybe she wanted to actually develop a friendship for the sake of her boyfriend – but no, I’ve not heard a peep out of her! The cynic in me would suggest that maybe she wanted to keep an eye on what her man was discussing with me via wall posts etc ;-)

There is a simple way around this. If you want to be my friend on Facebook or you want me to follow you on Twitter, there’s a very simple process to go through. Send me a message, call me, knock on my front door and ask me outright “Hey Skelli, I’ve not seen you for a couple of years but I still value your friendship and/or opinion, shall we re-kindle our relationship?” for the love of all things digital DO NOT hint at me… don’t follow me on Twitter and then get insulted when I don’t follow you back… and finally, DO NOT POKE ME!

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