A moment of confession: I harbor some uncertainties about my participation in social media. These uncertainties stem from something deeper than social media itself, rooted in questions of relationship, authenticity, marketing and self-promotion, what it means to earn money as a content creator, and more.
At heart, this article is my own exploration into some of the questions that swirl in the back of my brain, in an attempt to clarify the answers and to solicit feedback from you, the reader, in hopes of gaining a wider perspective.
Social media could be defined as the collection of internet based tools that allow us to connect and interact socially with one another. Like any tool, it's essence is that of utility. That being said, as far as human socialization goes, the healthiest relationships exist at the antipodes of utility. Utility is always a means to some other end, and treating people in the manner of a means to an end only leads to destructive relationships.
So what is social media actually for, and is there a purpose to gaining many followers? Depending how one approaches it, a social network may be either for socializing, or for networking, or some combination of the two. It's this combination that seems to turn things fuzzy for me. Also, money – another element of utility in our world.
As I move increasingly into the world of content creation, my ability to draw an income from my efforts ties directly to the size of my network and the number of those that not only follow me, but that consume what I produce. To put it bluntly: Content creators depend on content consumers.
Writing has always been a passion, and something I mainly pursued in the past without too many thoughts of remuneration. While SteemIt appears to offer some glimmer of hope in getting paid for my writing, it has also dawned on me that I have so far woefully neglected any real effort at building an audience.
I've seen some new SteemIt members enter the community and immediately draw huge sums of Steem on their first posts, and understand that in such cases these folks may have already put in years of work creating other content outside of this platform, and so already have an audience of people interested in their work. I get this, and have zero envy toward those folks. In fact, if anything they serve as a beacon for me to see what is possible if I set my course on a similar heading, and help to inspire and motivate me. In short: Grind.
However it has also caused me to step back and begin to question my relationship to social networking itself, what it means to build an audience, and what it is I desire to do.
In some ways I feel that not just a desire for money, but a need for it can be corrupting. It would not be wrong in my heart to wish for a large audience unless that were to come at the expense of my own authenticity and a paycheck only. On the other hand, I would ideally like to attract such an audience through virtue of authentic and uncompromising self-expression, coming from the nature of who I am and all I have to say and do. Yet, why should I care much at all about the size of my audience then, but for the fact that in the current socioeconomic scheme of things the number of dollars one can earn is directly proportional to the number of eyeballs one commands.
What about marketing and self-promotion? I admit to having very little desire to self-promote. As is often the case with artists I would rather steer clear of it, preferring to focus on nothing other than the craft of writing and the art of delivering an impactful message.
But, “If you build it, they will come”, it is said. That's a fine idea, but is it reality? It's difficult to judge when I survey the social media landscape and observe what others are doing – particularly those who do have large numbers of followers. On Twitter they seem to be pumping out tweets faster than the Dakota pipeline. I can't help thinking of it as some kind of an arms race. Gary Vaynerchuk once opined that today the volume of new content that is being published over the internet every day is more than the sum total of all the content ever produced in the entirety of recorded human history prior to the year 2000. It's no wonder, then, that those who depend on content creation for their livelihood must compete for attention at such a flurried pace. To be heard through the ever-increasing din of noise it appears as if the only two options are either to strengthen your signal, or pump up the volume.
Facebook is only a marginally different story. Here I don't know how else to put it, except to say flatly that when I see those people with friends numbering in the many thousands, I can't help but find myself cynically wondering as to what extent they are 'friend whores'. I would not be so bold as to accuse anyone specifically of such motivation, but the thought of it creeps through my mind like Bentgrass, nonetheless.
Perhaps I am utterly wrong in regarding the amassing of friends on Facebook as some sort of social impropriety, and that those who do so are only 'guilty' of being skilled networkers. This brings me back to the question I began with – just what is social media for, and is it better utilized to maintain a circle of close friends, or for professional networking. At the end of the day, though, who am I to judge how any tool 'ought' to be used. After all, I've worked on a car engine with a framing hammer … at least tried to.
But the reason I've always been reticent at the thought of amassing thousands of 'friends' on social media, is that I don't see it as possible to have that many friends and take an active interest in keeping up with all of them. They should be more aptly termed acquaintances. I never saw the point in friending someone on facebook who I did not know, or had only met tangentially and had never spent time with, because, why on earth would I want to follow along in the affairs of someone I don't even know nor have any real context with? Sure, I could friend them and then immediately 'unfollow', which is what I imagine others do. How else to maintain the space for the number of friends I already do follow? But then what is the point, if not solely for the sake of 'friend whoring'? It always felt odd to me to consider doing that so I never did. However I am open to seeing how others who do engage with Facebook in such a way could have valid reasons for it, if they care to share.
A similar thing confronts me here on SteemIt. To be perfectly honest, I don't feel the need to reciprocate in following someone solely because they have followed me, as I'm only truly interested in following those whose content I genuinely wish to keep up with, since my time and attention are limited. So when it really gets down to it, yes I do understand that even the number of my own followers is superficial, and that on some level I already know the answer to my own question: Stop caring about the number of followers – it's quality not quantity that counts!
Again, much respect to those who have built large, dedicated audiences. For my own sake I don't have a clue how to do it, other than to simply continue writing, and let go of expectations. But isn't that the old, “If you build it, they will come” cliché again? I suppose it is.
So, here is my question to anyone having read this far: Should I be more open to connecting/following/friending people on social media as a tool for networking, even when I may not care to reciprocate in following them back or consuming their content? I'm curious as to your stance.
I still lean towards no. To do so seems rather trivial and, well, utilitarian. It seems to me to diminish the value of real friendship and authentic relating. Still, I remain open to seeing things in a different light. If you can elucidate a different opinion for me, please do. I am open to expanding my view of social media and social networking, if it feels authentic to do so. Otherwise, I'll just get back on my horse and continue on with writing for the sake of writing, not worry much about it, and leave being famous for being famous to the celebrities.