“Do not look at the number on the weight. Just focus on lifting it. Your aim is to grow stronger, not to just lift a certain number…”
That was the advice one of my coaches used to give me when we were being put through our paces in the gymnasium. And well, that is the same advice that I really would like to extend to those social networks that are increasingly becoming a part of our lives – Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Each of those worthies got into prominence because they were social in nature. They were digital places where people shared information, pictures and other content about their lives, expressed opinions, made enquiries, answered them and so on and so forth.
In essence, they were about communication, for building bridges and keeping in touch. Yes, there were accusations that they were networks of vanity, pride and achievement but at the core, it was communication that counted – it was us sharing a part of us with our friends and/or those who were following us.
That seems to have been a while ago. Today, these networks are not about what one posts on them, but the number of people that are following one. It is not just about posting a picture, but getting a number of likes for it. It is not about what you are saying or responding to, but about counting views, retweets and likes.
It seems to be less about communication, and more about follower count. Sincerity seems to have been sacrificed at the altar of statistics. It is not what you put out there that counts, but what is counted is the number of people who have seen it or responded to it in some manner or the other.
Now, wedding planners charge a sum to guarantee a certain number of views and likes for your wedding videos and pictures. Adding fuel to the followership fire are a number of brands that feel a person with a million followers will boost sales by simply brandishing their product (or even an event invite) on his or her social network.
I know there will be any number of marketing executives who will say that they are within their rights to use social networks to reach their audiences. And anyway, most social networks themselves use a lot of commercial messaging and advertising. However, what is a matter of concern is that all too often, even brands seem to clearly value volume of followers rather than its quality and indeed, even the quality of content that it follows.
The result? Suddenly social networks have all become about numbers – numbers of likes, numbers of comments, numbers of followers.“Yes, we know that what he/she posts is poor quality, but you cannot argue with the fact that they have thousands of followers,” is the rationale that I have heard far too often.
Indeed, this has spawned a whole breed of people who define themselves by the number of followers they have, call them influencers or what you will. And another breed that claims to get you those followers.
Social networks like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are in danger of becoming like cinema box offices, where what really matters is how much your film made, not how good or bad it was. Indeed, it is coming to the stage when quality is being determined by quantity – a post or a photograph is believed to be good only if it attracts a certain number of likes, comments or views.
There would have been no concern if these had been commercial networks, but these, alas, have been social ones. They used to be about people, not numbers of people. The biggest casualty of this chase for numbers has been: sincerity.
An increasing number of people on social networks now make posts to get attention in the form of likes and comments, rather than to simply share a slice of their lives. It is about posting what your followers will respond to, rather than simply putting what you think out there. And this in turn has led to the proliferation of sensationalisation and even fake news, to an extent. Everyone is chasing numbers, rather than information.
Is there a solution to this? Well, a rather obvious one would be for the networks to simply stopping users from knowing the number of followers they have, or killing those viewing statistics. Users should have the option of being able to search their follower base and see details of who they themselves are following, but there should be no option for them to see all their followers in one place or to even know the follower count.
Of course, there will be those who will doggedly find their way around this, but at least it will require some effort. I would similarly in the long run advocate for the destruction of the Like and Retweet buttons, which too often are becoming just something one can press at random – people should be able to retweet only if they are willing to add their own pennyworth in terms of commentary, and the same applies to other social networks.
Just hitting a like button is too easy and could reflect anything from genuine appreciation to mild interest to a nerve twitch. But that might be going a bit too far right now. I would be more than content with just the removal of follower statistics, as this will put the stress right back on what is important in social networks.
Sharing. Not statistics.