On April 29 , 2013, I logged into Facebook and saw a photo posted by a friend. There was a tall plume of smoke rising out of the uptown area in Minneapolis. A building was clearly on fire. I thought, “Oh no, those poor people!” and said a prayer.
It was my apartment.
I’ve been a member of social media in one iteration or another for 28 years. I started using Facebook in July 2008. Prior to that, I was on Myspace and had a half-hearted blog on Blogger called ‘Writing is a Tapeworm’. Then it was chat rooms all the way back to 1991 and the ISCABBS. We’ve come a long way baby.
I have difficulty parting ways with social media. Agreeing to their terms when you sign up for the ‘free’ account sort of feels like making a deal with the devil. But even so, I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, YouTube, Soundcloud, and the recently deceased Google+. I also have ‘free’ email from Microsoft and Google. I have been forced to sign up for unused accounts on Instagram and Pinterest because someone was spoofing my email. No, you do not get to share smut under my good name.
Social media is a tool and like any tool, it can be used for good or ill.
I’ve shed some tears over things I’ve seen on social media. Local news reports of my apartment burning. Photos shared by friends before I had the chance to come home and see it for myself. Many of us have found out about personal tragedies prematurely on Facebook. Here is the problem of having mixed groups of people on one platform: we may need to reach out for the support of friends before everyone in the family has been notified… Facebook is a pretty abrupt and insensitive way to learn about horrible things. Yet, sometimes it has been the only way I would have heard the news.
People don’t talk on the phone or over the fence anymore.
I have friends and family literally coast to coast and across the globe. I use social media to keep in touch with them. I share photos and jokes and news. I talk about my writing. It’s just me, no flash. And my friends and family do the same to varying degrees. I have come to know some people on a much deeper level through social media and strengthen relationships that I have in real life.
My friend’s grandparents became fans of mine through Facebook. I watch my friends and family’s children grow. I watch them age. I’ve watched multiple relationships start and end. Some people I know have gotten divorced, dated, and remarried within the ten years I’ve been single. I’ve seen vacations and tragedies, deceased family and beloved pets, comments from those who have passed on my memories feed…
I have zero tolerance for social media related drama. I have been questioned in person about things I have posted online. FYI- I am what I am. You can stop following me and talking to me if I offend you. My hope is that most of my online activity simply confirms what you already know about me. I love to share photos and stories and the occasional zinger. I love cruising along with quotes that inspire me and music I am listening to, then drop the F-bomb for good measure.
Hey, I don’t want you to think someone has hacked into my account…
Social media pisses me off sometimes with too much self-aggrandizing and posturing. My niece gave me great perspective: “Everyone is just showing off”. In other words, do not compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Just because I am real, does not mean they are.
And people use it for different purposes. Yes, some brag to make themselves feel better than others. Some simply lurk. You would never know they were online because they do not post. But others are trying to sell themselves as an expert or an artist to increase business. Which is sort of what I am doing when I tell people about my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter.
I guess I am officially a blogger though not a very good one according to the numbers. Meh. I care about quality content more than market volume. My blog is a bit of a basket case in that it is not focused on one topic, against all blogging advice. They also say that the days of the personal essay are over. Oh well. I guess this is all about how to make money at blogging, how to attract followers, and seriously that ship has sailed anyway.
The topic of my blog is my writing and I write about many things in many forms. I am not in this to follow trends or have huge numbers. I write to write. My audience cannot find me unless my writing is accessible. Since the state of the publishing industry is what it is, and I do not have the credentials to get published, I publish myself here. And social media helps my audience to find me: people who want to read my writing and follow my blog.
I am speaking to the real people here, not the spambots. You know who you are.
But the social media machine is toxic. It’s the insidious data mining for manipulation and profit that terrifies me. Users of social media are not the customers of social media. Remember, you are logging in for ‘free’ and the paying customers are the advertisers. The algorithms run routines to figure out what interests you and serve up small validations or punishments to manipulate you into changing your behavior and buy their customers products.
Users search the feed for human connection and validation and find advertising. This is part of a greater, more disturbing trend in marketing in which companies try to associate your strong internal emotional world with their products.
We value you. We understand. Give us your money.
It’s sick. And it’s effective. And free is not free. Someone has to pay for the social media platform and until people are willing to pay a subscription for an ad-free space, it will continue. If you care to hear about how you are being manipulated, how this all works, listen to this 20-minute interview of Jaron Lanier, American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer. He wrote a book called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”.
But unfortunately, Twitter is an author’s #1 tool. It’s free and you can index your posts with hashtags so that people looking for information on the same topic can find them. It is a huge platform, but I ran a free yearlong Twitter based marketing campaign in 2018 for the leukemia book I edited. Strangers managed to find my posts and ask me questions about the book. I watched the sales on Amazon go up and down in relation to when the posts would appear. It really works!
On the other hand, Facebook algorithms search for posts that indicate they might promote sales for something and hide these from the feed. Then they contact you about how, for small fee, you could reach more people. But here’s the thing Facebook: I’m not selling anything. I am trying to tell my friends and family about my free writing on my free blog for free. You know, relationships and sharing? You know, social media?
Around Christmas, I was offered a credit to try out Facebook advertising. I cashed that in to learn how it actually works and how effective it is. I chose to boost a blog post I wrote about Toys for Tots which was short on toys last Christmas season. I figured, if I was going to promote anything it should be of some value and help a worthy cause.
According to my little green book (my writing career business records), I applied a $15 credit for an ad that ran for two days. That ad reached 1,837 people and generated 104 post link clicks, and 3 shares. My blog stats indicated 5 clicks on the Toys for Tots website link within my blog post. I received no additional blog followers but one additional Facebook page follow. Because of the Facebook campaign, the Toys for Tots blog post got 185 views total. So, roughly a 10% success rate. What this would translate to in terms of books sales, I have no idea.
My blog posts normally get about 20-40 views depending on the photo, the topic, and the timing of the post. Pathetic, I know. If a lot of people react, social media will keep it visible in the feed and the numbers go up. This doesn’t include people that just come to my home page but since that statistic now includes web crawlers, it is a useless number to me. And this does not include the 140 people who have chosen to subscribe to my blog and get copies of it in their inbox every week. If you are trying to make a living at this, those numbers simply are not enough. You have to sell, sell, sell! I don’t. I am my own patron. I write because I must write.
So, what can we do? As a writer, it’s nearly impossible to get off social media if you are trying to reach your audience. Until someone comes up with the next great thing, some modern iteration of the old ISCABBS that allows us to connect without some insidious ulterior motive, I feel stuck with it. It’s the world we live in. I fear that despite all the good that has come of it, ultimately it is contributing to the chaos we see in the world today. It’s become a venue for people to vent their anger without actually doing anything about what is making them angry or realizing that it is social media itself that is fueling their rage for profit.
Please think about it.
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019
-Photo Credit: Phong Tran, April 2013, phonghtran.com