I’m engaged in an email discussion that’s getting heated now and seemed relatively simple when it started. At the heart of the problem is what I call the landrush problem in social media.
I refer to the Oklahoma landrush. You might know the history. There were several movies based on it. On April 22, 1889, thousands of people lined up in a race to claim lands in Oklahoma. Based on the Homestead Act, what they claimed would be their property.
Today I’m seeing that happen in a number of social media sites. But, unlike the land rush in 1889, this one has no limits and no boundaries. Businesses are gaming review systems to get privileged placement. And, with the way that works, the rich get richer and established, and there are not a lot of safeguards.
Here’s how it works: you put up a site that brings some group of people together. Let’s say you want to create a social media site for entrepreneurs. So you create the site — I understand Ning and other vendors make it easier — for people to log in, post on the blog, connect with each other, and so on. It’s sort of a Facebook for your affinity group. And of course you have a system of tagging for likes and dislikes, approval links, and so on. Sounds cool, no?
Cool, yes, but easy to subvert. I’ve seen several sites like this go up, and you may have as well. I don’t want to mention names here because it’s awkward — every one of these sites that I’m aware of is there with good intentions, and none of them have figured out how to deal with the overt sales pollution problem.
Everybody likes the idea of reviews, interaction, thumbs up, and recommendations. But unfortunately, vendors, businesses with sales and marketing intentions, have a lot more incentive to get in and seed the thumbs-ups and kudos and reviews than individuals. So as a result, the vendors flock to these sites and seed the reviews and end up turning them into sales platforms.
How to deal with this? I don’t know. It’s not like the sites will work if we ask vendors to stay out of them. But several that were among my favorites are now virtually useless to me, because the sales messages from vendors pile up to the point of making it too hard to sift through to the real messages. And vendor-motivated responses to posts and comments dwarf individual noncommercial responses. Too bad.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia, from McClenny Family Picture Album)