Are public social networks really people centric ?

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Summary : social networks are people centric, or, at least, are supposed to be and that’s taken as a given. In fact those services are more and more dedicated to bringing people around brands, leading the model astray. Everything is ok as long as people find what they’re looking for but the situation can topple when people will rightfully take the lead on a model they make successful for others without any benefit for themselves.

A social network, either public or enterprise focused, is people centric. Or, at least, that’s what any definition tells us. It means, in some ways, a promise in terms of usages. A promise in terms of respect of people, of their privacy (a concern that used to be overlooked but is becoming mainstream). As a matter of fact if, in an enterprise context, we may find legitimate to frame usages and align them with enterprise goals, the only thing that should prevail for general audience networks is the goals users are pursuing for themselves. Well, normally.

The problem with these networks, when they’re free, is that people are not the users but rhe product. They are whats being bought and sold, not the service which is only a hook. One more evidence with Instagram bought by Facebok. And even it that’s not the only criteria, we’ll see that the following thoughts are less valid when the service is not free.

So, considering Facebook, the most famous social network. it’s easy to understand that it’s not not centered on people anymore but on brands. Logical : brands pay for advertizing, to access your information, to put their messages on the top of you stream. Same for the new star : Pinterested. The promise of these networks is to organize people’s lifes around brands..and that’s what they sell to brands. People may have the illusion they’re being sold the ability to connect with friends but, with practical eyes, users that only share contents with friends on their wall have few value for Facebook. They have to “like” things so their profile will get more qualified (so more valuable to be sold) or to get directly in touch with brands and interact with them.

Hmm. Well. When you “like” a contend shared by a brand you do nothing more that the job that was once their PR agency’s. That’s the concern raised by the participation economy, “the second economy“, that improves and speeds the visible economy you, without any business model for those who contribute. The most alarmist observers even suggest than the more the situation of people in the “first economy”, the one they get their salary from, becomes more fragile, the more they will reallocate their time toward more remunerative things and decrease their free participation. As a matter of fact, those who benefit from both systems are the same, but they rely on the free manpower of the second to make money in the first while those who participate for free in the second make less and and less money in the first. A lawyer of my friends recently told me (let me precise he was kind of kidding), that one day campaigns aiming at making people “like” something could end in an action for illegal “hidden” work.

It would be interesting to see how these platforms would react if internauts decided to get away from brands. Or maybe that’s already the case, what would mean what the brands pay is clearly overpriced. It could be interesting to discuss the recent decision of GM to stop their spendings on FB and the deceiving IPO of the social network. What if it was, in the end, the consequence of the lack of clear business model for the monetization of online participation ?

C’est peut être un angle sous lequel regarder le récent retrait de GM ainsi que l’entrée en bourse pour le moins décevante de Facebook. Et si c’était, au final, la sanction de la légereté des modèles économiques des dispositifs a priori participatifs ?

All that to say that…it finally does not matter as long as people find what they’re looking for in the system. That’s the current situation but it may change.

But, for Heaven’s sake, stop thinking users as idiots with the so-called “people-centricity” of social networks.

PS : of course there are nuances. The twitter case is very interesting because brands seem to have a smarter approach there. At least the successful ones. It’s more about a result-driven approach, productive conversations and customer service than marketing contemplation. Instead of positioning themselves at the center of the system, brands make themselves available to be able to respond when needed. One recently told me that in terms of value for customers (and for the brand), their actions on twitter were much more “profitable” than the ones they have on facebook even if there are less users and the service is used for different purposes.