Some of this is generational. I am more comfortable firing up a search query than polling my Twitter followers or Facebook friends. But as social media activity increasingly has an impact on Bing and Google search results, it makes me wonder whether it will become an annoyance for me rather than something truly helpful, which mostly has to do with how I have approached social networks as a quasi-public person in what's turning into a private networking world. The possibly logical assumption that Facebook friends are my actual friends is causing me to wonder whether I have missed the point of Facebook.
From the beginning of my Facebook experience, I decided to accept every friend request sent to me. I did so because I figured that I would have no way of knowing whether that person had read one of my books, or saw me speak, or is a regular newsletter or blog reader of mine, or something else. They might even be someone that I met or even worked with—my memory for people is not exactly stunning. As someone with a minor degree of notoriety, I didn't know how to decide that I should block some people from my network when they might legitimately be interested in connecting with me.
Image via CrunchBase
And it's not just Facebook. I've never blocked a Twitter follower. I've never turned down a LinkedIn request. I even joined Plaxo because someone asked me to. I have several distinct social networks full of people that I don't know.
And what's worse, I've only recently begun to invite other people to friend me. And I have made no attempt to invite Facebook friends to connect in LinkedIn or any other place. So, my current networks are full of people I don't know that were bold enough to send me a friend request, and those same networks are simultaneously missing lots of people that I know and work with all the time.
I don't think this is how Mark Z thought I would use his creation.
To show you how out-of-kilter this is, I have often had real friends ask me to pass along their requests to "friends" in my network, but the problem is that I don't know these "friends" at all—so I am turning my real friends down. It's a little embarrassing, to be honest. I am supposed to be a social media expert, but I have social networks that don't reflect my real-life network.
So, I have had to live with the fact that my social networks aren't that useful for me. I can tweet blog posts and ideas, but I can't really use my networks to help me. I watch how my kids use their Facebook networks. They frequently ask their friends questions when searching doesn't seem personal enough for the answer. They often want to know, "Which is the best for me?" not "Which is the best in general?" Facebook answers the first question and Google answers the second. I can't really get that second answer from Facebook or anywhere else.
But all of this pales with what's going on in search. No matter how much I might regret my approach to social networks that have removed all value for me, now I face the loss of value from search, too. Bing is already incorporating Facebook data into its search algorithm and Google is taking similar steps. As search engines become more personalized, they are increasingly taking activity from my networks into account, which I suspect does nothing but screw up my searches.
I'm not sure how to fix it now, but it has made me hesitant to join Foursquare or Gowalla. I don't want to suddenly start turning down people from connecting with me, but I also don't want to broadcast my location to almost perfect strangers. Some people have told me that I need a Facebook fan page, which strikes me as someone entirely too full of himself. I mean, I'm not Lady Gaga. (Really. I know that you mixed us up right up until that point.)
The more I think I know about social media, the less I think I actually know.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, Web personalization, and Web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.
Mike also founded and writes for the Biznology newsletter and blog, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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