Thousands Of Followers, But A Handful Of Friends

Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, wasn’t very popular with the digerati last week in Austin, but his article about the social media bubble on Harvard Business Review is sparking some interest.

The “relationships” at the heart of the social bubble aren’t real because they’re not marked by mutual investment. At most, they’re marked by a tiny chunk of information or attention here or there.
…because those “relationships” aren’t valuable, companies are forced to try and monetize them in extractive, ethically questionable ways. That’s because there’s no there there. I can swap bits with pseudo-strangers at any number of sites. “Friends” like that are a commodity — not a valuable, unique good.

I’ve been saying for some time that social media has to lead to real offline interactions between people, and between people and companies, for it to be of any real value.
When I look at my own use of social sites to connect and build relationships, both personally and on behalf of brands, there’s no doubt that many of the relationships are very thin. Following someone of Facebook or Twitter, or being followed, is not a relationship, it’s a digital marker.
Just the other day I spent some time looking through @adpulp’s followers on Twitter and something weird happened. I didn’t know most of the people there. In fact, I’d never heard of most of them. That isn’t to say they aren’t valuable supporters of the AdPulp brand, because they clearly are. Rather, it’s an indication of the passive nature of most digital “relationships.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.