Social media sewage … and hope

I’ve started and trashed this article at least six times.

As you will see, I have my reasons to be conflicted about publishing it. Yet I can’t deny this gnawing feeling of disenchantment about the social web that seems to be also reflected in so many other blog posts I have read recently.

I am a positive person.  I want to lift people up. But at this moment, I can’t be “positive” and also be “honest.” I need to write about social media sewage for a moment. If you make it to the end of the article, it gets better!

There are three underlying economic drivers of social media that are creating desperate and increasingly unethical practices that are turning the social media space into a cesspool.

The first is search engine page rank, a business practice largely built on deception.  I know there is much more to it than that (spare me the flaming comments) but face it, billions of dollars are spent each year in an effort to deceive Google.  Those who do the best job become rich and are awarded rockstar status. On an almost daily basis, people make offers to me to participate in their complex SEO ruses.  I recently told the story of a person lying to me (and other bloggers) to get a single link to their website.

Related to SEO is the battle against spam comments on my blog. These comments, using increasingly sophisticated ploys, are meant to provide a back link to a website or trick us into clicking on a link.  Can you imagine that you and I are in a business where human beings  are creating bots and building Third World sweats shops with the goal of getting you to click on a link for black market Viagra or worse? What kind of a person can wake up each day and be happy with that kind of a career?

I have been spending so much time purging porn-purveyors and MLM link-builders from my Twitter stream that I have now assigned a virtual assistant to the task.  That’s right.  I work in an industry where I have to pay an employee to keep pornographers away from me.

A second economic driver on the web is content.  In an industry where content is power, people routinely steal and publish my original work — word for word — because that is easier and cheaper to do than creating their own material.  Last week a young and promising blogger asked, “What do I do when somebody steals my content?”  Unless you want to dedicate your life to chasing ghosts, the answer is “nothing.”  I have given up.

Not only are people routinely stealing my content to promote ideals and businesses I despise, even my fellow bloggers think nothing of taking content from others, without license or permission, to promote their own commercial efforts.  In the “real world” this would be a cause for a law suit. On the blogosphere it is celebrated as a best practice.

Another major economic driver on the Internet is social proof.  By this I mean the numbers and badges — like number of Twitter followers or Klout scores — that provide a shortcut assessment of authority.  In real life, we can actually meet people, watch them in a meeting, or observe the college degrees on their walls that create an impression of authority.  On the social web, we usually only have shortcuts — social proof — to serve this purpose. If you immerse yourself in the blogosphere you will quickly learn that social proof can be a more important source of influence than actual education, experience, or accomplishment.  Mitch Joel recently remarked in his podcast that it seems “dangerous” to him that the least experienced people on the social web seem to carry the most authority, largely by racking up social proof.

On the Internet, it is far too easy to become a guru. The entry barriers to being a social media marketer are so low that I recently met with a young man who had never taken a marketing class, never had a marketing job, never worked in sales — in fact, had not had a job of any kind since graduating from high school — and is now representing himself as a social media expert based on fake badges he had plunked down on his website.

Of course this is ridiculous but also commonplace.  Can you imagine somebody in this same situation advertising themselves as an “engineer,” or an “accountant,” or a “professional athlete?”  Twitter followers, Facebook likes, positive reviews, Google “plusses” — the most valued commodities of social proof — can all be purchased on eBay. You can certainly fake your way into our profession like no other.

And then something happened …

I don’t want to sound like a “victim” in all of this, but the fact is that if you are immersed in the social web, corruption is foisted upon all of us at almost every turn. If you examine our working conditions objectively, a large part of the economic value delivered by the social web is being created through deception, stealing, gaming the system, and faking your way to glory.  It’s enough to make you stop and think … and maybe just stop all together.

But just as I was ready to publish this article, something really weird happened.

I don’t spend a lot of time checking my Google Analytics but I decided to look at the keywords people were using to find my blog last month. Here is what I found:

This made my heart skip a beat.

I can’t explain this connection at all but in the last 30 days, 175 people typed a single word into Google — “hope” — and landed on this blog.  It was probably the precise message I needed to see at this disheartening moment in my career.

Sure the social web can be a strange place. But it has also given a lot to me.  Thousands of connections, hundred of friends, dozens of customers and partners and wonderful career opportunities.  Exactly one year ago I wrote a post called The Spirituality of Social Media and today I’m being whiny and cranky.  Maybe I’ve fallen down on the job a little since then but I guess that’s part of human nature too.  There is something to be said for enduring and prevailing.  Endurance creates character, and character creates hope.

When you get down to it, we can only impact our own little sliver of the world, and for me that’s {grow}.  Sometimes I do get tired of the ugliness, but you know, it can be different, a least here.  People doing a search for “hope” … and finding me. Wow.  That’s a kick in the pants. I’ve tried to lift up many other people over the years and now I maybe I need to lift myself … endure … prevail … and get back to the job of dispensing hope.

What do you think?  Will you join me?

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