The next time you are about to share a photo, stop and ask yourself this question: Why are you doing it?
Be honest. Sometimes we do it to express an idealized sense of self. We want to shape how the world views us. Sometimes we do it because we crave the dopamine high that comes with comments and likes. People are thinking of us! Not often enough, we do so because we want to share authentic moments and stories with people close to us. As Don Draper reminded us when he pitched Kodak for the Carousel business, it is this type of moment that creates “a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone… It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
Yet, much the way we dress up when we go out to a trendy restaurant – stylish clothes on, sweats left at home – we use filters to dress up our photos when we share them. We craft and project an idealized notion of our memories and ourselves. It’s image management, not authenticity. We all do it. We all have friends who do it too much – and we all roll our eyes when they do. Over time, our patience and interest in this type of communication is exhausted.
This is the challenge for social networks. Content sites – and I think of Facebook as a content site – operate on the following equation:
users x engagement = net attention
The goal is to grow net attention. With any social product, engagement is initially correlated with the number of friends you have on the site. The more active friends a user has on a new site, the greater their engagement will likely be. Over time, as our networks grow and the experience becomes less personal, the authenticity of a user’s expression inevitably falters. Engagement, measured by emotional connection not quickie “Likes” soon diminishes. This is the irony of most social networks. Over a longer period of time users add more friends, and as users add more friends engagement becomes inversely correlated with the size of a user’s network.*
Yogi Berra once commented on a popular restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” This is the fundamental challenge that Facebook faces. It’s too public a space to be interesting. Friend lists are too large and too broad for people to share their most interesting thoughts and moments.** It’s why the intimacy of their Groups product is so important to them. It’s what Google tried overcome with Circles. And it hints at the opportunity for new social networks like Path, and OTT services like SnapChat and MessageMe.
These products address the engagement side of the net attention equation. They create smaller, more private spaces which allow us to be our authentic selves. They are the places we go to daydream, to remember, to feel the ties of our friendships. They hold the moments that matter. And, given time, they are going to be capturing much more of our attention.