There was some resistance to the analogy of “invasive species” to possibly describe Triberr on Twitter today. It was a very interesting thought offered by @Karen_sharp in comments to my Ecological Argument post yesterday. I just wanted to be clearer on just what invasive species are to me. Karen has pointed out that they are species that lack natural predators and therefore have an advantage in the competition over resources – in this case attention in the social media sphere. And some expressed concern over the moral sense, the accusation that something or someone is trying invade or takeover. Both are interesting aspects. For me, I find invasive species scenarios fascinating. When a species simply overruns an ecosystem simply due to circumstance, through radical and unexpected introduction, issues of functionality and systemic cohesion really come to the forefront. Many of the great “successes” in culture, and crazes or trends can be considered invasive species from a certain perspective. It only gets complicated when we start valuing what has been changed by these great sweeps. Sometimes even ideas can be considered invasive species, perhaps necessarily so.
I had a great mid-afternoon twitter conversation – fast-paced, full of idea exchange – with Triberr founder Dan Cristo @dancristo today, one of the nice time where people can fundamentally disagree but still find a lot of interesting things to talk about. Mostly Dan was feeling his way around my objections or concerns over his product, apply the arguments he has developed in his defense. We ran the gambit, from his appeal to cultural relativism to the claim that Triberr may transform the ineffective “social” aspect of Twitter in a way inspired by how Google radically improved search by turning it over to algorithms. He wants me to read his post on Triberr Quality Scores especially the comments – I won’t get that til this evening. But what I really wanted to put forth is this. There is an Ecological Argument for why we might object to Triberr technology and use. That is: The common retort that some Triberrists hold out, “Hey I’m just doin’ my thing, this is a free world, just unfollow me” just may not be the whole story. There is a level at which, what I would call the Ecological level, where we all have an interest in the entire realm of Twitter. When something proliferates that changes the norm of what is expected, when the medium itself is changing, at the very least we can prick up our ears and think about it.
Addendum: there is nothing ecological about Dan’s Quality Score post (just read).
What Could be Wrong with Binding Together?
It has been heralded as the great equalizer. Suddenly people with only modestly very high Klout can compete with the Big Dogs of social media by banding together in a tight circle of pre-approved curated blogging. Which is to say, we will all auto-tweet each other’s blog posts to our own followers. Suddenly, not only is my “check my post out” reach isn’t constrained by what meager following I might have, but amplified by to all those follower numbers in my circle. Banded together, we become a composite “impression” force.
This is what is wrong with Triberr. In a social realm, all we have is our reputation. But there are two kinds of reputations at play. There is a kind of “authenticity” reputation which is the real response I produce when my avi pic and tweets appear in the stream. It is the impression of my brand, so to speak. We want a high authenticity mark each and every time our profile floats by in the stream. This could be based in anything from our profile picture that has an immediate emotive effect, to the history of our past interactions, or the quality of our tweets. But there is a second, often competing reputation, and that is the reputation we have with other tweeters like us. There is tendency to need “status” and to mix with people of a perceived high class. This second kind of reputation can color the first, our group status can influence how people perceive our flash appearance, but the two are very different. The problem with Triberr is that it can significantly reduces the first kind of reputation (the reputation of authenticity) for the sake of the second.
This is my visceral experience when I see Triberr auto-tweet recommendations of others in their circle. These are often people that actually have a very high personal reputation with me. Lots of my best Twitter friends are in Triberr circles, in fact this post came from seriously considering the generous offer from someone I value. Through personal interaction I have come to both like and respect my friends in Triberr. But, and this is a big but, when that friendly face appears there, and I am draw to it for a micro-second, awash with a warm instinctive response of nonjudgmental embrace, I am suddenly dashed by the realization that this person is not there tweeting this. In fact, there is strong suspicion that this person has not even read the blog post being tweeted to her or his waiting followers. There is, and I can feel it, a devaluation of that person’s brand. Not because I don’t like them, or even respect them. It is because they are offering me under the guise of a social moment, a canned, impersonal communication about something that should otherwise be valued – a blog post. Over time I start to grow insensitive to this person’s tweets. I become conditioned to expect the commercial. The value this person worked hard, or even not so hard, to achieve with me such that in the stream I pick them out with confidence, is eroding tweet by tweet.
“Like tears…in rain”
Twitter is like this. No tweet generally matters. They are light. They nothing. Except in cases of close social interaction they just seem to vanish. But they add up. Over time the direction of their effect begins to accumulate. Either you are building value micro-tweet-moment by micro-tweet-moment, or you are eroding it. The problem with Triberr is that it is a systematic erosion of social value, quietly over time, traded for a status achieved within a tribe whose doors are closed. Everyone in the tribe cannot feel this because they have already established their affinity and respect for each other. The tribe contact just builds as everyone exports each other’s blog post titles to higher impression numbers. But Twitter is not insular. The reputation gained between us is at the expense of the value of your tweet themselves.
The hope of course is that in trade-off of the gradual devaluation of tweet recommendations among those that already follow you, and respect you, you instead are reaching people you could never have reached before. Triberr proudly calls itself “The Reach Multipler” as if it is some kind of reach machine. Suddenly your follower numbers are climbing. Your mentions are rising as is your Klout (!). These new people hopefully at some reasonable conversion percentage, will supplement the value you have lost elsewhere, but invisibly.
What is wrong with Triberr is that the important reputation, the reputation for genuine thought and engagement, is being traded in for the illusion of engagement. If six people tweet out my blog title I must REALLY be engaged, right!? Not at all. And over time people can tell. As I said I have people I really like in Triberr. But when I see their titles mutually flowing across my screen in auto-fashion, I have absolutely zero impulse to actually click on a blog title link. Zero impulse to read, or comment on what lay behind the systematic trolling for new followers.
I also have close people who I would in advance pretty much say that I would recommend their blog posts. @67tallchris, @ricdragon, @pegfitzpatrick are some. I stand by my friends, so I can see exactly what such an agreement seems perfectly reasonable to do. I would be just automatically doing what I would likely want to do anyways. But there is a huge difference. The value of my tweets to the people that follow me is – hopefully – that I have however fleetingly engaged with the material. My curation is a expression of the social capital I have established in piece by piece interactions. It is hand built. If I start systematically placing low-value, socially imitative tweets in my stream, I am working against myself. I am exchanging the coin that you and I have earned together for the chance to begin new connections with those I have not yet met. I am lowering the overall substance of my exchange, for numbers.
I have news, you already have enough followers! Do more with what you have, don’t trade “up” fast using the social currency of authenticity for the “stamp” of authenticity and lose something genuine. I know this won’t stop. The status gain and the number love is big in social media marketing circles. But at least it is worth saying.
Yesterday’s post likely contains some of the deeper reasoning against Impression-driven “reach” social media thinking.