Maybe You Should Not Be Publishing Anything Online

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"Just because you can, it does not mean that you should." It’s a great line, and it’s a truism more and more people engaged in Social Media might want to take to heart.

One of the more pivotal moments in Social Media for me happened during a conversation I had with David Weinberger (co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and author of Everything Is Miscellaneous and Small Pieces Loosely Joined) a few years back. At some point, Weinberger mentioned that people should publish anything and everything to the Web and that was the whole point of this "thing" we call Social Media or Web 2.0 or whatever (yes, cat blogs and mentions that you’ve just had a slice of pizza included). Prior to hearing him say that, my counsel to clients was always focused on making sure you have something unique to say, something original to add to the conversation… a new take on your industry.

In that moment, everything changed.

Weinberger was right, the tools, channels and platforms beg for everybody to contribute. They can do it in text, audio, images and video and they can do it in long-form content or in short 140 character bursts. But, what if you don’t have anything to say (either something interesting or something totally banal)? Or, better yet, what if you’re simply not comfortable in saying anything at all? What if it’s concerning to you to have certain people reading and commenting on what’s inside your noggin?

It is not essential to be publishing your life online.

Seth Godin always says, "your mileage may vary," and he’s right (he usually is). So, when something gets as popular as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have, the pending backlash is always present and to be expected/anticipated. Welcome to that, specific, moment in time. In business books and newspaper articles, the Social Media backlash has begun. People unplugging, deleting their accounts and becoming more transfixed with their perception of reality over constantly having to update everything online (…and it’s not just Miley Cyrus we’re talking about).

Welcome to Social Media suicide.

To see how the other half "lives", you would be wise to check out the article, RIP digital me: Saying good-bye to Facebook, published in today’s The Globe and Mail

"… a small but determined movement of once-committed Internet gadflies who are redefining their relationship with social media to protect their privacy. Some are pulling out completely – sometimes with the help of social media ‘suicide’ programs – while others are simply creating new accounts under pseudonyms with smaller networks of close friends… ‘The initial excitement is wearing off,’ said Hal Niedzviecki, a Toronto author and documentary maker and early social-media enthusiast. He once posted comments about his work, family and daughter several times a day to more than 2,700 friends on Facebook and Twitter. He did it to draw attention to his work, but he has grown uncomfortable with the constant exposure. ‘You get the sense that you’re someone else’s entertainment. Your life is a product and that to me is a frightening idea.’"

We can afford to lose the few who don’t find the value.

Sure, there are four hundred million people on Facebook, but it’s still not everyone. There are people who are sensitive about what they say (and who they say it to). There will be folks who simply don’t feel like they express themselves well in these types of platforms, but beyond that we can’t look at the those who are offing themselves from Social Media as some kind of trend or generalized threat to its legitimacy. The Internet is not a fad, and while Jaron Lanier makes some very interesting and compelling points in his new book, You Are Not A Gadget, these tools, channels and platforms are allowing those who are more social to inter-connect, exchange and explore a whole lot more (and in ways we never could).

For some, publishing online won’t work. For others, publishing online is the greatest invention since the printing press.

What’s your take?


  1. To each their own. Social media *is* the greatest invention in communications since the printing press. I’m so tired of people saying things like, “Twitter is dead.” Apps like Twitter have broadened my perspective while enriching my local network at the same time.

  2. We’re going through the Trough of Disillusionment I think, even the spammers are going through the adolescent state. They’ll just unfollow if you don’t follow back within a certain time
    So, evolution continues, as always. Which is good, I think. Is there a link to the noise at SXSW?

  3. It seems feasible that people would start to rebel. I believe that is a result of the “land grab” mentality that people took to in the beginning of social media (even though I still consider this to be the beginning). That is to say, they felt they were somebody by the number of followers or friends. It is also a result of the benign mentality of posting anything and I mean anything.
    So. When people begin to cherish who they follow and who follows them, then they will start o gain the “good effect” of social media. The ‘learning’ effect.

  4. Indeed ‘your mileage may vary’ as Seth Godin says. I would add to that the old adage “everything in moderation”. You (the royal you) don’t need to tell everyone, everything about yourself, your family etc.
    I’m in the business so I need to maintain a high profile and use the tools I recommend to my clients. I also try hard to protect the privacy of my family.
    A point about privacy settings. I’m somewhat surprised by the number of people that leave their Facebook settings wide open and the number of people that are unaware of the fact that they have complete control over those settings. Having said that Facebook does not go out of their way to help people find and manage those settings.
    As far as “digital/social suicide” goes, you can always resurrect yourself online, and likely many will in another form. Perhaps digital timeout is a better expression…

  5. Couldn’t agree more. Social media IS MEDIA. Anyone schooled in communications knows that what attracts “audiences” to media content is relevance (to them), novelty, proxmity, scale, timeliness, conflict/debate etc. Facebook, twitter etc is no different. But not all creators of Facebook pages know this. Followers follow because it is of relevance to them. If you become a “friend” and don’t engage you’re hardly a friend – just a subscriber. Today there are too many Facebook Friends and Tweets on Twitter. Competition for your time is as fierce as it is in the press or broadcast industries. Those who publish online using social media tools and fail to create content of relevance, novelty, interest to their “followers” or “friends” may as well not publish at all – they are as useless as media releases revealing Tiger Wood’s transgressions last fall. It was funny learning through Twitter a year or two ago that my colleague was having coffee, reading a newspaper and going out for dinner. Now? Not so much.

  6. I agree with you, Mitch, that we can definitely afford to lose those who don’t find value. For most Facebook users (i.e. those who don’t have thousands of strangers as friends), Facebook is still the most effective way to keep in touch with REAL friends, as in those who have moved away, gone to different universities, etc. This is in fact what Facebook was meant to be for.
    I guess when our ratio of Real Friends vs. Strangers tips from the former to the latter, then yeah, it’s probably time to commit Social Media Suicide. And it probably also means we won’t be missed.

  7. Love the intro line Mitch: “Just because you can, it does not mean that you should.” I’ve got my own. . .Just because you can easily do it, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. It’s easy to get a FB, Twitter, or FourSquare account and post stuff, comment and/or populate the blogasphere with your ideas. It’s not easy to do it day, after day, week after week, and month after month for years (and create something of value that at some point people will actually pay you for) What few people talk about is that the voices that have cred (i.e. MacCleod, Godin, Kawasaki, etc, etc) have been at this game for yeeeeeaaarrs.
    All these folks telling other folks how to be successful “online” don’t talk about the time that’s its probably going to take before you actually have can talk about successful strategies with ACTUAL business models that develop revenue AND profits.
    From my perspective 90% of what i read online is about tactics. Very little in the way of truly innovative thinking that builds new economic models for the 21st century. It’s easy as hell to “post” online. But difficult to actually develop something of sustainable value. This requires long days and long nights of hard work that’s typically done in obscurity.
    The winners will be those who understand the difference between “making money” (or trying to) vs. actually growing a business.
    Great stuff as usual my friend. Keep bringin’ it.

  8. I think people might be getting caught up in the tool, when the tools are only the small part of the picture. Even in the event that there is a mass exodus from Facebook or Twitter or YouTube (all presently unlikely), the overall desire to belong and be connected in a meaningful way will remain. The tools will be improved, innovated and expanded to make them faster, easier, richer, etc,
    Don’t get too attached to a single platform, get attached to the principles and social underpinnings of this new technology. With time the dominant tools of today may fall to new tools (think MySpace a few years ago). Even when the tools fail, people’s desire to share will remain, and new, better tools will rise to the occasion.

  9. Why do we bother? The web is just a reflection of our daily lives. Some are social, some aren’t. Some are really keen on to market themselves. Other aren’t. You’re writing: “For some, publishing online won’t work. For others, publishing online is the greatest invention since the printing press.” For sure. And let it be that way. I’m not sure there’s any right or wrong. But, if you would like to get somewhere in your life; if you would like to evolve; it’s better to be social, than not.

  10. Is not what we are seeing in terms of backlash several fold?
    1. Those who went headlong into social media, blogged, followed, poked and just about did everything to everyone and now feel the pressure to keep it up and they realise the time needed is too much.
    2. Those who have gone in to social media without a plan or pre-thought and now are bored because their online brand has no direction.
    3. Those of us who are quickly getting tired of seeing some people in our ‘networks’ who are able to do 1 or 2 or both and appear every other second on our stream – thank you Facebook lite!
    4. Companies charging headlong in to this whole thing and pissing consumers off with incessant messaging that is PROMO PROMO PROMO because that is all they can think of in a one dimensional marketing department.
    5. A.N. Other…….
    Just my toonies worth

  11. I find the web endlessly fascinating and also can monitor the world at large if I step back from it and listen which is a mode I am in right now. However, I also have a blog that has been very useful for me, for my work: I even guest blogged for another excellent design blog. It is all very time consuming so to me if you are not also monetizing this in some way, it’s not a sustainable practice. I am on Facebook, don’t use it too often…it’s pretty tame since people like to look at your Facebook page along with everything else about you online.
    So to that end you can publish, if you want, just don’t publish everything….

  12. Apples and oranges if you ask me.
    Speaking about the fundamental cultural shifts that digital technology has enabled in our networked world in general is very different than figuring out how to solve client/brand problems using a potential digital tactic/channel.
    To me Weinberger, Godin and Lanier are all talking about different things.

  13. Well, yes, to me it is the same as always: Give as a gift what you mostly want for yourself. If you already found your specific spot in life you want to share – and therefor you blog or call “hello” on facebook or twitter. If you didn’t happen yet to find your specific point, well, go ahead. Come back if like …
    my 2 ct 🙂

  14. I believe in extremes. I think some will drop out and others will allow themselves a modern form of the Truman show. When Cisco buys Flip there is a whole other level to the social game. If you don’t like having a voice, then don’t. If your voice is telling us you just had a root canal, then PLEASE don’t. If you are going to videotape the ride home from the root canal, then please do again. It’s all relative my friends.

  15. You know… what ever happened to common sense? If you don’t want people to know something don’t say it (or post it). Social media is media (thanx for that Joanne). And if you are publishing something, you have to face the consequence of that post. Good and bad of public exposure.
    So, instead of jumping in.. think about it first. My friend Paul Copcutt is dead on with his point #2.

  16. It all depends on your personal comfort level. I think, if anything, social media has really taught us:
    1. It is OK to blend business and personal.
    2. In most cases, laying it all out there is a GOOD thing and creates a better connection.
    But that being said, it is up to you. You control what you post. You control who your friends are.

  17. I see your point. Facebook is the new myspace and these networks go on a curve. As soon as everyone jumps on, it sinks.
    It correlates to a typical adoption curve in a way. Think the same thing works when it comes to sharing content. When something is shared too much, I don’t want to share it because my audience has probably already seen it. The sharing curve.

  18. You are right about being able to use it. I have seen people just broadcast on Twitter when I tried to explain to them why they are on there. They just don’t get it and don’t seem to want to. So if you understand FB then just use it.
    I also see a lot of social media people using every single network. I don’t believe you have to use every network but know what each network does. It is sort of like the ipad. Just because it is the shiny object doesn’t mean you have to buy it if it doesn’t make sense for you to have one.
    You have to realize what each network does, the context of it and then try and measure your marketing goals from there. The goal isn’t to be on every network but to do something well.
    That is why people specialize in something. They do something well and then they stick to it. It is a lot better than being on everything and knowing very little.

  19. This is a really interesting post. I think it is completely normal for some users to disconnect, much like some readers unsubscribe to certain publications, TV channels or RSS feeds. The value to them is just no longer there…
    For brands I think this proves that social media is, as you’ve previously spoken about, not “instead of” more traditional forms of advertising. Some customers are online, others are using social platforms, others are watching TV, others reading magazines, etc… Brands need to be able to speak with them where ever their clients are.

  20. Loved this line “We can afford to lose the few who don’t find the value.” and that can be a larger number of people than we think. Most of the time i see regurgitated links and over-sharing.
    I like social media, but it shouldn’t become the end and b all of online activities. Loved the globe and mail post, read over that earlier today – what a coincidence!
    Some people might like this as well: “The Ten Plagues of Social Media”……)

  21. I recall at the beginning of fax, there was a fax art movement. The stuff had to be burned onto metal plates and printed, in order to preserve the stuff. As M McLuhan was fond of saying, when a media becomes old it becomes art, or something like that! TIme based art forms will always enrage and engage.

  22. I’m one of those people who took a break from social media. I didn’t pull the plug completely, but took a break and focused on my real life friends, read a book and took a walk outside without holding my phone to my face the whole time.
    It’s been refreshing!
    I will get back into it, but with a couple more boundaries. I will weed out people that I don’t know or where I don’t really care about what they have to say. That way I think I will be able to use social media again the way it’s healthy and makes sense.
    It is in my control to set the boundaries… Why I didn’t set any before I don’t know!

  23. The key message here is value. Communication sites like Facebook and Twitter are not a passive experience; you need to involve people. It’s no longer enough to just post something on a website and expect your consumers to see it. The web is not a plateau for companies to project their messages, it is a place where open dialogue can exist.
    As for ‘social media suicide’, it seems to me people tend to kill themselves off for the insurance money so to speak. I’ve had friends who left Facebook and Twitter, only to come back later with a new understanding of what they did wrong. Just because you have a platform to share, doesn’t mean you should. My Facebook account is not filled with pictures of embarrassing moments or ‘questionable’ content for that reason. Truth is, social media will continue to expand to the point where ‘social media suicide’ will not be possible. It is up to you to control both the value of your content, and participation.

  24. This was a really useful post. Given the passage of time, I think people are realizing that the early rules about how you must blog/tweet X number of times per week to stay current have been proven false. Take @algore. He sometimes takes several days or even weeks in between tweets, but when he does, it’s because he has something worth sharing. It’s the online equivalent of speaking softly while carrying a big stick.

  25. I am currently in a PR program and social media is a huge part of my curriculum. I find that I am on Twitter/Facebook/Google/Linkedin more now than every before. Yes, some people don’t have anything insightful or useful to contribute, however who am I to say if it’s worth publishing or not. If an individual’s thoughts/work is really not worth publishing, others will stop following that person.

  26. I was late to the social media game. But when I finally joined I did it on my own terms.
    I have “only” 105 friends. On Twitter, “only” about 80 followers. LinkedIn connections less than 100.
    And I don’t care.
    What I decided to do was use each platform on my own terms: Facebook is for staying connected to friends and family (I am strict about who I accept as a friend), Twitter is for practicing writing 140 characters and connecting with people with similar interests, and LinkedIn for staying connected to people I have met over the course of my career.
    It never ceases to amaze me how, even for a “new” thing like Social Media, we make up stupid rules like “track your followers” or “follow whoever follows you”.
    These are just tools, and they are yours to decide how to use it…for you.

  27. Jackie: Right on. Good for you. I take regular breaks, and find that when I come back I am more refreshed. There are no “rules”, only whatever you decide to do with these tools.

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