SWAN of the Week, Number 158

SWAN of the Week, Number 158
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Happy Friday!

Vine was only around about four years, but its impact has affected all of social media (vertical-first social, boomerang format, influencer collabs) forever. Really.

TikTok has a problematic root, which is Chinese ownership. But there is way more to the story than that when it comes to the Trump administration trying to ban them in the U.S. This TikTok video summarizes it quite well.

Generationally, we should expect a “scratch your head and ban emerging social media networks cycle” (my term) where elders don’t understand new social media behaviors and try to crush what threatens their power, understanding of the world, and how people organize and share information.

For example, in 2006 Congress attempted to block and ban MySpace (Congress Now Blaming MySpace For Troubled Children). In 2008, I was personally in the middle of the Army and Department of Defense finally allowing Soldiers to blog without needing every piece of content reviewed by a superior officer. And even after that, in 2009, the US military came close to banning Facebook and Twitter. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Think of it like parents’ reaction to Elvis swinging his hips, or The Beatles invasion. It’s hard to understand kids these days, and it so happens the “scratch your head and ban emerging social media networks cycle” is coming around again. ESPECIALLY if you haven’t figured out how to use it for political gain, like the Trump campaign did with Cambridge Analytica-based ads on Facebook, welcomed Russian bots on Twitter, etc.

And I’m doubtful TikTok will be blocked. This is an era of uncertain times that’s harder to predict, but political blustering by an older generation who doesn’t fully understand social media doesn’t feel very organized, effective, or realistic.  

As for that #StopProfitForHate boycott – that I so carefully flexed on without sharing an opinion that would get me into trouble with my employer and clients last week. Well, it didn’t work. Not really. As expected Zuckerberg said the right things but didn’t change the platform significantly. And folks are starting to understand Casey Newton’s point that Facebook is already doing a lot to combat hate, and it’s a matter of scale. And advertisers want more than censorship. But what they are asking for are small changes not really rooted in what Facebook is already doing. Yes, there’s more to do, and we should pressure social networks to do more. But Sleeping Giants, the organizer of the boycott, is now plagued with its own scandal. And Unilever has said its pause in social spending wasn’t related to the boycott, and “We have been really engaging with the social media players, not in an activist way, or fighting against them and then shouting at them.”

And Facebook’s stock is up. You can’t win if you don’t play.

This week Twitter’s stock was up with the rumor that they may launch a subscription model. I first suggested I would pay for reliable Twitter in 2008, and in February 2009, I suggested I would pay $20/month. If I had started paying them then, I would have spent more than $2700 on Twitter subscriptions since that time. I think it would have been totally worth it.

Social video chat app Marco Polo recently tried to capitalize on its increase in usage post-shelter-in-place by offering a premium tier to its free service to unlock features like double-speed viewing. Pricing is $59.99/year or $9.99/month. But the carrot isn’t worth the stick for that level of $ and features, even though I use it daily. No thanks.

Like music, there’s an expectation social media is free because it is basically free, thanks to advertising. And it’s close to impossible to change that mindset without a massive paradigm shift. The reason I gladly pay for Spotify Premium is that they’ve made the freemium product an absolute nightmare of an experience with limited features and interruptive ads (and I believe musicians should be compensated for their work, but we’ve already covered that topic).

Vine was free. And it died. But it changed social media forever. Whether TikTok is around in 10 years or not, I’m grateful for what I learned from it and how it’s changed social.

Would you pay a premium for social media that’s reliable, not subject to the pressures of a public company, has limited or no advertising, and perhaps even can adequately moderate and police its users and content to create a safer environment? I bet you wouldn’t. And your friends wouldn’t.

And without you and your friends, by definition, there is no social in social media. So let’s keep finding ways to improve what we’ve got. To be clear, what we’ve got is broken. But blocking, banning, and charging $ probably isn’t it.

See you on the internet!

PS: Black lives matter.

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