Would you rather have one good friend or 10 acquaintances? It is an easy answer right? When you were younger, your grade school years, it was very important to be popular. People "liking" you (I know, ironic choice of words, right?) was paramount. As you got older, and more mature, you realized the value of a few quality relationships over a bunch of shallow ones.
Well it looks like the social media world is officially growing up, maturing if you will, and transforming from the virtual version of a teenager to an adult. They, the companies that own the major social media sites, are doing it for several reasons. Two of the main ones are the need to make money and the fact that at least a few (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+) have already captured a lion's share of the available market. Dramatic growth is no longer possible and you do not make money by being big alone.
Let me illustrate what I am talking about with a few facts. Facebook's user base grew from 1.11 billion people at the end of Q1, 2013 to 1.15 billion people at the end of Q2, 2013. Daily users increased from 665 million to 669 million during the same time period. Those are increases of only 40 million and four million people respectively. Not huge by their previous standards.
For the last two years most of us (led by the analysts) have judged a social media site's success, utility and market value by its growth rate. The concept is called "social proof" and it work like this. If everybody else is using a social media site, then it is a great site and I should be using it too. In other words, the collective community dramatically influences your individual decision.
That is starting to change. Is anyone else seeing it too?
Okay, let's try this little test. Have you ever subscribed to a social media site (Facebook, twitter, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) because it was "hot" only to stop visiting the site after using it a while and asking yourself "what the big deal" was? So, if getting bigger is not the only goal of social media companies, are they now focusing on getting better?
Here are a couple of data points to indicate that is exactly what is happening. In July of this year Twitter made a significant change to their Terms of Service (TOS) disallowing "auto following". Why is that important? Well, Twitter account growth is based primarily on the concept of reciprocity. In other words, if I "follow" you on Twitter and you see that I am following you, you will follow me back. Why? Because that is the only way we will both see each other's "tweets". If I follow you and you don't follow me back, bye-bye, unless you are Lady Gaga or Gary Vaynerchuk
Most people will give you a few days to a week to follow you back and then unfollow you. Smart software programmers, wanting to help (and make money) developed programs to automate the follow back process. The end result is your Twitter following grows quicker. Twitter also recently disallowed bulk following too. That is where you use third party software to search, filter and follow large groups (100+) of people at the same time. It is fast, but hardly personal.
So what is the end result of these moves by Twitter? First, several companies built around providing these tools are likely to go out of business, or at least have to seriously change their business models. Also, spammers, bots and other "black hat" enterprises are going to have a harder time selling their "fake accounts" and other virtual garbage. For users, it will significantly decrease the ability to grow their following without doing some serious work. However, the communities that are built, while smaller, will likely get better because growing them actually involves a human being making a series of individual decisions. Communities, as a general statement, will not get bigger so much as they will be better.
Facebook is also giving us several hints that they are now focusing more than ever on quality over quantity. Facebook famously placed a restriction (20 percent) on the quantity of text that could be included on Timeline covers and advertisements. The goal was to eliminate most of the advertising garbage and instead let the picture tell the story. They have since relaxed that requirement a little bit by dropping the 20 percent rule for Timeline covers, but it still holds for most other Facebook advertising. Facebook also places significant other restrictions on advertising. For instance, you cannot use Facebook to advertise "get-rich quick" schemes, adult entertainment and a dozen other questionable enterprises. They have turned down countless millions of dollars to make their advertising better, not just bigger.
What do I expect to see from here? More of the same. Facebook and Twitter may be leading the way to develop a service that builds higher quality relationships, but others will follow.
Maybe it is time for you to follow their lead and spend more time fostering the relationships you have already developed on social media versus aimlessly striving to build new ones. Do not get me wrong. I am not saying to stop growing your social media presence, not at all. I am saying, spend a little more time actually interacting with your existing community and build out relationships with those that follow you.
So, what do you think? Does "better" finally beat "bigger" on social media? I would love to hear your thoughts below.