The key to social media success is links, not conversation.
When social media first emerged, it was a platform for communication, for sharing information and updates about our lives with existing friends and building new connections. Something strange seems to be happening however, as social platforms are emerging as a place not so much for conversation, but for sharing links. There has been a noticeable drop in the amount of conversation on Twitter for example – simple chat between people – and a huge rise in the amount of links people are sharing. I previously wrote about how the key to success on Twitter is sharing links and recently this seems to have become exaggerated even more. Going to my Twitter feed this morning, I only had to scroll down a few tweets, in order to grab a screenshot where 6 tweets in a row contained links :
Links are now becoming the ultimate currency in social media. By sharing links, you are establishing your authority, proving yourself as an invaluable source to follow online and adding value to your social media profile. But are links enough to keep a social network going, or do we lose something of the network function, as scanning through our updates on Facebook and Twitter becomes akin to an RSS reader.
I don’t know you, but I like your links
When I used to log in to Facebook, I was met with a (somewhat repetitive) stream of updates from people whereby I would know the minute details of their day to day lives. We took the new medium and ran with it, telling our friends anything and everything. But as we build out our social networks, this becomes sustainable only up to a point. We have developed an innate social intelligence of the kind of content people like to see, and what they don’t. We know that putting a picture up is more likely to get people to read our update and we know that sharing an interesting link is more likely to get us ‘Likes’ and comments. There are friends I have on Facebook that I don’t actually know all that well, but that always post interesting links to videos, music, news stories. I don’t really know anything about them in the usual ‘friend’ sense, but I know what links they like and that’s enough for me.
I noticed this change in Facebook around the time that I started to use the site again. There was a period of a few months about a year and a half ago when I really used the site a lot less as I could see the value in spending more of my time on Twitter. But then the Facebook crowd seemed to catch up and it turned into more of a resource for sharing information, though this is still, and will always be, a lot more social and informal than Twitter. Facebook started to offer me value again, and the value was links, so it got more of my attention.
The answer lies in Reddit
There’s something strange going on at Reddit, as they seem to be proving the future model of social networks. The site is about one thing and one thing only : links. The site has barely changed since it launched, it is light on features widgets and buttons and it’s not particularly pretty to look at. It is the Craigslist of the social media world. A simple site with a good idea. But Reddit has never really stolen the headlines or been labelled a game changer, but that could be about to change. As a site, they are the ones best positioned to benefit from the change in social networks from conversation to link sharing and they seem to be going from strength to strength.
A recent article in Gigaom higlighted Reddit as the future model of journalism, not so much in the Reddit site itself, but in the model that they operate. Though they haven’t introduced many new features on the site, what they have done is to encourage conversation around links and information available on the site. The focus is kept on the content, but opening it up to Q+A for example, or ask the expert. The social aspect centres around the link and springs from that, as opposed to links being secondary. As social media affects many industries, not least of all news, it’s interesting to consider that the answer might not lie where you’d expect it – such as Facebook or Twitter, but in a more quiet corner of the web.
Could they be about to do a Facebook?
Reddit are of course aware of the strength the site is gaining as social media use changes. It seems they might be on the verge of ‘doing’ a Facebook, as they recognise the strength in college communities. Focusing on colleges is what made Facebook so popular and viral in the first place, as they benefited from word of mouth among closely connected communities. And Reddit have just launched a campaign focused on colleges, running competitions through the site to attract new users and networks. This is the market for Reddit to focus on, to capture the ‘up and coming’ social media users, who in many ways are setting the tone for the future of social media. If Reddit can establish themselves as the go to network for sharing links among a younger audience, it puts the site in an excellent position for future growth.
The currency of links
For both brands and individuals, links are the most valuable currency you can build up in social networks. The fact is that people can really only have so many conversations with friends or organisations. What we need our social media feeds to be is an easy, quick source of information that allows us to get more out of our time online. We have a growing need for more and more content and while brands can accrue a certain amount of value in creating their own content, being a gateway to other content online will be ultimately more valuable to followers. it’s a hard truth for some brands, but people won’t really care too much about what you say – they just need to find a use for you online.
A Pew report released earlier this year, showed just how important link sharing is becoming on social networks, both on the platform itself and externally. They found that shared links are clicked an average of 4.9 times each, and that sharing links accounted for 31% of site referral traffic :
The way that people receive content is changing. Our social feeds are changing into our news feeds. We care less about what people did at the weekend and more about what they read. For brands, this represents a challenge as well as an opportunity. While the rise in link sharing means you have more people potentially pointing to your site, the challenge is how you own this process, encourage those links and use your own social profiles to be part of it.