When Did Social Media Stop Being So … Social?

Opinion: There is such a thing as too much information

Users are overwhelmed by information from outside of their social circles
SIphotography/iStock

Recent developments since the 2016 presidential election—most notably the discovery that Facebook had been manipulated by Russia’s Internet Research Agency—has led many users to question major social media platforms. This manipulation has prompted users to second-guess these networks’ commitment to responsibility over profitability, as well as the seemingly arbitrary algorithms and advertisements that dictate their news feeds.

Facebook became the mammoth that it is by originally serving as a pure social network, which early to mid-2000s university students turned to in order to put names to faces they had seen around campus or at the bar the night before.

Twitter achieved its status as a global rapid information-sharing platform by allowing users to share their thoughts or what they had seen, 140 characters at a time.

Instagram rose to fame as a very simple way for users to catalog and share photos with friends.

Each of these major platforms serves a very different purpose, but they have something in common: They have each become increasingly complicated as they have grown. Now, users are overwhelmed by information from outside of their social circles, and by other users climbing over each other to become the next global influencer or viral sensation—not to mention the ads.

Social media has become about all of these things that are not social. With that said, it is time that social media gets back to basics and focuses on being social again.

One of social media’s greatest traits is that it provides users access to a seemingly endless amount of information, which has made it an invaluable tool for disseminating news across the world. However, it seems like we are discovering that there is such a thing as too much information.

On the major social media platforms, users’ news feeds are currently determined by their social network, as well as algorithms and advertisements selected by the platforms—essentially, from within and without. This information from without—from sources that users have not chosen to follow—can overwhelm.

Users follow other users—friends or celebrities—because that is who they are interested in learning about or receiving information from. By scaling back and allowing users’ news feeds to be determined solely by their social networks, platforms can avoid encumbering users with too much information, creating a more digestible and navigable experience.

The most common reason why people use social media is to keep in touch with what their friends are doing, suggesting that it is most often used for social purposes. People want to connect with one another, and social media helps them do that.

It is important that these connections are valuable and fruitful, and serve as more than just a digital connection, but also a connection in life. Social media should complement your social life, not be your social life. By including features like sharable calendars and mood-specific chat, social media platforms can fit into users’ larger social lives as tools and serve greater purposes than just places to share thoughts, political opinions and pictures.

While social media does need to be more than just a center for sharing, sharing still needs to be a major part of it. Users have traditionally been able to share content and thoughts with each other, but social media needs to go further than that.

Platforms can take major steps forward by allowing users to share the revenue. Users attract revenue—be it advertising or otherwise—so logically, they should be rewarded for what they generate.

Enabling users to buy and sell directly through social platforms is a win-win proposition. For users, it means a one-stop shop for social interaction and social commerce. For social media platforms, it means becoming a more attractive destination for potential users. For both parties, it means a consolidated, simplified experience. In addition to being a smoother experience, allowing users to earn from social media platforms makes them tangibly fulfilling.

In the last decade, social media has changed the way people share information with friends and others and allowed them to more easily keep in contact with people across the world. It has established itself as an incredibly powerful information-sharing tool, but it appears that we have reached the breaking point where users are given too much information.

As the platforms themselves have expanded, so, too, have the pools of information that each user has access to. Platforms stand to gain a lot by scaling back the information pushed to each user and letting their news feeds be dictated by the people they choose to follow.

It is time for social platforms to do more by doing less and give their users the simple social experiences that made them fall in love with these networks in the first place.

Govinda Giri is founder and CEO of social commerce platform Sagoon.