Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?
THERE IS A WELL-WORN SAYING ABOUT POLITICIANS SEEING WHICH DIRECTION THE PARADE IS GOING... THEN RUNNING HARD TO GET TO THE HEAD OF THE LINE AND LEAD IT...
Preface: This series of somewhat self-indulgent literary and philosophical reflections began with "Social Media Is a Highway, Not a Destination", and is concluding with this installment. Links to the previous articles in the series will be found at the end of this post, should you be moved by this one to sample some of them. A compendium of all the installments will soon be available as a downloadable eBook.
To be a successful writer on social media, figure out what's trending, then riff off that ...LinkedIn Executive Editor, Dan Roth in a post on Writing for LinkedIn
Until I read that admonishment from LI's executive editor, Dan Roth, I really hadn't a clue about creating popular content on social media, let alone anything that might go "viral" — notwithstanding that a runaway viral post is the wet dream of every writer on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.
There I was, an experienced professional non-fiction writer and editor, with nary an inkling of what it was that bred acceptance in digital publishing on social media. I had always in the past — in the world of print publishing — been exhorted by editors to find something "fresh" to write about, to develop a unique lead or hook for a given piece, to sniff out a new slant or spin on a topic. In other words, to create something different and new and individual.
So, you can understand, if not exactly pardon my naivete when I first came to digital publishing. For I understandably — at least, I think understandably — believed what had been drilled into me during my print publishing years applied in the digital world as well. Wrong!
What Dan Roth's advice makes crystal clear to me is that originality — or if you prefer, individualism — was not, and is not valued in digital publishing, especially on social media. Rather what is important in web-based venues is popularity and trending. In other words, herd acceptance.
As I pondered my experience as a user and independent writer on LinkedIn, I realized that never before had so many so little (different or individual) to say ...
On LinkedIn, I truly believe you could take fifty articles and throw them into a hat with the names of their fifty authors, mix them all up, then return articles chosen at random to the fifty authors... and it would be doubtful that any of those authors could tell whether the piece returned to them was written by them, or by someone else.
Well... perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but... only a wee bit. Certainly, I couldn't tell in the vast majority of cases who was writing what. And I'm a moderately experienced editor.
As to Danny Boy, he didn't seem to care a bit about whether he could tell or not, as he was obviously too busy sucking up to. and getting his photo taken with Oprah Winfrey, let alone pay any real attention to editorial quality.
Anyway, as far as I can tell, the desire to chase the trend continues strong to this day: For many more than a few users of social media, there is truth in numbers. The more people who think the same way, the more correct their collective opinion must be. And if a sufficiently large number of people believe the same thing, then it must be true. As though truth is disclosed in the results of a vote.
Somewhere along the way, it seems quality became identified with popularity.
There is no escaping the fact that writing for maximum popularity means creating content for the lowest common denominator. Which, in turn, ensures an ongoing and relentless march to mediocrity.
All while a heart-racing herd mentality rages in the breasts of social media devotees, not only Millennials, but also Baby Boomers and Oldsters, as well.
I have to ask when did that happen? When Facebook arrived on the scene, encouraging users to chase "likes" and "friends"? When Twitter followed and made the number of followers a metric of success? When LinkedIn make the indicators of accomplishment the number of "eyes" and level of virality an article generates?
I really don't know. So, if you do, please let me know.
What I do know is that social media has become the Great Leveler... a place where the most important consideration is what the trend is, that is, what everybody else is thinking... and, of course, liking.
What has also become critically important to so many is how others see them. Witness the oft referred to phenomenon of readers on social media exhibiting reluctance to be the first few to register a like, or make a comment on a given post.
The result is a relentless drive toward uniformity, the universal destination — when you chase The Trend.
At one time, I believed that the surfeit of dreary uniformity and Insipidipity on social media was idiosyncratic to specific platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook. But now, I am not so sure about that.
My most recent experience on beBee is causing me to wonder whether such vapid uniformity isn't endemic to social media in general. Whereas the as yet still very young beBee displays enormous potential to distinguish itself from the others in virtue of its commitment to "Affinity Networking", the pressures to uniformity are already building.
Despite being a huge friend and early adopter of beBee USA, I have to say that, as the traffic on the Publisher increases, so do the numbers of uncomfortably similar articles. And as the more general traffic increases, so do the number of essentially identical inspirational memes, vacuous and generic pat-and-stroke comments, and posts that flirt with, but do not cross the line over into hard plagiarism. None of which bodes well for a platform that appeared initially to be celebrating individualism.
Hopefully, as beBee makes available to users a full and robust set of tools to fully implement Affinity Networking, the situation will be self-correcting...
For then, but only then will content of genuine substance and skillful creation be able to find an audience, and in so doing, fight its way to robust visibility. And only when we stop chasing the trend, will we return the individualism that was at one time considered so desirable. If not on social media in general, at least on beBee. — Phil Friedman
Author's Notes:This post is the tenth and final installment in a series of philosophical reflections which I've dubbed "The Road Chronicles" because they are organized around the metaphor of travel along a road. If you would like to read one or more of the previous installments of the series, they can be found at:
"Finding Your Way Back to Intelligence"
To receive the entire series as a downloadable eBook, connect with me on beBee.
If you'd like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.
Feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other LinkedIn articles — whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, provided only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to my original post.
About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve the their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement.
To schedule an appointment for a free 1/2-hour consult email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to speaking with you soon.
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