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How to Cut Through Social Media Clutter

drummond-mark
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Social clutter is a growing problem. The social dynamics of being overloaded with e-mail (both work and social) is somewhat similar to what happens when you're overloaded with page recommendations, updates, comments, and the like.

The question of how marketers can cut through social clutter in order to get their message seen by a user was addressed in "Identifying - And Defeating - Social Clutter." While this is an excellent question, there's a question one-step prior: what's the actual user experience of social clutter, and what tools can we give users to help them manage the problem?

You can view the problem from two complementary perspectives.

Social Media Filter

Users need to be able to filter-out the updates that they don't want to see. These might include, for example, game updates from friends. If you're not a game-player yourself, then you're going to see those updates as pure spam, and having a tool to remove them would be helpful.

But just filtering-out things that you don't want to see feels pretty defensive. It doesn't really feel like the user is in control. Perhaps, if we put the user in control, in the context of managing social clutter, then the user will decide to see messages, including marketing messages, on topics that are interesting, at a time that's relevant. That would be a clutter management solution that's a win to marketers and end-users alike.

Custom Social Feed

People need tools for selecting updates that they do want to see. Just filtering out the uninteresting stuff isn't enough. A useful filter should allow the user to specify three things.

The social network from which updates will be extracted. A list of topics (search terms) to filter against. A list of specific people of interest.

This combination of source network, topics, and people gives rise to a powerful notion of filter, or, as we call it, a custom feed.

Facebook Groups Isn't a Solution (Yet)

Facebook recently launched its new groups feature. It's a pretty compelling, credible threat to much of the available lightweight web-based groupware.

In a new Facebook group, users get a shared chat area, shared documents, shared e-mail, and control over how public or private the group members and the content are. It's a really useful feature for families, teams, small companies, and the like.

But when Facebook launched the feature, it was explained as a solution to the newsfeed information overload problem. Really? I just don't see that.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that people don't like to make lists of their friends, and that less than 5 percent of Facebook users employed the friend list feature. Indeed, making lists of friends is tedious.

But it's much easier to make a custom feed by specifying the topics you're interested in. Here, you aren't picking friends from a list, but you're specifying topics of interest.

I've created a few Facebook groups, and I like how they work, but they aren't a solution to the social information overload problem. It's true that groups can be created by the relatively few, and still involve the relatively many, so they're an efficient way to drive participation and self-grouping, even if only a small percentage of Facebook users actually build groups. We may not all be group-builders, but most of us are group members.

But the new Facebook groups don't allow filtering of the existing newsfeed updates. That's what I want. A custom feed lets me specify what I want to see, and with a single click on that, I filter my existing newsfeed according to the interests that I've defined in the feed.

A group is a much more heavyweight mechanism, requiring member participation and engagement. A custom feed is just a lens of sorts, allowing me to specify what I want to see at any given point in time.

My friends never need to know that I'm using this lens! It's a private tool, used selectively by me to pick out things I'm interested in, when I'm interested in them.

Wanted: Better Solutions

From a marketing perspective, what's the best way to put users in control, so that a marketing message can be punched through the social clutter, to reach a person when they're likely to be interested in the message? Are Facebook's new groups on a path to allowing that sort of clutter penetration? Or are custom feeds a solution? Are both part of the solution, or are neither quite right?

It seems to me that they both solve part of the problem, but that we still need better mechanisms to allow users, in a social media context, to tell marketers what they're interested in, and when, so that a great user experience can be created, and the promise of social media marketing realized.

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