There was a great article in WIRED this month, In Praise of Obscurity, talking about social networks and scale.
The premise is that social networks work the way they ought to – facilitating connections, conversations and content – as long as your network stays small. The article claims that once someone’s social network (Twitter is the main example) grows to a certain size it can "shut down." Essentially that somewhere around 10,000+ followers you become microfamous. You may start self-censoring what you say, and others may cease to interact with you because they are intimidated or don't feel they could add value to a dialogue. The article ultimately praises the obscurity that smaller networks bring, "Sure we'd be connected with fewer people, but we'd be communicating with them, and not just talking at them."
Let’s make one thing clear before I go on – I definitely don’t have this problem. I’m not beating away followers or blog commenters with a stick or anything. However, I’m willing to stick my nose out there and call shenanigans on this theory.
Blogs first. The best part of the most popular blogs I read is the comments. They’re vibrant and interesting, and pull from the wisdom of the crowds – often eclipsing the original post in terms of creative thinking. In this case, the community is chomping at the bit to engage and the only thing limiting a blogger from getting involved is his/her own willingness to take the time to read and react (which for the record, most good bloggers do automatically.)
Twitter follows the same logic. Most of the prolific Twitterers I follow have a solid @reply ratio and certainly don’t seem above engagement. Though I think it’s worth nothing that these people are true social media believers (versus, let’s say @Oprah) and use Twitter as its intended – as a way to facilitate dialogue, not as a channel to push out their latest and greatest Deep Thought.
I believe that the fastest and easiest way to “lose the social” in your social network is to let it happen to yourself. To get overwhelmed with Tweets, comments, emails and just start broadcasting instead of interacting. I think that your community only becomes as small as you let it.But, perhaps we should look beyond my (relatively) microscopic social graph. I decided to ask some of my favorite social media super stars their thoughts on this topic. I’ll update with their responses as they come in.