Social Media Stockholm Syndrome

I logged off Facebook “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Most of the words above aren’t mine. They belong to Henry David Thoreau who from 1845 to 1847 experimented with living a fuller, more authentic life by living in a cabin beside Walden pond. Thoreau’s Walden is hardly a rustic, wilderness survival story. Thoreau didn’t live far from town. His mom did his laundry, and he often mooched off his neighbors. Thoreau’s experiment wasn’t about self-sufficiency or living off the land. Thoreau wondered if he could live in accordance with his own best principles.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thoreau’s experiment and wondering if I could do the same. I’m not thinking about building a cabin in the woods or cutting my own firewood or mending my clothes to suit the needs of my current enterprise. I’m contemplating a step away from social media.

Facebook has been a positive force in my life. Most of the people I love gather regularly there and share interesting bits of their daily lives. Photos of kids, dogs and weekend adventures keep us connected between visits. Facebook is how we connect and communicate. Facebook is how we stay in each other’s lives.

And yet, increasingly, for the past year Facebook has left me feeling empty, a bit sick. Since sometime last year, the persistent thought arrives while posting or scrolling down the endless feed: “We aren’t meant to live this way.” Sharing seems less an act of generosity than one of grandiose self-promotion. Liking has become a way to acknowledge someone’s thoughts or feelings without pausing for the hassle of truly taxing my own emotions or empathy. I don’t like the way I am using social media or the way social media is using me.

And so, I contemplate what it would be like to shut down my social media for a season, to retreat to my metaphorical cabin by the pond, to live by first principles with both intention and attention.

No easy feat this. Leaving Facebook, even for a season, means exporting a tremendous amount of personal data, contacts, birthdays, and emails. It means disconnecting apps and disrupting third-party services. Leaving Facebook, even for a season, means communicating with people by email or text or ***shudder*** in person. Even contemplating such an act feels like preparing to leave my country. Boarding up the windows. Turning off the plumbing. Checking, double-checking that I have the proper documents. Asking the neighbors to watch the place until I get back.

I am uncertain if this is a thing I can or will do. The irony bites me that I am even posting this to Facebook. Posting to Facebook about wanting to leave Facebook is the most Facebook thing you can do. 

Leaving Facebook would be an experiment in relationship building and maintenance. What is it like to speak to my friends in paragraphs rather than comments? What is it like to tell some specific someone something about my day rather than broadcast and wait to see who turns up in my feed? What is it like to not know so much about the smallest parts of everybody’s lives and not have them know the smallest parts of mine?

If I go, it will be so I can learn from the experience and write about it, and yet, if I go, no one will read what I have learned or written because Facebook is how readers find the blog. Hostage situation. Social media Stockholm Syndrome.

I Stopped Following You On Twitter. Nothing personal.

I stopped following you on Twitter today. Nothing personal. You’re still funny. People still like you. Your 2037 remaining followers still admire the amount of snark and wit you can pack into 140 characters.

Its not you. Its me.

I just woke up and realized that my Twitter feed was no longer meeting my needs. I realized that Twitter is like a dinner party in a warehouse and everyone is standing by the buffet line, all 646 million of us, trying to be clever and pertinent but not too personal and not too emotionally involved.

I came to talk to people who know about libraries and teaching and educational technologies and writing and poetry and mobile tools in the classroom and open education resources and science stuff. Oh, and Star Wars. Yes, also Star Wars.

Your posts kept interrupting my train of thought. Your selfies and cookey cat pictures kept hiding the posts I really wanted to see. I’m sure your cat is very nice, but I don’t really care what she ate for breakfast. And I don’t understand the cheese hat.

You aren’t the only one. I stopped following dozens of others. There will be several dozen more to come, I’m sure.

I can imagine you and the sadness you might feel. Sitting there alone in your apartment, refreshing your Twitter feed, wondering where follower 2038 has gone. You aren’t the kind to keep an actual list of followers, I hope. If so, it might take you a while to check and double check the list of names to find the disappeared.

There is, of course, software you might use to isolate changes in your Twitterdom to find my handle is the one that is gone.

Don’t think too poorly of me. I followed you once for some good reason. Who knows? Maybe I will follow you again.

But it is awkward, isn’t it? The knowing that you are still following someone who is no longer following you. The relationship has changed. No more favorites. No RTs. A lonely silence on Follow Fridays.

Try to move on. Don’t wallow in the misery. Use the disappointment to help you grow strong.

I wish you all the happiness in the world. You deserve followers who appreciate your every tweet. May you be richly blessed and, when the time comes, may your Twitter account be verified and graced by that little blue check that means so much to so many. That moment when the world is forced to recognize that you are exactly who you say you are.

Until then, my friend, take care of yourself. Try to be brave. You have 2037 other followers to think about. Tweet them well.

Why SEO Matters to Librarians

I spent last Friday at the Knoxville-based Social Slam, an annual one day conference about social media as a tool for business marketing and communication. As usual, I found myself powerfully inspired by ideas from a bunch of folks in professions outside my own. This is how professional development is supposed to happen. Toss yourself headfirst into a gathering of smart people with adjacent but different interests from your own and start talking.

As an educator and librarian, I found a lot to learn from small business owners, marketing reps and social media mavens. I will post some of those lessons along the way.

I arrived late, missing the morning keynote. My first session was a primer on search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO is a series of skills, design practices and habits intended to improve a website’s ability to be found.  Information is not scarce. Attention is scarce. Getting found is as important as having something unique and useful to offer. If you can’t get yourself, your business or your cause found online, you might not exist. There are several essential habits to make your online presence more findable. The panel talked about the importance of clear, accurate metadata. They discussed the usefulness of well-crafted headlines and tagged images. All of these SEO-related suggestions are habits of good web design. They shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all librarians. They make websites, including library websites, findable.

Librarians care about SEO because we need our sites to findable. Students Google my library pages more often than they click to them from college pages.  I have seen members of my own team Google to our page rather than use browser bookmarks. Google (okay, and maybe Bing) are the gateway to getting found and being used.

Nothing shocking. That did not catch me off guard. Librarians should care about SEO because we need to market ourselves and be found.

Then the conversation turned to the social graph and the work Google and others are doing to personalize search results based on shares, clicks and other social metrics. Wonder why Google Plus exists? Google needed to get access to lots of social information about web user behavior and most of the best data was locked up in Facebook. Google Plus exists to shape what users find when they search. Google wants to learn enough about your interests and patterns of web use to predict which 2 or 3 sites will be most useful from a search results page of 23,000,000. They give you thousands of pages of results but really only care about the first few on that first page. They want those to be right, accurate and contextually relevant. They are getting better at it.

Search is getting personalized. As social interactions are folded into search algorithms, the social media footprints of a business or individual becomes more important. The panelists demonstrated how tools like Google Author can lift a blogger up search results and how Google Business listings can create a strong initial landing page in Google results. Well-focused content on Google Plus, Twitter and other sites can tie users to your site and create a kind of gravity toward your pages. Better yet, their check-ins and mentions can create a kind of gravity to bend their friends and their friends’ friends search results toward your site. This is important to librarians for a few reasons.

Librarians must understand and help others to understand how search works. It isn’t only about keywords anymore. Things are more complex.

Librarians need to know how content providers can shape their rankings to become more visible in a targeted market.

Most interestingly, SEO in the age of social search means that search results are personalized. Two people logged into their Google accounts can search for the same topic at the same time and get very different results. The age of one-size fits all library instruction is going away. Search is personalized; the results are custom-tailored.

We are just at the beginning of this new kind of search. I wonder what it will mean for phone-based reference consultations. “Go to Google, type this, visit the third link down” type information won’t work anymore.

We have to let people know how this kind of searching works. We need to advise them on the benefits, which are many, and help them opt out if they wish to do so.

I did a quick search on librarians and SEO and didn’t come up with much. Most people, like me, have been coming to the topic from the perspective of marketing their sites. SEO is how we get found.

I left the session realizing that my profession keeps getting more and more interesting. SEO is about how search works. If we can’t master that concept, we can’t be effective.