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Outsourcing Relationships And Peddling Influence: Why Social Media Is Not Fun Anymore

When I first started blogging in 2006, the medical blogosphere consisted of a small group of physicians, nurses, and patient advocates. We knew each other well, and spent time each day visiting our favorite blogs and posting personal comments of encouragement and insight. We developed real friendships, and were optimistic about our brave new online writing frontier. We thought we could change the healthcare system for the better, we believed that our perspectives could influence policy, and we were sure that our writing could help our patients lead healthier lives.

I remember with great fondness the medical blogger conference that I attended in Las Vegas in 2009. It was the first time I’d met most of my blog friends in real life (IRL) – it was like seeing your favorite pen pals after years of correspondence. We talked all night, had marveled at how a love of writing had brought together a surgeon from South Africa, an ER nurse from California, and a Canadian rehab physician, among others. We figured that social media was the glue that held us all together. Since then, I am sad to say that for me, the glue has lost its stickiness due to dilution by third parties and a glut of poor quality content dividing attentions and exhausting our brains’ filter system.

Fast forward 7 years and most of my email correspondence is from strangers wanting to embed text links in my blog, people selling SEO services, or PR agencies inviting me to provide free coverage of their industry-sponsored conferences and webinars. I can’t think of a single friend who has left a comment on my blog in the past three months. Sure we see each other’s updates on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter, but I can’t remember the last real conversation we’ve had. Social Media has become irreversibly cluttered, and I’ve never felt more isolated or guarded about the future of medical writing.

My thoughts on this subject gelled when Twitter announced that LeBron James was following me (along with a select 80,000+ others). Obviously, LeBron has no idea who I am, and I’m almost certain he had nothing to do with his Twitter account following me. He, like many others, has outsourced his online relationship-making. It’s the ultimate irony – using social media to distance yourself from others, while maintaining an appearance of engagement. Sort of like sending a blow up doll of yourself to a party.

So what keeps some people going on these social media platforms? Perhaps it’s the allure of influence – the idea that many people are listening to you gives a sense of importance and meaning to your efforts. But take a cold hard look at your followers – do you know who most of them are? Or is there a large group of “hotchick123″ type Twitter accounts counted among them? I used to block followers who didn’t seem real or relevant, but it became so much of a chore that I couldn’t keep up. I was overwhelmed by the Huns.

One could argue that my social media fatigue  is my own fault – I didn’t screen my followers properly, I didn’t follow the “right” people, I haven’t curated my friendships with as much care as I ought to… But I know I’m not alone in my pessimism. A recent Pew Research poll suggests that people are leaving Facebook at a rapid rate. And as far as Twitter is concerned, it’s not for everyone.

I guess the bottom line for me is that social media isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I miss my blog friends, I miss the early days of being part of an online community. I don’t write as much as I used to because I don’t know my audience by name anymore. This “party” is full of strangers and I don’t like the familiarity that continues in the absence of true friendship.

Time to spend more of my energy on my patients, family, and friends IRL. And that’s a good lesson for a doctor to learn…


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12 Responses to “Outsourcing Relationships And Peddling Influence: Why Social Media Is Not Fun Anymore”

  1. Kathi Browne says:

    You really said it well, Val. Too many people outsource their virtual selves and dilute the value of social platforms. I haven’t lost my love for the virtual world but I also don’t tolerate people who send me LinkedIn invites and then go silent or who insert my name in a tweet that has nothing to do with me.

    I raise some eyebrows when I share that I am a social media consultant that has deleted my Facebook account, and that I rarely visit my LinkedIn groups. But I spend my time where I am engaged with others — as a patient, as a friend, and as a professional. I will knock down doors to connect with people, but I will walk away if the communication is nothing more than a broadcast.

    That’s where I think healthcare needs to take a close look at how two-way conversation can be offered within the confines of HIPAA and everything else that presents a risk. Maybe blogs and tweets and shares should be seen as conversation starters that take a conversation to another level somewhere else. I know that is how I am approaching virtual resources: See one. Do one. Teach one how to get into a hangout so we can talk about it.

  2. Excellent points, Kathi. We do need to somehow find a place for real people to meet again. Being blasted with constant promotional Tweets is just annoying. Hangouts are nice – yours was the first I’d tried. ;-)

  3. Scott Scowcroft says:

    Years ago, as soon as the “powers-to-be” (whatever that means) realized Seattle voters just might fund the building of a monorail after all, they rushed in to take over what had up until then been a people’s movement … and ruined it. Sure feels like the same thing is happening to social media. A good friend who is also a hospital CEO recently told me, “Scott, don’t call it social media,” and suggested I use any word other than “blogging.” Another friend is all excited because his newly found business partner can upload client videos to 20 different sites worldwide for presumed better SEO.

    Sad to say, Dr. Val, your post sure seems to ring true.

  4. #1 Dinosaur says:

    I miss you too, Val.

    I didn’t realize we entered the blogosphere the same year.

  5. #1 – So do you have SM fatigue syndrome like I do? ;-)

  6. Carolyn Thomas says:

    Hello Dr. Val – I wonder if the “no fun” realization may be a reflection of your own success. Years ago, when you started, the playing field was smaller and the hypemeisters likely far less aggressive. I noticed the needle shifting a couple years ago (probably coinciding with a tipping point of good-enough numbers of blog readers/Twitter followers?) I started getting noticed by industry: first to find out if I were interested in running their ads on my site, then to find out if I wanted them to submit guest posts – most of which clearly had nothing to do with my site’s focus (women and heart disease).

    At first, I’d carefully respond to each and every contact, explaining politely why I didn’t want to run their ads, or why I didn’t want to run their guest post on anti-aging miracle supplements (I let Dr. Oz take those ones). But now, I just sit and hit delete-delete-delete over and over. Just this morning, I was asked by a tech start-up to test-drive their Next Big Thing self-tracking device because they have just decided they needed input from patients. Jeez Louise, wouldn’t you think they’d have tried meeting some real live patients before they got to this phase?

    I now have an entire blog category I call “anti-social media”!

    Thank you for the fine work you do (social or otherwise!)
    regards,
    C.

  7. Hi Carolyn – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Bloggers get targeted by ad sales people, folks selling embedded links as “guest blog posts,” and all kinds of PR folks looking to generate “earned media” = free advertising that THEY can charge their clients for. It makes you feel totally used and very jaded. When email first arrived on the scene there was no spam. Once the counterfeit Viagra and Nigerian money scammers took hold we had to put in place elaborate spam blockers and then things were better again. In Social Media we don’t have spam blockers yet… which is why I feel harassed and annoyed most of the time I’m online! I have to find a work around, but not sure what that is yet! Thank YOU for being a kind and sane voice in this vast ocean of SM spam!

  8. Kalina says:

    Hi Val! I agree, that this saturation of social media has both brought us closer and further apart from our fans/ readers/ friends, etc. It is hard to stay in touch with people, once your content and blog grow in popularity. On the other hand, you can use the influence you’ve gained to spread the word on important issues. Social media gives us the opportunity to speak out our mind in such a democratic way, as no other medium has ever allowed us before.

  9. Gary Levin MD says:

    Dear Val, I harbor your own observations. I think I started a blog back in 2005 or so, using and still using blogger.Still like to blog, get some comments now and then, and have joined the ‘noise’ with twitter, facebook, and Google +. My fav now is Google + and hangouts….Not as mysterious as a faceless blog or commentary, but the hangouts give a sense of intimacy if limited to your friend circles…You should give it a try. With your ‘media personality’ you would do well to go ‘live’ Life is change and what we love often departs from us without our even recognizing it.

  10. I love what you guys are up too. This sort of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve added you guys to my own blogroll.

  11. It is actually a great and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you just shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Natisha says:

    Good artiсle! We are linking to this great content on our website.
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