Posted September 25, 2010 8:06 am by with 40 comments

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Stupid GuySo, about a month ago I started creating some content for a side project of mine. The plan was to do a very in-depth study on the major players in a niche industry and see how they are doing on the internet. The goal was to study each corporation’s branding, their SEO efforts, and traffic to their web properties. I took about four weeks to do case studies on each corporation.

After I collected my data I wrote up an analysis on each in each area. I then made corresponding charts that showed my findings in a clear and easy to understand format. After it was all finished I put it all together and sat back to marvel at my work! I thought, this piece of content is sure to go viral.

So, with out further ado, I went ahead and started seeding the content to my favorite social media gateways. I shared it with my friends and pushed it hard through niche networks and groups. And then I started to monitor my traffic. At first I got a pretty good spike from the initial push, but quickly saw my numbers come to a standstill. I went back and checked my server stats to make sure I wasn’t having technical problems and everything looked ok. So I went back to the networks and niche groups that I originally used to push the content and found the problem.

No body was sharing it.

Ok a few folks shared it. But by and large this amazing piece of content was sitting in cyberspace like a dead duck. I couldn’t figure it out. Why didn’t anyone digg, stumble, or retweet my post? I used the same seeding strategy that has helped me push numerous pieces of content much further. And then it finally dawned on me. My post wasn’t going anywhere because it actually made people think, it wasn’t sexy, and it didn’t “entertain” anyone.

Have you noticed the recent surge in popularity of infographics? I mean whats with those? Are we to busy to read, or just to lazy? Whats with the constant retweeting of “Top 10 List”? Have we forgotten how to read text when not in bullet form? Why is it that longer blog posts tend to get less comments than the shorter ones? Has Twitter damaged our attention span that badly?

So this is just one man’s opinion, but it seems that if you want to get people to spread content in social media, you better dumb it down first. So my real question to all of you is:

Is social media making us stupid? Or are stupid people attracted to social media? I am awaiting your answers in the comments, that is if you actually read this whole post! 😛

[photo credit]

  • I don’t know about stupid, but there are a lot of lazy, self-conscious people attracted to social media and there presence kills any constructive conversation you can have.

    • Your right Andrew, lazy & self-conscious is a great way to describe things!

    • Celi

      too much content all the time- emails, facebook posts, tweets, blogs! Micro-headlines need to be punchy so people are interested in reading further! And the info needs to be easy and quick to digest as there is always some more content to browse around the corner!

    • Diane Erlich

      Oh you are so right .. I am a Part Time College Professor and I can’t even get my students to read the handouts for their project sheets. Oddly, I deal with Graphic Designers. Its come down to the snippet. If they can’t get the info in a snippet, or quickly or shortcut or easy (all their dialog) they get distracted.

      Now I think I have to agree a little with Celi’s reply TOO MUCH CONTENT! It’s really not just about the social media but about all the things we are checking throughout the day. I myself run a business and teach, so I have two email addresses open a third that is for MSN which I use not just for the social aspect but my clients, Facebook, Twitter… So is it that we are getting dumber, or just spreading ourselves too thin?

    • I agree with Andrew completely, the world is filled with self-conscious people attracted to social media.

  • Don Rhoades

    I sometimes make the mistake of not sharing because I see 300 people in my stream sharing that piece and I feel it’s extraneous. What I fail to remember is that just because I saw the article shared 300 times, doesn’t mean that MY followers got a chance. I don’t have a massive audience, and I weed out the hoe-bots and MLM spammers. What my small audience is mostly comprised of is like-minded folks that aren’t ‘experts’ but are in the practice of seeking wisdom from those who are. I shill good content when it is made easy, so I am lazy/busy but I must also be sold 100% before I do. I want to read/absorb it entirely and don’t always have the time right then, so I favorite it for later review and by the time I get back to it, it’s a week old.

  • I don’t recall seeing the study you did being tweeted or whatever, so I don’t think I saw it. But don’t lose hope, those kinds of things, while perhaps not likely to go viral through social media are great to turn into white papers and have as a download on your website to lend credibility and all that. B2B companies love whitepapers!

    • Heya Jill,

      This is a niche web site that I actually have a seperate social media profile for, twitter, facebook, ectra….I like the white paper idea!

  • Bill Garber

    People aren’t stupid.
    Social media works perfectly.

    • Eric Soll

      Ya it may work perfectly but it is controlling us and our minds it isn’t helping us get to be better people because it is distracting us from what really matters like, family, work, school etc.

  • Hi Joe, I too didn’t see that study, possibly because not enough people tweeted it.

    But your observation resonated with me, for I sometimes wonder why a particularly insightful post doesn’t get a lot ot visits, comments, or tweets. Perhaps I should be comparing some arcane SEO topic to something Lindsay Lohan might have said or done?

  • Like Jill, I don’t think I saw the links to the content you refer to.

    I wonder, though, if Ash doesn’t have a good point. Watch CNN’s Headline News these days. It seems that 90% of what they cover is celebrity gossip. Perhaps the trend you refer to isn’t about social media but of society as a whole.

    There have been a number of studies on what it takes to “go viral.” It does seem that the most “sharable” stuff tends to be the short and simple. The problem is that much of it will be forgotten within a short time. I mean, other than in case studies about how to “go viral,” how many will remember the Old Spice guy a year later? Of course, we do need to differentiate between what is more informational and what is more entertaining.

    Good, thoroughly researched material stands the test of time. It might not spread like wild fire, but it will get used and be much more useful over the long haul. On my own blog I can see where the really useful articles are still the most accessed, even over the course of months. I would suspect this is what you will find with your more thoughtful material. They will find and learn from it.

  • I am not going to disagree. Look at the viral popularity of the youtube video, Charlie Bit Me. Cute spreads like wild fire. Was your report cute, or was it snarky, because that seems to work, also.

    • It was boring…..but since when did boring = lack of value. I mean it had TONS of original data.

  • Oliver

    Having not seen the case studies I don’t know if I’m right in saying this, but there’s always the chance they weren’t actually that good. Social media depends on a number of factors, but without some sort of interesting (/cute/funny etc) content to start it’ll never take off.

  • I think that social media isn’t necessarily making people dumber, but is changing how people value “knowledge”. Because people are exposed to so many different things and pieces of information, I think that, in general, people are trending towards valuing a breadth of knowledge rather than depth of knowledge.

    People want to know a little bit about everything rather than a lot about something. While I personally prefer depth (probably because I love to research), I don’t think that depth is considered as valuable and it is definitely not as exciting.

    Plus, I agree that most people don’t use social media because they want to “think”. They want the cliff’s notes version of the information and that’s enough. (Which is why Top 10 lists are so popular)

    • John, I think you have hit the nail on the head here! And to be completely honest I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bite sized nuggets of knowledge. The problem is that people are confusing the two. They assume that because they read a top 10 list they don’t need anymore information. I think its fine to digest small amounts of data, as long as you are being honest with your self that it might not be enough.

    • Eric Soll

      I agree with you here John definitely nowadays people are trying to learn a lot of little things instead of one specific thing because you can do a lot more with multiple options than one option. But social media is certainly making people not as aware of the outside world as we were before because we have every social media program at our fingertips whether its our blackberry or iphone.

      • Eric I don’t think you could summarize this issue any better.

        “social media is certainly making people not as aware of the outside world”

        Which is ironic because the whole point of “social” media is be social and become more in-tune with what is going on in the rest of the world.

        I think that social media has an excellent premise – condensing a lot information into consumable packets, however this information is being so watered down that all of the substance is gone. It’s kind of like scanning the headlines of a newspaper. You can get an “idea” of what is going on, but still end up not really “knowing” what is going on – and most people seem to be content with this. (For better or for worse)

  • Ann Williams

    What Jill said! PLUS, I managed to read every word of your article because it was a great piece of writing; it had just a soupcon of humor while at the same time, it was loaded with an irresistible prod to self analysis. Not to mention, the graphic that accompanied it was TOP Guffaw material. I’m happy.

  • Where is the beef? Joe! Is this some kind of new link bait strategy with no links? You have appealed to everyone’s “I am not the usual lazy reader” I would find meaty content fascinating…. and no links?

    Are we supposed to get down on one knee and produce a ring? Actually, follow you at Twitter and start searching for… what?

    • Yes, I would like a ring please!

  • Joe, it just happens. Don’t let it deter you from similar efforts in the future.

    Imagine how frustrated folks like Copernicus, Archimedes and countless others must have felt, when they KNEW they had discovered a TRUTH, yet it fell on deaf ears. Maybe their ideas were too much, too soon, or perhaps they frightened people, by challenging the status quo.

    But if even one person experienced a “Eureka” moment, reading your piece, it may act as a catalyst to something even greater.

    I’d hazard a guess that at LEAST 90-95% of the research performed in virtually any field, gets burie;)d, until it happens to be seen by the right person (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s closer to 99%). Does that make it less valuable? I don’t think so.

    Keep on keepin’ on, Joe! You make people think. 😉

  • Joe,

    By now you know me Joe – I write epic textbook length articles.

    Some days, articles I think are off the hook just don’t stick. My ego gets bruised, the bruise heals, I move on. Then I write an article and it goes through the roof. And once again, I’m a happy camper. Now, if you did that three times in a row, it might be a better indicator. Just one article? Could be anything.

    • Yeah but Alan, you know that folks love those stupid infographics, bulleted list, and funny pictures! I mean its almost predictable at what type of content drives traffic and it doesn’t have anything to do with quality.

  • People were stupid way before social media. As for lazy, next time don’t wait for others to promote your great content. 😉

  • Nick

    For some reason i took the time to read this re-tweeted article. The first one all day.

    What does it tell me, in an incredibly unsexy piece of text, that I only want to read sexy stuff.

    Which is true. One of my believes has always been, presentation is everything… Now I haven’t read your other article, but isn’t the packaging just as important as the story? Would you sit through Die Hard if it starred your local pizza courier as John McClane and was taped in the back of a van? Ok, bad comparison… but you know what I mean. Content and presentation go hand in hand. Apple isn’t just successful because they make stuff that works great; it also looks great.

    I learned this rule once on… I believe it was making a good presentation poster (almost done with university, I made a lot of those). We would make these posters on project which would be hung around the university to expose the work which was done. Anyway, the rule was the 3-30-300 seconds rule. The 3 second rule was the time people would take to decide whether they would consider reading more. So, you got 3 seconds to tell your reader why they should continue (a nude chick and the line “Come here stud” for example). The 30 seconds rule was the time they would take to find out if they are interested in the entire thing (a nude chick + “Towards understanding the theoretical framework on the sharing of Joe’s article through social media” might not keep them going, but still). And then the 300 second rule in which people should be able to read the entire poster… Anyway, long story, but it really taught me the importance of presentation. Presentation AND content need to be good… you can’t have one without the other.

    Oh and another one: all people are stupid, until proven otherwise. Social media doesn’t just attract dumb people, it attracts all people. Sadly a large percentage of all people is dumb.

    And was your stuff that good? And did you promote it well online?

  • The death of the “Top Ten List” can’t come soon enough. I totally agree with your points, Joe. Hopefully we can start the backlash. But these are symptoms rather than causes. The key problem is that there’s simply too much information, and only the stuff with T+A or ‘infographics’ stand out to the majority. The flood of internet content is a key component of dumbing down of American life. It’s an extension of the Tyrrany of Choice.

  • I think it depends on who you want your audience to be. You can’t be all things to all people. And the type of person who reads for detail and thinks about the conclusion may not always be the same type of person who heavily uses social media.

  • Nice post. I don’t know if stupid if the word, but lazy for sure. We are getting used to read headlines. Our mind gets tired if we have to read more than 140 characters!

  • Abigail

    I think the problem is the increasingly short attention span people have developed. So much so, we’ve all trained our brains to assimilate information in the form of pictures, graphics, pointers etc. (Hence the popularity of infographics.) Thts why, when someone reaches a post that got a whole lot of text, they end up creating a mental block coz its something theyre not used to …. and as you said, theyhave to sit up and think.

  • Eric Soll

    Yes we are stupid from social media we are always on facebook or twitter every second of the day. We have it on our blackberries and iphones so it is on our fingertips and just a click away.

  • I think the main problem is, again, the excess of information. For each topic in the Internet you could find like a zillion blogs covering it. Infographs are the ‘quick and easy’ way to express and explain almost anything…

  • I think social media is the buzz word du jour. Similar to “space age” was when I was a kid, and information age was a decade ago. Whether it proves to be over blown or not, only time will tell. However I did have someone say all their facebook updates were essentially bored people with nothing to do but treat facebook like it was twitter and mention mostly useless things they were doing now. “Went to the doctor.” “Just worked out.” etc

  • Hey, Joe….

    If it cannot be digested and spoon fed in 140 characters you are SOL. I see this every day — *very* smart people with the attention span of a gnat. They weren’t always that way — technology offering information a click away without having to make any effort negating the need to read too much has caused many to expect everything to be spoon fed to them in bits and bytes.

    I offer training and provide “101” manuals that I literally cannot make any simpler. I get panicked calls all the time and when I ask — did you read/look in the manual — nope! They jump to e-mail me or pick up the phone rather than look at the resource provided specifically for them that is right at their fingertips. “It’s easier to e-mail you…..”

    That combined with not wanting to make even the most minuscule of efforts and the lack of desire to acquire new knowledge by taking the necessary time and that is why you experienced what you did. I see this too every day on all my sites. The info is there — just one click and all the answers one could want — but one would have to click and read! So instead, we use the contact form and blurt out a question instead of making the effort to read what’s there first.

    To which I kindly respond with a link right back to the page they didn’t want to take the time to read in the first place…

    How can you succeed in information technology if you don’t want to read information? You won’t.

    Keep up the good work, Joe!

  • Social media isn’t necessarily making people stupid, it’s just that most people who use Social Media tend to have shorter attention span. Just like that–if they can’t get the gist of your article in a snippet, chances are, they’ll move on to something else. And when it comes to real brainers like articles on the war in the Middle East, etc., it’s a little impossible to deliver those bite-sized.

  • Judy Ryon

    Maybe we need to ask a DIFFERENT question besides are people getting dumber. What was your intention when you published the piece -To go viral? What makes something go viral? Great content is a given. But how did you craft the content to motivate the sharing? Did it needed to entertain as well as be great content? Was it presented in a way that made a difference to the reader? Was THIS content something your audience was even interested in, or just something YOU were interested in? Did you ask them to share it? If you want to bake a great cake, but leave out the sugar… who’s going to eat it?

  • Social Media is just a medium. Perhaps your message isnt being received well by the mediums audience you have or are using?

    Mashables recently stated that content creation is on the decline. I think what is really on the decline is sharing and re-tweeting. If people thing they’ve seen it before or don’t find any value in it for them selves they won’t share it.

    Itis not that people are getting dumber. I think its more that we need to change the content and the layout methods we are using in our messages. As someone else pointed out, Top lists arent as affective as they used to be.

  • I have had the same issue with the information on my website. Nobody seems to read them or comment, what’s left for actually retweeting them or sharing them! It’s weird that even with a good and very actual content in the niche, I can’t seem to get why people aren’t reading.. Maybe I should cut down the length of my posts… Maybe they are too intimidating… I am not sure what the issue is, but I surely hope that people are not relying on 160symbols to “grasp” everything. That would be so sad…

  • Great Post! i Think people attracted to social media and there presence kills any constructive conversation you can have. Social Media is just a medium