Do My Numbers Define Me?

Social_Media_Guru-f918bc5I post to three Twitter accounts. One has 30,182 followers, one has 476 followers, and the other has 892 followers.

On Facebook, I have 209 friends on my personal page, and 5,276 fans on my business page, and I’ve uploaded 1,659 photos and been tagged in 159 photos.

On LinkedIn, I have 306 “first degree” connections, and 152 endorsements.

My Klout score is 46. I write for four blogs, with 236,124 subscribers and page 1 Google rank in the top 3 keywords for each blog.

Everywhere you go online, numbers like these confront you. But do they define you?

I’d like to say no, that they’re meaningless – and some of them really are meaningless. For example, I don’t get tagged in many photos because I work hard not to wind up in other people’s photographs. I don’t connect most of my social media accounts to my Klout score – and I don’t connect with a lot of people on LinkedIn because I really do use it to keep up with old friends and former co-workers – not as a job search or business development tool.

But the truth is that I smile when something I’ve posted gets more than 10 retweets or “likes”, and it makes me feel good when I add a follower on Twitter, or a friend on Facebook. It saddens me when someone I like unfriends me because they don’t like something I’ve posted – but not enough (so far) to get me to change my ideals or comments very much.

The truth is the social media numbers remind me of points in video games. It’s the gamification of real life, and it’s everywhere. My husband and one of our friends seem to have an ongoing competition to see who can check in to more places on Foursquare, and another friend obsessively chronicles reading progress on Goodreads. And don’t get me started on Trakr, or the geolocators in smartphones and tablets.

Of course, as a marketer, this kind of data is a goldmine, which is why sites like Facebook and Google collect it so aggressively. Remember:  if you aren’t paying for the product, chances are that data about you IS the product.

Businesses only have access to this data bonanza because the human race is obsessed with itself. Even the least vain person in the world is interested when you tell them something about themselves — a fact malware developers are well aware of, which is why so many Trojan Horse programs are hidden behind banners that say, “Click here to see who searched for you…unfriended you…what people are saying about you…” and so on.

They say that numbers don’t lie – but the huge boom in infographics sometimes makes me wonder. Infographics are supposed to put them in context, and let us visualize their importance. As a marketer, however, I know that an infographic includes only data that I want you to see, and the context is highly subjective.

Numbers like credit scores and the zip code where we live have long helped businesses determine whether or not we’re credit worthy. Now, however, it seems that our social media numbers are helping other people decide if we’re worth talking to, or making friends with. And they’re also making businesses decide how much effort to put into handling our customer service issues as well.

That’s rather sad. Some of the people I’ve learned the most from in my life aren’t the most popular, or the most outgoing. If I’m judged only by my popularity online, or start to judge others by their popularity, I’m sure that something important will be lost.

The numbers only tell part of the story. People are more than just numbers. They’re quirky, strange, interesting, fascinating and complex. I hope that I can resist the tendency to rely too much on the statistics I see online — and I hope that you can, too.

I think that if I ever get to the point where I decide whether to follow someone on Twitter or befriend someone on Facebook solely because of their “numbers”, I’ll have reduced my life to nothing more than a box score. And that means I lose.

Cartoon Credit:  The amazing Scott Hampson made this cartoon of a social media guru available under a Creative Commons license on his website.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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