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June 3rd, 2011

Approval Shouldn’t Trump Interaction

The choice of biggest social media publishing story of the last few days is kind of obvious isn’t it? It kind of has to be the decision by MTV to start publishing a Tumblr blog.

I’m actually dead serious about this. While hardly the first (and not likely the last – even movie studios have used the platform for individual films like The Social Network and Tree of Life) media organization to start publishing to Tumblr it’s emblematic of the current mindset that’s taking hold at all levels of the publishing world, from the individual social media expert to the largest weekly news magazines and everyone in-between:

For some companies it seems content publishing is no longer about interaction, it’s about approval.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to any online publishing program has continued to be the fear among stakeholders that people will say something negative. That mentality is driving some companies to bypass a self-publishing platform and go straight to a community network platform where, it’s hoped, bad things will never happen. Of course that discounts how just because someone can’t say something here doesn’t stop them saying it elsewhere.

So now we have a publishing ecosystem that’s sprouting up that is designed to allow positive outcomes only. Like/Reblog on Tumblr. Like a page on Facebook without any further context. Add a +1 button to your website so it can appear higher in social search rankings. Recommend someone as influential on Klout. Add a Follow button to decrease the pain of someone following you on Twitter.

All these buttons and recommendation prompts can be useful in various ways, though overloading on them can lead to more problems than their addition is meant to solve. Chief among them is that you’re closing the door to potentially valuable insights by doing so. If someone has a problem with something about your company isn’t it better that that conversation happen on an owned-platform instead of elsewhere, where things are less under your control? Again, this isn’t doing away with negativity, it’s just shunting it somewhere else. So you better make sure you have a good monitoring program in place since that feedback won’t be coming directly to you.

Part of this “Just Like Us” attitude is based on the reality that a lot of social networks have spotty and questionable search engine impact, which is why special deals seem to be necessary to get social updates into search results. Some have found decent success search-wise with social network publishing and others less so. Some platforms, including many of the “blog-lite” services, are almost totally invisible to search so they rely on an environment of recommendation within that platform’s user community to survive.

All these new buttons from Google, Twitter and other networks are interesting and can – and absolutely should – be explored for possible implementation on publishing programs of various shapes and sizes. But they all need to be considered carefully and weighed against the goals of the publishing program. True with many of these there’s little immediately visible downside but everything from how the addition of X button impacts the overall site design to how it might affect the user experience still needs to be put through the decision making process.

Validation seems to be the buzzword of the moment. We want everyone to like us. But approval shouldn’t come about because you’ve simply shut off the conduit through which negative feedback comes. It should be earned because people like what you’re doing, with anything else seen as an opportunity to grow. We’re confusing popularity with influence but you can still be popular even when people disagree with you. While silencing critics (at least in your own home) sounds awfully attractive it also silences your most ardent supporters, giving them no other opportunity to express themselves beyond the same standard vote of affirmation that even casual fans would be willing to give you.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

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