Recruiters Wear Out Welcome in Social Media
As the novelty of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter wears off, some users are growing tired of getting friended, connected, poked, pitched, and, yes, even recruited. That could explain why we’re hearing corporate recruiters complain that they’re not getting the enthusiastic response they’re used to getting online and why Intellerati has seen an influx of business from employers eager to recruit candidates who are not actively marketing their wares on LinkedIn. Maybe it is that what started as a place to connect with people we really know and people we’d like to know has turned into a place where we’re getting incessantly marketed to — not just by companies but by human beings who are attempting to be their own brands. I get that that is what executives have been told to do in book after book on how to optimize their careers. But, not everyone deserves to be a brand.
Moreover, the “too much information” overload is exacerbated by jarring commentary from those with whom we’ve connected. We learn things we wish we didn’t know that an acquaintance inexplicably feels compelled to share online — like the time a friend uploaded gory accident aftermath photos of his own injuries or the time a family member made overtly racist remarks about our Nation’s President. And then there are Facebook friends whom we absolutely do not know — a friend of a friend of a friend — whose self-indulgent updates take over our feeds with the mundane details of their existence. I get that they are trying to share. I just wished they could write. In the end, we are left wondering who are these people?
2012 has been the summer of discontent for social networks. Social media stocks, with the exception of LinkedIn, have been getting hammered since going public. Facebook experienced its first ever year-over-year decline in unique visitors in June. Yet, I suspect the real reason for the reduced responsiveness of social network users may be that we’re getting increasingly twitchy over privacy concerns. I know that embedded in the fine print of most social networks is legalese that says they get to do pretty much what they please. Moreover, there’s usually a clause that asserts they can change the rules at any time. Until this year, the risk/reward ratio seemed to tilt in the favor of full participation with little concern about where all my personal information would end up. I didn’t mind sharing my interests with the multinational corporation that happens to be my social network in exchange for getting content more aligned with my interests. But I started getting creeped out when I saw details gleaned from my social profiles aggregated, marketed, and sold elsewhere to anyone who “googles” my name. A serious line had been crossed when companies like MyLife popped up in search results, offering to serve up my personal home address and age in bold print. It didn’t really register at first until I had an intriguing conversation with the former CTO of Stanford. He told me that the University recently stopped using the year of graduation in the email addresses of its alumni. It made the change to its email naming convention after actors and other people of consequence had complained: those with a predilection to ageism simply do the math.
I don’t know how MyLife and other sites like it got my information. Moreover, I don’t know why it kept telling me someone had been searching for me — a name they’d share if I’d only sign up — when apparently that never happened. (A lawsuit has been filed alleging that was a complete scam.) I do know this year a critical mass of weirdness had been reached. I spent the better part of a weekend opting out of places like MyLife because, to my knowledge. I never directly opted in. (I’m pleased to say the instructions I followed actually worked.)
Still, removing personal information from the Internet is a little like whack-a-mole. You can can lock down your social network privacy settings, and still, you’re left with the sense that it might very well end up in someone else’s hands. LinkedIn user passwords were compromised back in June and the privacy policies of the all the leading social networks seem in a constant state of flux. LinkedIn was going to use member photos in advertising, turning users into shills, until a backlash taught the business social network it was not so smart a move. And, in case you didn’t notice, social networks are making it harder for users to find and change their privacy settings. I understand that social networks need to monetize their businesses: they just don’t have to do it by being sneaky.
That we are all connected, that we are given a voice, that we can do amazing things — together — online, that remains the promise. But there’s a reason marketing communications professionals have noticed a decided decline in the responsiveness of the average social media user. It may be social media fatigue, but I suspect that lately it is more a matter of trust.