You may have heard that Facebook changed its algorithms — yes, again — and that organic social interactions will be further displaced in favour of pay-for-play reach and engagement. I was trying to come up with a name for it, something like Computationally Modified Overtures… CMOs.

Don Pittis gets into this social-economic challenge in How Twitter and Facebook are like junk food. He highlights the bi-polar goals of social networking services which need to serve a relevant social purpose while making money. It turns out these two concepts don’t play well together, and advertising is only possible if people are willing to be around to see it.

A growing number of updates appearing in my social streams come from (or via) acquaintances who are frustrated that mathematical algorithms are deciding to put advertising ahead of updates within their social circles. They lament the good old days when Facebook was about people staying in contact with others by choice. I miss them, too. Yet, few of us take the time to acknowledge the absence of a fee to access a robust and “always available” virtual gathering place that hosts, delivers and streams multimedia content we want.

Keeping the audience around means developing appreciated features and getting out of the way so people can enjoy being connected.

Keeping the the lights on and keeping shareholders happy means offering robust and even innovative advertising services and features that bring in the money while not upsetting the audience.

I’ve always believed two things about Facebook and Twitter “going public”:

  1. It was inevitable; and,
  2. It would a distracting goal for the companies.

The convergence of these disparate qualities risks turning the organic cocktail-party-nature of social media into a string disjointed interactions meant to get participants clicking buttons like trained rats.

If Facebook and Twitter wish to remain relevant to both users and advertisers, they’ll need to strike the balance of social respect and revenue opportunities. It’s about building relationships with diametrically opposed interests in a social network-y kind of way.

If they do it well, they’ll succeed and be around for a long time.

If they don’t, they run the risk of jumping the shark like their predecessors. The good news is, something else will come along and the cycle will continue.

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