I got an email from Strava. If you’re not familiar with it, Strava is a social network for cyclists and runners. As the former, I joined Strava about two years ago.
Here is the email I received:
Your Friends Are on Strava
Add friends to follow their adventures and get inspired by their workouts
J. Doe, Somewhere, CA
(Note: the personal information has been changed because after preaching about privacy for the last two weeks, I do have to practice what I preach)
Here’s the thing: I’m not friends with Mr. Doe. I met him a few times on the speaking circuit when we crossed paths. To be brutally honest, J. Doe was a connection I thought would help me grow my business. He was a higher profile speaker than I was. He’d written a book that sold way more copies than mine ever did. I was “friending up” in my networking.
The last time we met each other — several years ago now — I quickly extended a Facebook friends invite. At the time, I — and the rest of the world — was using Facebook as a catch-all bucket for all my social connections: friends, family and the people I was unabashedly stalking in order to make more money. And J. Doe accepted my invite. It gave my ego a nice little boost at the time.
So, according to Facebook, we’re friends. But we’re not — not really. And that became clear when I got the Strava invite. It would have been really weird if I connected with him on Strava, following his adventures and being inspired by his workouts. We just don’t have that type of relationship. There was no social basis for me to make that connection.
I have different social spheres in my life. I have the remnants of my past professional life as an online marketer. I have my passion as a cyclist. I have a new emerging sphere as a fledgling tourism operator. I have my family.
I could go on. I can think of only a handful of people who comfortably lie within two or more of my spheres.
But with social sign-ins (which I used for Strava) those spheres are suddenly mashed together. It’s becoming clear that socially, we are complex creatures with many, many sides.
Facebook would love nothing more than to be the sole supporting platform of our entire social grid. But that works at cross purposes with how humans socialize. It’s not a monolithic, one-size-fits-all thing, but a sprawling landscape cluttered with very distinctive nodes that are haphazardly linked together.
The only common denominator is ourselves, in the middle of that mess. And even we can have surprising variability. The me that loves cycling is a very different guy from the me that wanted to grow my business profile.
This modality is creating an expansion of socially connected destinations.
Strava is a good example of this. Arguably, it provides a way to track my rides. But it also aspires to be the leading community of athletes. And that’s where it runs headlong into the problem of social modality.
Social sign-ins seem to be a win-win-win. For the user, it eases the headache of maintaining an ever-expanding list of user names and passwords. Sure, there’s that momentary lurch in the pit of our stomachs when we get that warning that we’re sharing our entire lives with the proprietors of the new site, but that goes away with just one little click.
For the website owner, every new social sign-in user comes complete with rich new data and access to all his contacts. Finally, Facebook can sink their talons into us just a little deeper, gathering data from yet one more online outpost.
But like many things that seem beneficial, unintended consequences are part of the package. This is especially true when the third party I’m signing up for is creating his own community.
Is the “me” that wants to become part of this new community the “me” that Facebook thinks I am? Will things get weird when these two social spheres are mashed together?
Because Facebook assumes that I am always me and you are always you, whatever the context, some of us are forced to splinter our online social personas by maintaining multiple profiles. We may have a work profile and a social one.
The person Facebook thinks we are may be significantly different from the person LinkedIn thinks we are. Keeping our social selves separate becomes a juggling act of ever-increasing proportions.
So why does Facebook want me to always be me? It’s because of us — and by us, I mean marketers. We love the idea of markets that are universal and targeting that is omniscient. It just makes our lives so much easier. Our lives as marketers, I mean.
As people? Well, that’s another story — but right now, I’m a marketer.
See the problem?