I have some middle-aged Korean friends. The kind of Koreans that wear sharply-tailored, brass-button suits and traditional Burberry trench coats. They appreciate fashion at a level that eschews “common” trends like Louis Vuitton, in favor of hand-made unique accessories only recognized as fashionable by other, similarly-tasted and similarly traveled peers. They are extremely nationalistic, passionately despise what they collectively dislike, and passionately support what they collectively like. They are generally moderately smart, always decisive, and yet always inclusive of the opinions of their community peers. One could say they argue as friends, and act on consensus. They are generally a lot of fun to be around, but since I am not Korean myself, I have to be careful I don’t make any predictions.
One they taught me is that America will eventually become like Korea in one particular aspect: the all-or-nothing approach to challenge.
When a Korean is elected President, he is elected by a landslide vote. When a Korean President comes to the end of his term, he is disgraced and “thrown out” (or so I am told). In this way, Koreans nurture the nationalism that has kept their ethnic race alive despite historical domination by seemingly every nearby race (the Japanese, the Chinese, etc). All or nothing. No “red states” and “blue states” after a contentious election. Everybody is a winner. It seems there is also an inclination towards corruption at the end of a term, when that certainty of disgrace looms overhead, but that might just be my outsider bias ;-)
When one of my Korean friends sees another not seen in a while, they discuss whether they are currently “up or down”. This is reference to gambling, where at any moment you may be “up” (winning) or “down” (running a loss). In business, these people commit 100% and they either succeed handsomely, or fail miserably. They are rich, or poor, and neither is a permanent condition, although the former is much easier to maintain than the latter (or so I am told). Of course I generalize, and of course I am no scholar of Korean culture. But this is what I see.
Now “social media” is taking over on the web. Is Social Media the Koreanization of web traffic? Will waves of trendy “me too” traffic so overpower the individual, that Social Media is the all-or-nothing of web traffic? Who cares what the individual thinks, if the masses are flocking over there?
Digg and Slashdot have “effects”, where the sudden onslaught of referral traffic crashes web servers. Handle the traffic (”all”) or crash under the load (”none”). Viral media bursts onto the scene once a tipping point has been reached, and then becomes “old”. If it’s fresh and new, you’re “up”. If it’s “old news” you’re “down”. Headlines like “man bits dog” don’t do a fraction of the traffic that headlines like “angry man rips dog apart with his teeth” get these days. Hyperbole is the new normal. Extreme is the new black. Is search old news…? Does anyone who matters actually search anymore?
SEO has traditionally been about building momentum for free organic search referral traffic over time. Dividends… SEO pays dividends. In this “lottery” culture of all-or-nothing, where “Social Media” is the source of traffic for web sites, who cares about dividends? “You have to be in it to win it“, we are told. If it is respectable to be “up” in your high-fashion clothes and being “down” is accepted as a necessary but temporary condition to be suffered between periods of “up-ness”, who actually wants to be in the middle? Why work to earn hundreds or free search referrals per day, when I can keep shooting for tens of thousands at a time? On average, a few Diggs a year is more than a steady stream of organic search referrals. Or is it?
That’s the key. As we move towards irrational exuberance regarding Social Media, keep an eye on the metrics. It’s just traffic, folks. Same old traffic we’ve always had… it’s either quality traffic or not; profitable or not. The “up” and “down” game might be entertaining, but it’s not a sustainable lifestyle (check the quality of life, divorce, disease, and stability measures of the Korean society if you have time). Make your trade offs as you like, but don’t forget to mind your business - track the costs and the credits, and see if your social media is indeed worth the efforts and volatility risks.
Sometimes after a few glasses of soju with my Korean associates, I will hear them speak of “too much independence” over here in America’s culture. “Too much freedom“, they say. And then I ask them to explain to me why, when they are at their most “up” and able to buy whatever they desire, they seek only the most unique, hand-made products available, even though virtually no one can recognize them for their value? Why, in fact, is their own ultimate expression of their achievement an expression of independence? Of freedom to buck the expectations of their Louis Vuittton-buying peers?
People will always search. Bet on it.