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What Kanye West’s Metric-Free Social Media Means for Brands

Kanye West has more than 28 million followers on Twitter, but he doesn’t want you to be able to see that.

Before launching several albums and collaborations this spring, Kanye West’s Twitter account skyrocketed from inactivity to a daily stream of consciousness updates and ramblings.

Since its conception, the trend of Kanye’s Twitter account is to jump on controversial topics, then provide his polarizing opinion. Last week, Kanye focused on the negative impact of displaying follower and engagement metrics.

we should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have. Just like how we can turn off the comments we should be able to turn off the display of followers. This has an intense negative impact on our self worth. @kanyewest

His slew of tweets hammers home the psychological damage of social media. On Instagram, Kanye shared screenshots of text conversations with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Dorsey replied by saying how Twitter has already been contemplating how to evolve the platform. His text reads, “What made sense 12 years ago doesn’t’ make sense today. At least for us. Us making that number bold and big incentivized people to want to increase it, and feel bad if they couldn’t. That’s not right. We want to incentivize contribution to the global conversation and consciousness.”

It seems that Twitter Jack is listening.

As marketers, we merely rent space on social media channels. We can’t control the platform’s content distribution and find ourselves captive to constant algorithm changes.

Could the next big social media change be triggered by a tweet from Kanye West? For those of us who feed off the combination of digital news and pop culture ( ), this type of interaction provides us with a unique serotonin rush. I’ll rephrase: Kim Kardashian's husband could change every marketer’s job.

Kanye has a point. Digital wellness is a major concern.

Brands and platforms are hyper-aware of the negative effect of social media. Many are taking outward-facing proactive steps in response to the growing concern about too much screen time.

Last week, following Tristan Harris’ and Google's lead, Apple launched iOS 12 with a Screen Time feature aimed to help us curb our tech addiction. The App Limits feature allows users to set a time limit for app use and sends a notification when the time is about to expire. Downtime lets users set times of the day when access to all apps is blocked. Let’s be honest, we’re not trying to limit our time spent on your Calculator app, these features were created for personal social media regulation.

The issue isn’t solely about the time spent on social media platforms, it’s about the effect of the vanity metrics and perception versus reality. As marketers, we create strategic content in hopes of increasing public metrics.

However, as individuals, we mirror this behavior on a micro-scale.  Users post content, subconsciously calculate what the results might be, then measure the outcome based on the likes, shares and comments it receives.

Kanye isn’t the first to point out how social media is gravely affecting self-perception – especially among teens. In a recent Instagram post, Kanye shares a video of Denzel Washington’s advice for young people on social media: turn it off. Washington goes on to say, “We all want to be liked. But now we want to be liked by 16 million.”

What does it mean for brands?

Wait. This – followers, likes, comments, shares – is how we’ve measured everything since social media’s conception. If social media platforms removed visible metrics or gave users an option not to publicly show their engagement as Kanye suggests, what would this mean for brands?

Below are some questions Kanye’s metric-less social media raises:

What would the social platforms be like?

In a world without public social media metrics, an optimistic point of view would say that people would share content because they genuinely thought it was interesting. “Maybe a friend tells you IRL they liked your photo. Maybe they don’t. And you don’t care one way or the other”, Madison Malone Kircher of New York Magazine commented. Our sharing habits will completely change. Brands might regress to the era before social media: an impressions-based way to measure success.

What about influencers?

Influencers are one of the largest growing parts of the marketing mix. The first thing we do when evaluating an influencer’s credibility is look at his follower count. While you could argue that influencers could be measured in a qualitative way, public-facing metrics are critical for an influencer's success. The well-oiled machine of influencer marketing would have to be reworked.

What’s does a metric-free social media look like?

Kind of like Snapchat. While the platform provides personal metrics, there are no public engagement metrics shown on the app. Kanye approves. However, Snapchat has failed trying to monetize the ephemeral app most notably early this year when users rebelled after a rough redesign aimed at including more sponsored content.

How would we measure viral content?

The internet and social media (and frankly Room 214) thrive on viral content. As consumers of content, when we evaluate “virality,” the view or share count are a part of our mental checklist. Without engagement metrics, viral internet content would end as we know it.

What about those bot follower accounts?

Yep, these will be gone. I’ll sure miss their deals on Ray Bans.

Whether Kanye’s public critique will cause a wave of change or not, one thing is certain: social media platforms will continue to evolve, making it imperative for brands to have owned marketing channels.

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Related Resources

The Great Facebook Engagement Drop of 2018

American Anxiety: The Role of Marketers

Marketing in a Time of Constant Change

Laura Oxler


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