Have you tooted yet?
Before you get too flustered, rest assured that I'm not being rude; I'm merely enquiring as to whether or not you've joined the latest 'Next Big Thing' on social media - Mastodon.
The open-source 'alternative to Twitter' first came onto my radar at the start of the month and, I won't lie, I was confused. To me, Mastodon is and will always be the name of one of the finest metal bands of the last decade. But then I started seeing articles and posts everywhere talking about 'instances' and 'tooting' and it all got very confusing - particularly given that these articles popped up just a few days after the release of Mastodon's (the band) latest album.
Keeping up? Good.
Anyway, since then I've watched the hype balloon around Mastodon (the social network) inflate, only to slowly fizzle out again and it got me thinking about just how similar a path these new networks tend to take from obscurity, to fame, through fame and into the 'where are they now?' file.
Some scribbling on a scrap of paper later and I had a social network life cycle, which I'd like to share with you now...
Stage 1 - the launch
This is the bit we very rarely see - these networks are often crowd funded by a small, but loyal group and they quietly go about their business. You and the masses literally have no idea that something is brewing and remain convinced that Mastodon is definitely just a band.
Stage 2 - the slow but steady build
Another step that almost happens in the dark. Those in the know, well, they know, so they jump on board while you and the rest of the mass population carries on, still thinking that Mastodon is a band but also occasionally wondering what the hell happened to Peach.
Stage 3 - the head and the parapet
This is where it starts to get interesting; someone, somewhere - probably Mashable - will get wind of the new social network and cobble together an article that either proclaims it to be the place where 'all the cool kids are heading', or the 'alternative to Twitter/Instagram/any other popular social network we've all been waiting for.' That one techy (or nerdy) friend of yours will share that article on their own social timelines. You and the rest of the masses will be intrigued but still generally unmoved - perhaps the witty ones out there will point out that they are feeling their age because, to them, Mastodon is a band. You laugh once - just a single 'ha!' - and then continue to go about your day.
Stage 4 – all aboard the hype train
All of a sudden, you can’t move for mentions of this new network, with experts and influencers here, there and everywhere talking about its growth and writing articles about how refreshing this new network is, especially compared to all those mainstream networks, at which they now scoff. Then there’s those other voices from the industry who, while they can’t tell you exactly how this new network runs, they confidently tell you to sign up and reserve your username. This is because this new network will be, according to them anyway, growing at speeds that are always ‘extraordinary’ or ‘phenomenal’. Panic and a huge amount of FOMO sets in among the masses, who clamour to sign up – or at least join a waiting list or blag an invite from their smug friend who already joined. You wish you were that smug friend, enjoying the new, cool network while all the peasants toil on sites that have been around since the mid-noughties. Jokes about Mastodon being a band are no longer deemed acceptable, as they only remind people about the walled garden into which they have not yet been allowed. You feel stressed, without completely understanding why.
Stage 5 - I'm in! Now what?
One of the more entertaining stages in this journey - you've finally got access, you blagged your preferred username and you've tweeted both of these facts, along with some kind of initial observation about the platform along the lines of 'just exploring [net network]?it's like (social network we've actually heard of) but (comparative adjective)'. And then it hits you
What on earth am I doing here? How the hell do I actually post something? What exactly is the point of this channel? And what, precisely, is an 'instance'?
While publically you're boasting about your involvement on the new network and singing its praises, privately it's dawned on you that you can do everything better on Facebook, that other thing better on Twitter and that Instagram completely walks all over it. You also realise that you don't have any time to maintain yet another profile.
What have you done? You get worried. You get angry. You put on Mastodon's new album and crank it to 11. It makes you feel better.
Stage 6 - the beginning of the end
More articles about that new network keep appearing - probably on Mashable again but written by a different author to those pieces in stage 3 - but there's a definite shift in tone. Almost overnight, they now start telling you, with great authority, the exact reasons why this new social network is going to fail. You and the rest of the masses breathe a huge sigh of relief, stop spending your time trying to work out how this new network actually works and go back to using the dog face filter on Snapchat.
Stage 7 - something big happens somewhere else on the internet
You know - a soft drinks company makes an ad using one of the most powerful social movements of recent years to sell pop. A skincare company ends up looking like a racist. An airline goes viral when it physically ejects a paying customer from a flight and then proceeds to give PR students across the globe a brand new case study in how not to handle things. The President's press secretary says some truly awful things.
Or something along those lines - whatever, you've got something new to look at and get angry about online.
You also realise that the new Mastodon album is the best thing they've done in years. All is well.
Stage 8 - stand down
As far as the experts are concerned, that hot new network is dead - so dead they don't even bother writing about it anymore. You and the masses detach yourself from it completely - you delete the app and forget you even signed up, although you're almost guaranteed to ponder whatever happened to this network the moment an even newer, hotter one comes around. You slip back into the comfort of those big social networks that you know and love - they're like a digital version of your favourite slippers - and carry on as normal, while singing along to every word of the new Mastodon album, which you now know inside out. You breathe deeply and clearly, blissfully unaware that stage one for yet another new network is almost certainly underway.
What does this all mean?
I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that, when a new network appears, there's no need to panic. If you're confused about a new network or unsure how it works, you won't be alone. Today it's Mastodon, tomorrow?who knows? Slipknot? Gojira? Oh wait, I'm getting them confused with metal bands again - sorry about that.
I also bring this to you as a reminder of how tough it is for new social networks to really take hold and capture the imagination of the masses - I know I wouldn't fancy my chances against the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. And, if I did create something cool, chances are Facebook would buy me out anyway.
By all means, join these new networks, see if you can work them out and whether they might be of use to your institution - after all, as digital marketers or social media managers that are probably expected of you. But if you're sat there surrounded by articles extolling the virtues of this new space while, at the same time, not having a toot how said space works then it's ok - the social network life cycle will soon rumble and you won't have to worry anymore.