146: Alternative Social Media Sites – 8 Things to Understand
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As people become increasingly frustrated with big tech and social media giants, it’s common to sound a battle cry in support of smaller alternative social media sites.
But there are some pros, cons, and things to understand when you decide to take a chance on alternative social media platforms, and these things will help you have a realistic expectation of what your experience with those sites might be like.
In this post, I will mostly reference the alternative social media platforms MeWe and Flote, as those are the ones I currently use the most. But these tips will apply to almost any smaller, alternative social media site.
I joined Flote January of 2021 and I have 120 followers on my personal profile.
For comparison, I have been on Facebook since 2009 and I have 752 friends on my personal profile, and 19k followers on my Farmish Kind of Life Facebook page.
So, let’s talk 8 things you need to understand about alternative social media sites.
#1 – They’re smaller:
With alternative social media platforms, you’re working with a smaller pool of people. It seems like you wouldn’t have to point that out, but there are some things that come along with having with less people involved on a site.
People that you might not normally see stuff from on a big site like Facebook or Twitter will actually show up in your MeWe or Flote feed. This can be a good thing—or not.
With less people on a platform, things don’t get lost or diluted. This can be awesome if you have a message you want people to actually hear. It can be not so awesome if the thing you want diluted is the person who is posting obnoxious over-the-top rants every ten minutes. The Facebook algorithm hid a lot of that from you—or at least spaced it out. On smaller social media sites, you have to step up to take control of what’s happening in your feed.
Sometimes your feed will be overwhelmed with posts by one person. It can be because they are posting a ton, or it can be because you don’t have a lot of followers. Sometimes it can feel like your MeWe feed becomes The Amy Show because none of your other followers have posted yet and I’ve posted once or twice a day.
With less people, your experience might move more slowly. Some people enjoy this because there isn’t as much to keep up with. Some people don’t like this because they’re used to the always-something-new-to-see-every-time-I-hit-refresh on Facebook and Twitter.
#2 – Alternative social media platforms attract different people:
Different platforms attract different types of people, and there is definitely a different feel to different sites. There are things I will talk about on one platform that I wouldn’t dream of bringing up on another.
Every social media site has a culture. A way to behave. And you have to figure that culture out and fit into it. Not every social media platform is for you and that’s okay. Facebook is very different from MeWe. MeWe is similar but different from Flote. The same can be said for Minds, Gab, etc. Every site has their own thing and their own feel. You’re not going to fit in to everything, and that’s okay. You don’t have to be everywhere.
#3 – Don’t believe the “hype”.
You shouldn’t necessarily believe what you’ve heard about alternative social media sites in the mainstream media or other larger social medias.
I remember a Facebook friend calling me out for joining MeWe because, “didn’t you know MeWe is a Chinese based company?” No. MeWe is owned by Sgrouples, a company based in Culver City, California.
Just a couple days ago, the woman behind a Facebook page I follow had concerns about several of her favorite Facebook groups and pages suddenly being shut down. She announced she would be starting a page on MeWe and a follower of hers said, “Isn’t that where all the Trumpsters go? I don’t want to be around those people.” I had to laugh because my experience on MeWe is a largely hardcore libertarian, leaning towards anarchist population, but it all depends where you end up.
And you won’t know where you’re going to end up if you’re not honest about the next point…
#4 – It requires work to make it work.
You have to actually dig into the platform and try it out to see if and how it works for you. It might require putting yourself out there to meet new people.
It’s not likely that you’re going to get all your contacts from Big Giant Social Media Site to follow you over to Smaller Alternative Social Media Site because a lot of people just want to stick with what they know how to use—even if they complain about certain aspects of the network the whole time.
Very few of my Facebook contacts followed me over to MeWe when I invited them to try it out. Similarly, very few of my MeWe contacts tried things out at Flote when I started an account over there. What this means is that to have any kind of interaction on these alternative social media platforms, you’re gonna have to branch out and meet a few folks.
It’s called social media for a reason.
A lot of people got used to Facebook and Twitter being like television. Meaning, you can make an account and scroll for hours without really having to interact or join in at all. You’re basically a voyeur on the network, contributing nothing yourself.
That’s not how the smaller alternative social media sites work. In fact, that’s how smaller alternative social media platforms fizzle out and die.
#5 – Alternative social media sites are a solution that requires patience.
One of the reasons it can be hard to get people to try out alternative social media platforms is because the sites can be glitchy. And buggy. Very often, they’re still “working through stuff”—especially if they have a sudden influx of traffic.
But you can’t ask for an alternative to Facebook… and then be upset that it doesn’t immediately function like something with the 17 years of experience that Facebook has under its belt.
Co-Founder of Flote.app, Erin Edwards, was kind enough to respond to a few questions I had about alternative social media platforms. When asked what advice she’d give someone who is trying out an alternative site, she answered:
“…Have patience. Flote, MeWe, Parler, Somee, Uptrendd, Minds, Gab…all of us are just people who are building a solution to the problems that we see on big tech platforms. We don’t have millions of dollars at our fingertips, [or] unlimited resources to build things 24/7/365. There’s no way we can compete with the big tech platforms because we don’t have their resources…YET. On the sites you’re on, don’t make an account and sit in the background. Get in there, play around with all the settings, write an introduction to the community, get involved, talk to the founders, get to know them, engage as much as you can because then and only then can you decide if that is a place that serves you or not.”Erin Edwards, co-founder of Flote.app
#6 – Spammers and Bots
One of the complaints I’ve heard about alternative social media platforms is that they are overrun with spammers and bots and fake accounts. Now, let’s be honest—fake accounts happen everywhere. You can be anyone you say you are online and that happens whether there are 200 billion accounts around you or 200 accounts. That’s just something that comes along with social media.
In my experience, MeWe spammers go in spurts. I find that if I’m not active for a few days I suddenly have contact requests from supposed single doctors, guys in the military, widowed gentlemen—but that happens occasionally on Facebook, too.
I don’t know if we will ever get away from spam, hackers, or bots. It happens everywhere. My nephew’s Facebook account was hacked just yesterday and sent out pornographic videos to his entire contact list. So it’s not as if it’s only an issue with smaller social medias. It just sticks out more on a smaller site—possibly because they have less resources to immediately deal with it.
Because, you know, they aren’t Facebook.
#7 – Expand what you’re posting about
Sometimes newcomers to alternative social medias need a gentle reminder that MeWe or Flote (or whatever site) does not exist for the sole purpose to complain about Facebook or what’s happening in the White House. It’s actually okay to talk about something else.
And you should talk about something else.
I spent some time on Parler before it shut down. There were some delightful folks on there. But by and large my newsfeed was filled with screaming ranting lunatics who I sometimes thought were saying stuff because they could, not necessarily because they should. So I’d unfollow them because I spent more time scrolling past their posts than interacting with them.
But in order to figure that out, I had to actually spend time on Parler and give attention to it. Don’t take someone’s word for it—not even mine. Digging in and experiencing the platform yourself is how you figure out what platforms are for you. See point #4.
Your social media feed is (for the most part) what you make it, and I felt like more often than not I was unfollowing people on Parler because the conversation was basically political diarrhea and wasn’t anything that I found to be particularly solutions based or “hey, here’s what’s actually going on in my life, here’s what I did on my homestead today, here’s something I moved forward with”. And that is the kind of stuff I need on a social media site that I’m going to be a part of.
One of the biggest issues I see with alternative social media platforms is they risk becoming a place where people only want to talk about a) issues with the other platforms, or b) issues in the world they can’t talk about anywhere else. Balance that with what you got done today, a great song you heard, or how good the cup of coffee is that you just finished, and I think we will be off to a better experience on the smaller social media sites.
#8 – Slow growth is best
We all want to see smaller, alternative social media platforms grow and succeed. But every time there is a huge influx of new people on Flote or MeWe, there are issues with functionality. The point is to get people to alternative social media sites in a steady stream, not a dump that the platform can’t handle.
The other issue with rapid growth is that a lot of the people who come over to smaller platforms when some big social media or political thing happens generally don’t end up being active or staying on the smaller platforms. I find that most people who come over in those times come over because they want a place to complain about the big platform (or government), not to do the work it requires to build a smaller site up.
Questions about the future of alternative of social media sites
If any of these smaller sites do experience huge Facebook-like success, at what point will the smaller platforms’ rules need to change? At what point will the thing that drew people to the site not exist anymore?
There’s a reason I ask this. I had a homesteading group on Facebook called Farmish Folk and, because I’m all about helping people who want to learn about homesteading, I would let anyone in as long as they had some sort of interest in homesteading. I didn’t want to have a lot of rules because I wanted to believe that people could function as adults and be respectful and not spam the group with their business stuff and not be dramatic, etc, etc.
It worked out pretty well for awhile. And then the group grew and grew and grew until there were thousands of members. And what I can tell you is that a group of almost 10k people is completely different from a group of 500 people.
In a group of 10k people, you have all your amazing groups admins and moderators (who are volunteers, with lives and homesteads of their own) spending way too much time everyday dealing with high school level drama between adults in a homesteading group.
In a homesteading group, you guys.
So what did we do? We had to start making rules. We had to make lists of topics that were off limits. We had to ban people who showed attitude because we didn’t have time to deal with people’s crap. Ultimately, we scrapped the group and started something completely different that is currently closed to new members.
So I completely see how as smaller social media sites grow, that they may have to change and morph to deal with the stuff that comes along with getting bigger. Because as much as I want to believe that adults can scroll when something doesn’t apply to them, or not make catty comments, or not pick fights, or not use every possible opportunity to spam people about their business, or private message them inappropriate messages and pictures, that’s actually not how the whole world behaves. And while it’s very easy to just say, “ignore those people, don’t feed the trolls, the trash will take itself out,” the problem is, while “ignoring those people” you also lose a lot of other awesome people who decide they don’t have time for the drama because they’ve got a homestead to run.
Another question I often wonder about: is the site the way it is because of the rules of the site, or is it the way it is because of the people it attracts and the people who hang out there? In other words, if everyone from Facebook went over to MeWe, at what point would MeWe become a lot like Facebook, simply because of the people who are there?
Tips from fellow users
I posted on MeWe and Flote and asked my friends what they thought the pros and cons to alternative social media platforms were, and what advice they’d give to someone who wanted to check a new site out. Here are some of the answers I got:
“It’s the people that make social media fun. Join the groups you’re interested in, and then add friends from people whose posts you like. You can delete the annoying ones. Soon you get lots of interesting page feeds.” – Steve (MeWe)
“The most frustrating and boring part is the narrow scope of people’s postings.” – Lance (MeWe, I think he’s referencing my #7 point above!)
“…I like the smaller ones because: 1) there isn’t as much ‘traffic’ to try to keep up with and, 2) you begin to get a sense of who the others are and their input takes on more meaning.” – Hanidu Farms (MeWe)
“The only platform I currently use is MeWe. All the administrators of the groups I follow do an excellent job keeping the yuck out of both the posts and message boards. It feels more like a community of people here. I also like the freedom of speech and anonymity that MeWe allows.” – Ashley (MeWe)
“For MeWe, it’s narrow [I only see homestead/prepper type stuff, though I haven’t sought out much more than that] but I don’t mind that. At least people aren’t bashing each other.” Ali (MeWe)
“I really like Flote, but would like to know the business model. How is it sustainable now; how can it scale? ‘Business model,’ because yes, bills have to be paid.” – Barry (Flote)
“One thing I like about Flote is the option to import your posts from Facebook. For anyone exploring new social media make sure to pace yourself. I signed up for a bunch of platforms, and was exhausting myself trying to interact with all of them.” – Hiker Brian (Flote)
Helping alternative social media sites succeed
I don’t necessarily think the point is to kill off the big social media platforms. I think big social media sites have their place for some people. (For instance, if I have a message I want spread locally in my rural, small town, farm country area, Facebook is the way to do it. ) Instead, I think the purpose of multiple social media sites is really about having options.
Erin Edwards, co-founder of Flote, offers this advice: “My recommendations for people who are trying out the alternative social media platforms is find your why. Why are you looking for an alternative? What do you need in a social platform? Once you figure that out, you know what to look for when exploring the different sites.”
In the end, how do we get smaller social media platforms to succeed? We actually use them—with patience, grace, and gratitude. I’m glad there are people out there trying to create new things for us to use, and it takes a lot of teamwork from us to help those creations succeed in the big wide world.
— Amy Dingmann, 5-12-21
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