Sometimes you have a thought, a stop you in your tracks realization that something strange is evolving. For the sake of this post I will call it ‘friend fatigue’. I am caught in the middle of two very distinct ways of looking at social media connections. On one hand you have the Chris Brogan and Darren Rowse’s of the world ‘cleansing’ their follow lists and eliminating the proverbial noise we all encounter throughout the social sphere. The other school of thought, which personalities like Mari Smith adopt, is the auto-follow a.k.a. you cannot have too many connections strategy. I find merit in both camps but think in their pure form they are only applicable to the top 1% of influencers.
To picture my point, think back to grade school. Everyone wants to be the popular kid. Everyone wants to be known, for the right reasons of course. We want all the other kids to always be interested in what we say and talk about us and how cool we are. Starting to sound a little familiar? If you are reading this and saying “I never wanted to be popular!” – do me a favor and think back to the last time you looked at the number of your Twitter followers or Facebook fan page likes. And for those embracing Google+, your inclusion in Circles. This is all well and good but the bigger problem starts when that same grade school mentality truly takes hold. The popular kids, which everyone fawns over, respects and try to emulate, only have so much time to have relationships with the close friends. Walls start being erected, cliques take form and even though you are in the same school, in the same grade and in the same class, they are miles away from a relationship being attainable.
The first correlation to this I saw of this was when Google + emerged. The basic premise, anyone can follow you and your public feed, but those people can choose whether or not to distribute certain content to you. This coupled with the Chris Brogans of the world shutting down their own connections and cleansing the groundlings made me take pause. Is social truly social or is it rather a revisit to grade school? Chris said he was ridding himself of the excessive DM spam, a point I will tell you even with a small amount of followers can be a problem. However, I think the bigger issue might have been the desire to follow what was relevant to him and stay closer to the connections he truly valued, yet still expecting, or at the least hoping, people would continue follow him.
The snowball effect I think we will see as more people are becoming “social” is even those who are not big influencers will put up walls to new connections both inbound and outbound. In the Twitter realm we will see people cleanse their ‘friends’ and follow a small amount of people. We will see other networks become smaller, more personal and unfortunately (IMHO) homogenous. We will want everyone to know our name, but only garner content and conversation from the few.
The problem with this school of thought is that social media is the freemium model to relationships. If we want to monetize our social networks we need to make connections who can turn into relationships that have the possibility of being monetized.
Yes I said it, the M-word. Please do not be so naive to think that the time we spend on these networks is just to be ‘BFF’s’ as Mari Smith put it. The cold hard truth is that we all have a motivation for participating and that is not necessarily bad.
This brings me to the Mari Smith take on social. Mari not only has a large following but she follows EVERYONE back. The freemium model as explained by Phil Libin CEO of Evernote is “the easiest way to get 1 million people paying for your service is to get 1 billion people using it”. Therefore when applied to social media we need as many loose connections as we can attract to garner the opportunity to solidify a few relationships. Yet, to make this strategy work we still compartmentalize the people we follow to absorb only the content we want, doing nothing more than the Brogan approach without it being public-facing.
The strategies are the same, but the public perception is quite different. The question: which is worse? Knowing someone does not care about you, or thinking they do never knowing that they will never see any of your content?
I do not have a concise and digestible answer, but challenge you to think about how social will unfold. If human nature takes over and people start walling off their ability to make connections, then are we at an arms race to get as many “followers” “friends” “connections” as we can before the lights go out? Or does this only apply to the top 1% who quite frankly may not fit into our monetization strategy rendering them content distribution networks rather than true connections?
My strategy going forward is a mix of both. I follow people I want to learn from, have a business relationship with or truly care about. I am open to new connections more than I ever have been, but in the end quality will win over quantity.
Are you closing and/or limiting your borders to connect?