Social Media: A Rant About Relationships
While I was still sipping Diet Coke and deciding if I wanted to bother with coffee (I settled on another Diet Coke, instead) a re-heated Tweet popped onto my screen.
Remember the ’90s, when “be meaningful to strangers online” wasn’t a to-do list item?
Wow. Yes, yes I do remember.
Those memories set off an explosion of response in my head.
I’m sure Justin didn’t mean to do that. He seems nice, after all. It just… sorta… happened.
The Resulting kaBOOM?
It’s too expansive too be to be contained in 140 characters, so I’m spewing it out here. (No worries, I promise I will massage this into something vaguely on topic, by the end of the post)
Yes, I do remember those days. I remember the heady, credit-card killing early forms of Web1.0 social media known as Prodigy, Compuserv, and AOL. (Of course, if you were really old school, you paid long distance charges to hook up to the cool BBS’s, which were their own sort of meaningful. But the people there scared me, and I didn’t do much other than lurk)
It was intoxicating, this flow of amazing strangers carried into my home via beeps, pixels and bytes. They came from every walk of life, they were usually people who I would never ordinarily interact with, they were often equally, wonderfully intoxicated by talking to me. It wasn’t about business, hooking up, or follower numbers – it was about connection.
And we were helpful to each other. We showed newcomers the ropes, rather than pointing them to the help files. We answered questions, rather than telling them “Google it, for gawd’s sake.” (Ok, Google wasn’t around then, but other search engines were. And there were lots of annoying FAQ’s)
We did this because it was conversation, it was bonding, it was meaningful, and it was fun. We created relationships, most of which ceased to exist the moment we disconnected, but some of which went on for years.
And we paid for the privilege.
By the minute.
We did it because it WAS meaningful, not because being meaningful was part of a social media self promotional strategy.
Yeah, I know.
That sort of thing can’t go on forever.
Times change, and eventually, we all have to earn a living, justify our time, pay off those credit card bills we racked up while paying to be meaningful-by-the-minute.
And I do understand the current stress on building relationships as a part of business. It’s important, really. I get that. I believe that.
And it’s such a much nicer business strategy than abusing HTML to make false claims in 20 point red, blinking fonts.
But is there some reason we can’t also interact with people just for sake of the interaction? Without seeing them as potential clients, affiliates, or people-who-will-raise-my-profile-or-retweet-my-shit?
What if we wanted to talk to Chris Brogan not because OMG-he-might-link-to-us, but because we actually wanted to know him?
What if we asked Hemingway what kind of pencils he used, not because we hoped to mimic his writing process, or to sell him on a competing product, but because the conversation might lead somewhere interesting, for its own sake?
What if relationships weren’t *just* promotional strategies, but actual relationships?
And Ok, Ok, I See Some Of You Freaking…
You’re fretting because you’re wondering if I see your contact with me as self-promotional and therefore BAD.
I don’t! NO ONE who has contacted me through or about The Circus has in anyway seemed insincere, shallow or just in it for themselves.
Not those who asked me to look at their web sites, not those who suggested affiliate products, not those who just said hello or asked about the site design. None of you.
The sort of person drawn to The Circus tends to be pretty sincere – and I just haven’t got the traffic to draw the OMG, LINK ME! people. Not yet.
They’re coming, they always do… but you?
You’re fine. Really!
Here, I’ll give you hugs of reassurance, and some crunchy, crispy chocolate chip cookies (‘specially requested by Fabeku. I think I’ll post that convo in the comments, because it amused me, and he does the social thing better than anyone I know. Plus, it explains the cookies.)
I Do Want Something From You, Though.
I want your help in promoting actual, non-self-promotional relationships on social media. No, no, I don’t want you to go overboard, and spend hours just chatting the way we did in the 90’s. We (mostly) have lives now, and so do the people we encounter online.
But once a day, or even once a week?
Ask someone on Twitter, or Facebook (or heck, all of your friends / followers / commentors / whoever-is-listening) a “just because” question. Something unrelated to your business or social media agenda. Then follow up on it, so that it’s a conversation.
It doesn’t have to be any deeper than “How’s the weather?” or “How the hell do you eat an artichoke?” – just the sort of exchange you might have with someone standing in line at the grocery store.
I don’t have those grocery line conversations, of course, because I’m neurotic, but other people do, I’ve seen them. So if you’re not the sort of person to ask questions? that’s fine, too. You can answer someone else’s question. Or reply to their reply.
Naomi Dunford ranted about something related last month in regards to Twitter; she suggested using the #msms hashtag, which stands for “Making Social Media Social”. There’s still a responsive group following #msms, and if you want to jump in for the extra eyeballs, I’m pretty sure Naomi won’t mind.
(No, I haven’t asked her, because she’s uber busy and I don’t know if her ninjas would even talk to my elephants. If you’re worried about the ettiquette of it, go read her post, then you’re all legit, right?)
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So. About Those Comments.
How do *you* find the balance between social and promotional? Do you struggle with it? Does it come naturally, or do you not bother with balance, and just use it one way or the other? And ohh! let’s do a conversational prompt bank. If you have one, leave it in the comments. If you need one, take one.