Social Media: A Rant About Relationships

Oct 07

Tweet!This morning?

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?)

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.


  1. Tori Deaux /

    As promised, here’s the cookie comment thread. Because it amused me, and also, because no one I know does “just social” as well as Fabeku!

    ToriDeaux: Oh look, it’s that @fabeku dude with the cool sounds and the sunny yellow avatar that makes me smile… Hows things, Fabeku?

    fabeku: @ToriDeaux Hey! I’m all hopped up on drumming + client goodness.How ’bout you?

    ToriDeaux: @fabeku I’m penning a rant. It’s a good rant. I’m likin it. (Rant, Rant!)

    fabeku: @ToriDeaux Cool! Will it be for public consumption?

    ToriDeaux: @fabeku Yes, I think this one will see the light of day – I just have to hug people at the end of it or something 😉

    fabeku: @ToriDeaux Oooh. Try cookies. (Not that I’m saying that because I’m craving chocolate chip cookies or anything.)

    ToriDeaux: @fabeku Chocolate chip cookies. Check. (soft and chewy or crispy crunchy?)

    fabeku: @ToriDeaux Crispy and crunchy please. #chocolatechipcookies

    ToriDeaux:@fabeku yay! #crispycrunchy #chocolatechipcookies (now i’m craving #bananabread all over again, tho)

    See. Pure stoopid silly. Call it a social-media strategy if you must; I think it’s just human.

    Oh, and his avatar really IS all sunny/smiley, too.

  2. I’m all about chocolate chip cookies. And Starbucks mochas and chocolate ice cream. Do you sense a theme here? 🙂

    I think it is hard to find the balance between social and promotional. I know there are connections I have made on Twitter that just make me happy. It’s kind of a do your thing and find your people kind of place.

    First of all so many of the tweets I follow are about how to use social media because it is still new to me even though I feel like I’ve been tweeting for years now. I do get tired of feeling like I am being sold. And when I post about a new post of mine, I always have a fear in the back of my mind that people will think I’m one of those “Look at me! Look at me!” or “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” kind of people.

    I have to say that lately I have been enjoying just “playing” on Twitter more than I have in the past.

    Conversational prompt: What are your favorite un-bad curse words? Mine are crudbuckets and fishsticks!

  3. BTW.

    “I don’t know if her ninjas would even talk to my elephants.”

    made me laugh!

  4. Ah, the ’90s… When the ’00s were still in the future, and the ’80s weren’t so far away…

    Regardless of what I may seem like, I’m actually sometimes nice and sometimes a complete asshole. But thanks for the benefit of the doubt.

    My original tweets stemmed from the pressure I, and I presume a lot of other people, feel to “say something important” on a regular basis online. Now that people are paying attention to us, we know that we can’t allow their attention to drift for too long before they forget about us. Whether I’m self-promoting, or promoting something else, or just being gregarious, I’m still aware that the audience I’ve cultivated is an asset I shouldn’t take for granted or squander… but, at times, it also feels like the dog I have to run home and walk when I’d rather be off galivanting and doing something *for me.*

    These days, I’m swamped with work that requires me to turn off the web for hours at a time (to avoid distraction), and I paradoxically feel like I’m letting people down by not “performing” more often in the web space, even though what I’m working on (a web sitcom) ultimately WILL be performed in the web space. Go figure…

  5. Maureen /

    You know what I thought was hilarious? Before I even read the comments I was going to post something about chocolate chip cookies as well. But Soft and chewy for me thank you. With a hot cup of tea.
    I hate striking up conversations in grocery lines and on planes. I like my conversations to be more deliberate.
    So I plan who I want to talk to. I’m more likely to strike up a conversation with someone via their blog than on Twitter. I have an account but I don’t look at it often. That is how you and I, Tori, got into emailing each other. I have three other people I connected to this way. I’ve never met them but we share conversation via emails.
    I just generally prefer to have meaningful conversations with someone who strikes a chord within my soul and I’ve never been let down by following this instinct.

  6. Maureen /

    Conversation prompts: what are you passionate about? What would you do to get the best chocolate chip cookie in the world? Where’s a good place to eat in town?(I have a walking partner who says everything is “to die for”- not always true) uhhm
    My favorite non-offensive swear word is: horse puckies. Is this maybe too Canadian? LOL

  7. Tori Deaux /

    Oh, such lovely, meaningful, conversational comments… But I have a blinding headache and can barely see to respond. I’ll be conversational later, but for now, I need advil. Forgive me?

  8. There’s so much awesome here. I don’t even know where to start.

    So I’m just going to say, Yes!

    And, Please pass the cookies.

    p.s. Thanks for reminding me about the ol’ BBS thing. I remember when I got my first 2400 baud modem. I was pretty sure I was going to take over the world.

    p.p.s. Thanks for the niceness too. Totally appreciated.

  9. Andrea /

    This post is one of the reasons I’m so glad I found you! Because I LIKE you!

    Convo starter: What are you doing on 10/10/10 that will be memorable?

  10. Elissa /

    I still keep my aol email address.

    It’s a link to that time, for all the good and bad memories. The thing about these Internet connections is that for the time you are reading this, we are connected. 100 percent attention for more than just a moment.

    That’s not so common in the grocery store, where you’re good for a ‘that cheese is great’ comment. Break the 20 second rule and it’s awkward. Which for people like me who grew up loving sesame street and appreciating ‘who are the people in your neighborhood, is a little sad.
    Some of the best moments in life are these micro connections. The guy with the walker at the pharmacy who needed a hand with his suspenders so his pants wouldn’t fall down. And when to make him feel comfortable I tell him it is a pleasure to help a handsome gentleman, he gets
    the most incredible gleam in his eye and says, ‘I’m 90 years old. I served with Patton.’ Wow.

    So yes, more human connection, here, there and everywhere.

    It’s 10-10-10 today, 42 in binary. Since 42 is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question, thanks for being part of mine and letting me be part of yours.

  11. Tori Deaux /

    Just had to post here again, because I find it so curious that I wrote a rant about social media, then shied away from the comments because I wasn’t sure what to say.

    I am going to borrow some of the prompts for Twitter, though! Maybe we’ll start a trend.