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Connection is not enough in social media

The word connection is thrown around a lot in social media, and used as a way to denote relationships that people have with each other, but connection isn't enough to create genuine relationships in social media.
Written Jun 20, 2010, read 1164 times since then.
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The word connection is thrown around a lot in social media, and used as a way to denote relationships that people have with each other, but connection isn't enough to create genuine relationships in social media. In fact, it's worth looking at the context of how the word is used in order to understand the social implications of its use in social media. We need to keep the social context in mind with social media, because ultimately social media is a social medium and not understanding that can cause more problems for a business strategy than simply choosing not to use social media.

Connection, as its used in social media, indicates that someone has become connected to your virtual network. For example, if I meet someone at a networking event, and that person indicates it's ok to connect on Linkedin, I can then send an invite, and if the person accepts it, I am now connected to the person. But that virtual connection doesn't automatically mean I really have a true connection to the person. The easiest way to show that is to simply look at the number of connections a person has. On Linkedin you could be connected to over 500 people or on Twitter or Facebook thousands of people, but keeping up with the sheer number of people in an intimate manner is impossible, and chances are you haven't actually kept up with most of those people. You "connected" to them and then forgot about them. Connection via social media does not mean you actually have a relationship with someone, and we need to remember that.

Often times, what I notice most when people connect with me on a social network is that very few of them actively take the time to write a personalized response. Usually, I'll get the generic copy that comes with such invitations that tells me nothing other than that a person wants to connect. Whenever I get a connection request I make the effort to write a message back thanking the person for the connection and asking how I can help him/her out. Occasionally I even get a response back, but usually I don't. The end result is another number added to my connections, but no meaningful contact established.

A relationship only occurs when you are actually engaging or interacting with someone. "Engagement" and "interaction" are other words thrown around a lot in social media and they indicate that a person is actively on social media sites. But engagement isn't just posting the latest news or special offer from your business. Engagement involves actively commenting on other people's news, sharing information they post with other people, and having online conversations with them. Engagement is how you can create a deeper connection with someone using social media.

To really create a relationship you've got to consistently follow-up with people and talk with them about what matters to them. This is especially true in social media, where you mainly have text for doing the talking. This means you have to a do a fair amount of commenting on what the person is talking about in order to really grab their attention. Strictly using social media to engage people is ultimately limited. Social media is excellent as a complementary tool for engaging with people and staying visible, but there needs to be more than just sending a reply via twitter. This is why in person meetings, phone calls, and email can and should be included in the strategy someone uses for cultivating relationships. These other forms of communication can often provide context that social media alone wouldn't provide. Even so, social media is a social medium, and people need to keep that in mind when thinking about they will use it to connect with other people.

To me, the number of people I have following me doesn't mean that much unless we can actually make something of the connection. For social media to truly be social and therefore to be useful as more than just a way of potentially staying visible to someone, the social dynamics need to be considered. We can best do that by asking ourselves how we can actually make the conversation mean something more than just an online connection. We can extend the conversation beyond just Facebook updates or tweets, and try and create a connection that actually benefits all of us, beyond having another number in our follower lists.

For social media's potential to be realized we need to look past all the buzz and hype, to see the real social dynamics that inform its use. Businesses that have started using social media as a way of responding to customer concerns show that social media can be a social medium that works. But customer service is just one area, and while there's no denying that social media also has applications for marketing, there's also something to be said for putting networking back into social networking, specifically trying to learn more about people and then helping those people make connections to other people who can help them.  If we can approach social media that way and start initiating more conversations focused around trying to help people, then we'll see connections turn into relationships, which in turn can lead to business. After all, people do business with people they trust, and social media is another medium in which trust can be created, provided you want to do more than just get another connection on your follow list.

Learn more about the author, Taylor Ellwood.

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