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My birthday was last week. Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to expect to see a number of nice messages from friends and acquaintances in email and on the various social media sites. I wasn’t disappointed.
As I’ve gotten used to having slices of my life play out in public, I’ve developed some bad manners. I think it’s a part of 21st century communications. I no longer responded to every message that I get.
About 12% of the people I ‘know’ on Facebook noticed that it was my birthday. The number was way lower in email and Twitter, less that 1/2 of one percent. In all, I got about 160 birthday wishes
On a whim, I decided to answer each and every one of the kind wishes I received. Through some miraculous intervention of an unseen hand, my manners were momentarily restored.
For the most part, I knew the people who sent me birthday greetings. That surprised me. There were about 5% who I just couldn’t place. One of my favorite messages was from someone who offered, "Happy Birthday from Someone You Don’t know." I replied "Thanks for the honesty" and mentioned some of the neat people we both know. She wasn’t the only person I didn’t know who wished me well.
In the process of sending everyone a note back, I looked at their profiles, examined their photos, read their walls and pondered their information. It was a beautiful sea of interesting folks and I hope to get to know them even better.
I wanted to have a first hand feel for the time involve in having "relationships" in social media. I’ve read a lot of material that talks about being social in social media. I am currently trying to figure out how realistic that actually is. Does this whole idea of talent pools based on intimacy in relationships actually make sense?
It took about two minutes, on average, to answer each note. That includes breaks and miscellaneous social media detours. I’m not sure you can do this sort of thing without a few diversions. Mostly, though, I stuck to the task of saying thank you and offering a personal reflection.
About half of the people I responded to responded back and I took the time to respond to them again. Another minute each. Total time to respond personally to 150 people? About 400 minutes. Six and a half hours. With a little lunch and a staff meeting, that’s a full day’s work.
Still, that wouldn’t be much of a relationship, would it. I suppose that I ought to say "Happy Birthday" to each of my Facebook pals (and maybe most of the folks Plaxo reminds me about). Let’s say that takes 30 seconds. If 10% respond to my good wish, that will add the same amount of time as the greetings I received.
I started to imagine the bare minimums required to maintain ‘relationships’
- Birthday Greetings and Responses (Sending and Receiving) 2 minutes per relationship
- Holiday Greetings (assuming the same as Birthdays) 2 minutes per relationship
- 2 actual phone calls per year (what’s up and is the data right) 6 minutes per relationship
- 2 memorable customized emails that deliver personal value 4 minutes per relationship.
That would give you six connection points over the course of a year. As long as you were supplementing the contact moments with high value memorable content, you ought to be able to maintain those relationships.
If a work year has 1920 work hours (that’s 20 work days per month which means no vacations and no meetings), one could theoretically maintain 8,000 relationships at this level.
Unless you are fortunate enough to be a social media worker (social media gurus don’t have time for all of this stuff), you probably also have to get some actual work done. For each hour of work you do, you will have to give up nearly five of your potential social media relationships.
And then, there are those important meetings, conferences, collaboration opportunities and moments of office politicking.
Let’s say, just for argument purposes, that you get an average of 25 hours of work done each week. This would not include the two weeks of vacation, personal time, holidays or travel time which amount to between 4 and 6 hours per work week. It also probably doesn’t have much time for meetings which might account for another 4 to 6 hours per week. God help you if you have to do much coordination to get things done.
Looking at it this way, in a 40 hour week, where you got 25 hours of actual work done, you might have as much as 5 hours to apply to social media sports. That’s if you didn’t do anything else with your discretionary time.
That’s a ceiling of 1,000 relationships, in the best of all cases, for most of us. If you want to make sure that they’re the right (most productive) friends, you’ll need to work overtime.
There is no correlation between having a big social media presence and
- being good at what you do
- being smart
- having something useful to say
- being worth the attention
- getting your work done
- making sales
- closing deals
- getting new business
- being a good place to work
- getting smart people to work for you
Social media is no different than any other form of advertising. The message and the distribution channels tell you nothing about:
- the biases of the author
- organizational affiliation
- the truth or falsity of any claims made
- the accuracy of the material
- whether or not the material is good for you
- the utility of the idea
When new publishing and advertising technology takes root, the early adopters appear to have (and in some ways actually do have) more influence and authority than might otherwise be accorded them. Prowess with new technology can seem like subject matter expertise. Learning to tell the difference between publishing skills and functional utility is one of the new frontiers of literacy.
Here at the dawn of the communications era, we are just beginning to learn to distinguish between friendship and advertising; between relationships and connections; between being a spam target and being valued; between a network and a mailing list; between your pipeline and my community.
Resist the temptation to see answers where there hasn’t been enough time for them to evolve. A few years of experimentation with new media forms demonstrates little about their ultimate shape and impact. Think of the first few years of television, radio or the internet. The long term impact only becomes fully apparent after a decade or two.
In yesterday’s article, the bare bones of relationship maintenance were described. In five very concentrated hours a week, you can keep 1,000 relationships alive at slightly better than the annual holiday greeting card list level. Building an operational network requires something more. Much more.
Tomorrow: Value Driven Relationships in Social Media
So, here’s the problem. For five hours per week, you can maintain a ‘network’ of friends on some or multiple social media platforms. Those ‘relationships’ are every bit as good as a Holiday Greeting Card list.
You know how well that works.
Greeting card lists are as interesting as the relationships they are built upon. If it’s a collection of friends and colleagues with whom you have worked and or played, there is embedded value in those connections already. The energy you use to maintain the network is a way of protecting and growing something that already has value. Networks based on shared experience (work, school, family, organizational, church, disaster, travel and so on) begin with common ground and reciprocal perceptions of the importance of the relationship.
If the ties are built within the constructs of social media, the aggregate value of the relationships depends on the ongoing investment you make. For an online relationship to have the same gravitas as one built on shared experiences, you have to have shared experience or its equivalent.
There is also something interesting about the list itself. For some, it’s a badge of honor to be in the Clinton Family Rolodex and on their list. This is in spite of the fact that money and value flow one way, for the most part on this or any political organization’s list.
So, there are two aspects of online network relationships; the shared thing among members of a group or list and the value received from being on the list. The idea, when you are building an audience, is to have the two merge so that the value comes from being on the list. But, that takes significant and, more importantly, competent, investment.
The investment you have to make comes in two chunks. Maintenance investment is what keeps relationships from going bad. Remember the shelf life idea? Maintenance investments extend the shelf life of a relationship. Five hours per week will go a long way towards maintaining 1,000 relationships. You must make the maintenance investment or the list will go rotten.
The other investment chunk is where the real game is. Think of it as fertilizer or value added. It’s harder. This is the money and energy you spend to make the list something that people want to be a part of. This is the value that members get from being on your list. It’s the most expensive part of social media utilization.
Some companies, like Sonar6, seem to have a real grasp of how to deliver content that engages and begs the reader to return for more. The famous dispatches from Starr-Tincup are also high value reads. Over the years, RecruitingBlogs.com has cobbled together routine excitement for its membership in this way.
You know what it feels like to be a part of one of these networks (list, communities, whatevers). Membership is something you think about and value. You look forward to it when it comes like a favorite show, club, band or event. It’s what a social media outreach program has to try to achieve if its going to be successful.
There is no reliable set of terminology to describe or measure the structure, content or value of your social media experiments and the assets that result. Most effective practitioners realize that social value is something like fresh produce. It has a shelf life. You have to build and harvest value in a manner that resembles grocery store inventory management.
We’re all learning about this stuff together. Here are five links (and a bonus) to help clarify your thoughts on value in social media.
- The Social Media Bubble
This Harvard Business Review blog suggests that we are experiencing “relationship inflation” rooted in “Thin relationships”. In other words, the fun of making all those connections produces a cotton candy high. Lots of fluff, not much substance, a real sugar rush and, when you get over it, you are not satisfied.
- Five Levels of Social Media Relationships
Jedi, Best Friend, Buddy, eQuaintence and Link Lover. Concise, well written piece that tries to wrestle with the differing qualities in relationships online.
- Who Owns Your Social Media? What To Do When Your Social Media Employees Move On
Jessica Lee, the founding editor of our Editorial Advisory Board, grapples with an important question. In the past six months, we’ve seen a lot of churn from people who achieved a level of celebrity in social media. The important question every organization has to ask is whether or not the company “owns” the relationships the celebrities built. There are absolutely no clear answers. What is clear is that we are all going to have to get better at drawing the lines between our role based personas.
- The Relationship Economy
This blog is one of those little gems that you ought to insert in your RSS Feed. Written by folks in the advertising business, it will expose you to people who have a better sense of the utility of social media than the HR camp.
- The New Social Marketing Paradigm (via Shannon Seery Gude)
“Our world of marketing and customer relationship as we know it today is changing and the new paradigm of social marketing will be defined by velocity, not scale. As Jason Jennings titled his best seller, “It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow.”
- The Lefsetz Letter
The best models for developing relationships with audiences come from the entertainment business. No meaningful cultural influence has made it without knowing how to work an audience and build a fan base. If you have even a hint of interest in the music industry, you can learn all about HR by reading between the lines. Lefsetz is one of those guys who never lets you wonder about what’s on his mind. He imagines performance and musical excellence and then critiques the artists, venues, production values, songs, concepts, equipment and trends of the industry. As you listen to him talk about audience development, what works and what doesn’t, you’ll see the outlines of real talent network and market development. It’s nice to read it on Bob’s site since it isn’t really happening in our industry.