The Social Networking Rub

by · May 4, 20128 comments

Social networking and the marketing and technology world’s response to it is quite amusing. To network socially is to connect with people of like mind and interest to have a group of individuals you can relate to when you choose. It’s about having a group of buds to watch the game with or girlfriends to meet for lunch … in a manner of speaking.

While Internet-based social networks are built for scale, people are not. Dunbar’s number says we can’t maintain more than 150 stable relationships at once. Hence the appeal of applications like PathI don’t want to friend everybody. I want to “friend” the people that are my friends. Sure, many of us can stretch that 150 to a few more, but let’s be realistic. If you’ve got 500 people in your friends circle on a given social network, you aren’t really maintaining a relationship with them. You’re just catching a random update from time to time. That’s far from personal. It’s also far from social.

But because marketers, technologists and gamers were at the helm of many social networks, it became a game: How many friends can I get? Every social network I’ve ever joined as immediately told me I needed to add friends and then slapped a big badge on my profile telling me, and sometimes the world, how many people like me enough. This gamification trigger made people want to add more friends.

A social network diagram

A social network diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suddenly, it was a race to 10,000 on Twitter, then 25,000 and so-on. LinkedIn developed the LION designation for people who had lots of connections and were open to connecting with anyone, even those they don’t know. From a marketing, gaming or ego perspective, it made sense: Whoever has the most friends wins.

But from a human social capacity perspective, it’s just plain dumb.

I have 50,000+ followers on Twitter. I probably average around 175 public “@” replies on a slow weekday. Mind you, I don’t sit on Twitter all day. If I have time to look, I look. If I’m busy, I’m busy. Yet, I’ve been accosted by people THAT I KNOW for not responding to a public tweet — One that I didn’t even see. (I know, first world problem. But it’s easier to reply to every message when you have significantly less of them. And keep in mind, that’s Twitter … not primary communications like emails, phone calls, meetings, etc.)

Yet, we still think more is better. We have to have more Twitter followers, more Facebook fans, more LinkedIn connections, more people have to circle us on Google+ … the list goes on.

Complicating matters is the emerging world of online influence measurement. Klout, Kred and the like are starting to have serious implications for mainstream consumers. Even if it is just perks and coupons, when the Sunday ad-clipping nutters figure out they can game Twitter to get followers which then gives them free stuff from Klout … watch out!

Whether you’re building online influence as an individual or as a business, there are way too many reasons to aim for more, rather than less, followers. But what we marketers need to consider as we try to communicate our messages to all the other users on social networks is that they just might not be like us. They may not want 3 bazillion followers. They may just want to chat with their friends, stalk their ex or see pictures of their family from time-to-time.

You may not be able to market to those people here. And by those people, I mean most people.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/SocialSerious SocialSerious

    I could not agree more. This is an awesome post that I’m going to share with my team. One of the first things I tell my clients is “it’s not about the amount of followers you have, It’s about the amount of followers you have that really give a crap about the content you put out and about those who really know who you are and what you do.” Thanks for the post Jason

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9302789 Craig Kessler

    That’s why we have to get our mindset out of the early adopter and social media geek mentality.  Sure, the new cool hip social network may be a fun toy for a lot of us, but the average Joe has no idea what it is, how to use it, or cares to even begin.  and truth of the matter is that’s fine because they don’t need it.  Foursquare (which I still don’t believe is a mainstream SM tool) is barely used by the majority of people I know.  We as marketers need to understand the average person thinks and uses SM differently.

  • http://twitter.com/andreacook andreacook

    Like. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic. 

    I really miss the real connections built from the world of social media. 

    Seems like the more mature we become as professionals online, the more careful we have to be about our image/brand and “clout”/influence. 

    How ironic that we think we need “clout” for the sake of credibility, yet, we have to become less of our true selves to grow that “clout.” (I refuse to spell it with a K no matter what.) 
    PS – loving the meme for Blog World Expo on facebook today!  

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/annelizhannan Anneliz Hannan

    Great post Jason…and all the time I thought it was just me. Thanks, this was great therapy.

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