The Social Networking Rub

Our view of social networking contradicts networking's purpose

by Jason Falls |

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 the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).