Aug 25, 2010

Streaming Relationships: Extending your network exponentially

Social media is a very voyeuristic experience. You “follow” people on Twitter, and “like” people on Facebook. When you’re really curious, you “Google” a person to learn even more. Access to information has made us very curious.

But social media is so much more than liking and following. It’s about relationships. It’s about creating trust and rapport with your customers by giving them multiple opportunities to experience you and your brand. That’s what makes social media so exciting. It takes the constructs of relationship building, and expands them exponentially.

Relationships used to be built belly-to-belly

Fifteen years ago we didn’t have social media. Heck, we didn’t even have Google. Relationships were built in the traditional sense, belly-to-belly. We interacted with our peers, colleagues and clients in our day-to-day routines. We saw them in the halls, we met with them for meetings, we talked on the phone, and we networked at industry events. Relationships were built one person at a time.

The challenge with the belly-to-belly model is there’s only so much time in the day. We can’t call 100 to 500 people per week just to see what they’re up to. That’s inefficient and unrealistic. As a result, in the 80’s and 90’s most business people could only maintain a circle of influence of 30 to 100 contacts. These were the people they interacted with regularly and purposefully. These relationships were tight, but they were also limited in their reach.

Social media provides streaming relationships

Social media is shifting the relationship dynamic. Now we can stay abreast to what’s happening in our extended networks. Flip on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter and you can see the stream of activity. Every time I log into LinkedIn I get to see the latest updates in my network. I can see when people change jobs, what they’re reading, where they’re traveling and so on.

The streams of posts in social media are very powerful, because they keep us connected. We may not be interacting directly, but these constant exposures build trust. We learn a little bit more about each other through each interaction. These micro interactions build up over time, and form the germ of a relationship.

Collapsing 6 degrees of separation

Staying up to date is only one benefit. To me, the biggest benefit is reach. We are no longer limited to a circle of influence of 30 to 100 people. Now we can stay engaged with 100 to 1,000 people regularly. Yes, you can even have a larger group, but your network starts to get a little unwieldy after a while.

Increasing your reach gives you access to a lot more resources. No longer are you limited to asking referrals for referrals. You can go directly to the source. Your daily stream of interactions helps you know people’s expertise, interests and capabilities. This makes it far easier to find a resource when you need one.

Secondarily, your reach is no longer limited to your local geography. You can stay up to date with people all over the world. You can build relationships with people in your home town, in a neighboring country or on the other side of the globe. It’s all relevant. There really isn’t much geographic limitation to where you can build relationships.

Where do you see this going?

The more I dig into social media’s influence on relationship building, the more excited I get. This is a platform that allows us to connect with each other in a very real and very human way. It extends our reach exponentially, and reduces many barriers to interacting with people consistently.

What do you think? Do you think social media’s impact is that profound? What other trends will emerge out of this relationship building shift?

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