This applies to all our social relationships online. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, basically all your connections tend to become amorphous crowds over time, and we only interact with a precious few. So we are missing the chance to use social media as a tool that facilitates real relationships because few of us actually take the time to connect in the ways that a real friend would.
So how do you change this? Start with breaking completely out of your online world for a moment and doing something really cutting edge: pick up the telephone and call someone. I like to remind people when I speak at conferences that the most prominent word in iPhone is phone. Make someone feel special by connecting voice to voice with them and having a real conversation.
Before you send off that next e-mail or start to text someone, take a moment to ask yourself if the relationship would be better served with a personal contact. If you want to add value to your relationships, resist the urge to take social shortcuts, and remember that:
Friends are not just an audience. Friendship is a two-way interaction loop. Ask questions, listen to and hear the answers, and ask more questions. It takes ongoing interaction to get a clear path through the digital noise out there.
A friend is not a number. Think about how many times you hear television ads that end with “to us, you are not just a number; you’re a person.” Yes, I have over four thousand Facebook friends, but I also pay attention and respond to all comments and postings on their walls and photos. Does it take time? It sure does, but all real relationships take time.
A friend has shared interests. Friends connect around shared interests, which attract additional friendships that turn into communities of interest. You are the hub of your personal social media “community of interest,” so consider it your responsibility to provide content relevant to your friends’ interests. Hint: if you are authentic in your profiles and what you are inclined to share, this will be of interest to your friends.
Friendships require maintenance. We are all calling these tools “social media,” yet we are becoming less social. Facebook status updates do not count as a relationship. Back and forth conversation about your status update, however, is a much more social interaction. But don’t let it end there. Take the initiative to reach out and give value rather than expecting everyone to come to you.
Friends do unto others. The way you engage with people makes an impression no matter what tool you are using. Look at your own behaviors and ask yourself, “Would I want to be my friend?” Are you noticing and affirming the value of individuals and groups in your network? What kind of friend do you want to have and to be? A real friend is not just a number and a photo on the screen.
Make a conscious effort to re-evaluate the word friend as you currently think of it the next time you’re on social channels. Look at your own online self and ask, “Would I want to be my friend?” Are you doing what it takes to be a real friend, or have most of your online relationships gone on autopilot or faded into the crowd?
Ted Rubin is a leading Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker and Brand Evangelist. In March 2009 he started using and evangelizing the term ROR, Return on Relationship, hashtag #RonR. He is also the author of the book by the same name… Return on Relationship. Visit his web site at www.tedrubin.com for more information.