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Who Are Your Real Connections?

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Doing some social network housekeeping last night, I lamented my tiny number of LinkedIn connections, and marvelled at the number of Twitter followers I have managed to gain while not doing much more than sending out links to news articles. While one set of people are easy to come by, the other seems more elusive. But are they more valuable?

One of the mantras of social media is that you need to be engaged, get involved, and try to form meaningful links with people, so that you can increase your sphere of influence. But while I technically have connections to all of my Twitter followers (and to all of theirs, when they retweet me), I know very few of them personally. We could pass each other in the street without recognising each other. My LinkedIn connections, on the other hand, were made from relationships I already had. These people have (mostly) seen the whites of my eyes, could pick me out of a crowd, and probably know my favourite tipple.

For those using social media as a business tool, this distinction is important. On the one hand, one of your many Twitter followers may be able to give you some leads for possible work, or help out with a technical problem, but how valuable are they to your business as a whole? While on LinkedIn most people connect with those to whom they have an existing professional relationship, Twitter is a more amorphous concept. There’s no guarantee that you will ever meet any of your followers, or indeed interact with them any more than following each other’s tweets.

The trick, of course, is to be discerning in picking your connections. Forget all the gimmicks that promise to get you however many hundreds of followers with a “few easy steps;” instead, take the time to form connections that might actually result in something useful. I joined the Brummies group on LinkedIn because I’m more likely to be able to take part in any meets or events that they organise, and I restrict one of my Twitter accounts to people who are general in the UK, and predominantly in the same region as me. But that’s not enough: to make the most of these connections, at some point I’m going to have to leave the house and meet some of these people face to face. After typing messages and swapping jokes comes actual personal contact.

It was one of my professional resolutions to be more social about my social networking, and to that end I’ve signed up to SmallBizPod’s Thrive event, which is passing through Birmingham in February. I’m also playing closer attention to notices of upcoming events in my local Twitter stream, and hope that my approval comes through soon so that I can do the same with the Brummies group on LinkedIn. There’s also a local Meetup group I’ve belonged to for a while and I am determined to make the next meet, no matter how rubbish the weather is.

As I’ve said before, at some stage, social networking needs to be more social. Only then will connections be real and tangible. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people I love best on the internet are people I am unlikely to ever meet, but who still help me out to my problems and listen to my rants when I’m upset. Those who I have met though, even if our relationship started out on the internet,  I now feel closer to, and am more likely to turn to first, because they now know and understand me better. So I’m going to continue finding interesting people on the web and trying to connect with them. But I’m also going to leave the house and get to know the ones I can reach a little better.

[Image by Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake]

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