On building relationships that matter & why I won’t follow you…

Few people who know me well would describe me as overly social. I am, in my non virtual life, an introvert of sorts. I tend not to enjoy small talk, in fact, it drives me crazy. I will rarely start a conversation with a stranger or even with people I know, and I wear a defensive armor of sorts whenever I am on an airplane, train or bus – a book of some kind that I may have no interest in reading, but I carry it with me as a signal that I am un-approachable.

It’s not that I am shy per se, or don’t have an opinion – most of you know that I have and voice my opinions rather regularly; it’s that I simply feel uncomfortable encroaching into someone’s personal space.  Online, my voice is heard louder and more often, but the kinds of interactions I enjoy for me don’t change much, just the lines between our personal spaces get a bit more blurred.

Online, it’s easy to get engaged in conversations with total strangers, if something catches our attention in some data stream, and we contribute, like, agree or disagree with whatever was said, without the benefit of prior knowledge of the person on the receiving end.  At times, a single comment can spawn a deep friendship or lead to a business relationship, and indeed, most of us will attest to having had something like this happen at least once.

But here is where I think a lot of us are not quite getting the beauty and the power if social…or what social can be.  We approach these online relationships, if you will, with an agenda or the ROI question from the outset, or at least, we are told in so many seminars, conferences, ebooks et al that we ought to measure the effectiveness of our interactions.  There is a promise of future business and/or referrals, dangling on the stick we call social media which, I think, changes the conversation, and not for the better.

The all important question of ROI of social engagement to me is not much different and just as misguided as the questions on how to leverage or incubate leads, or capitalize on our relationships or spheres of influence. The medium or the platform may vary, but philosophically, the question is essentially the same, and, I think, inaccurately and dangerously shifts the discourse from what truly matters to a set of tech or gadget driven how-to’s, all bred for some immediacy and fueled by the desire for our next pay check.

no, i won't follow you on twitter

image courtesy Nikki Beauchamp

Which brings me to this: if in real life our capacity for caring, empathy or generosity is not contingent on the expectation of some return on investment, then would it not stand to reason that in our virtual worlds, we as people, should be operating in a similar fashion, or at least, that’s what would be reasonably expected of us? To put it in terms of business, if you consider someone a “lead”, “potential client”, “_______” first, and their humanity second or not at all, are you even capable of building what we have been referring to as a relationship with that person?

What if we approached it from the place of truly giving a shit about the people behind the numbers and avatars, and gave of our empathy and compassion generously without running the numbers first, the way we do it in real life (at least I hope that’s how we do it)? What if we could extend the same degree of altruism in our interactions to a stranger online, without it being a campaign of sorts from the outset, without it, in essence, still being about us and our goals?

I don’t know if this is reasonable and whether or not our numbers would suffer for it, but that’s how I want to treat my online and offline relationships. My life is richer for knowing something more about some of the people I met online, but only if I took the time to learn something about them, to get to know them a bit, and if they had done the same. I don’t follow Jay Thompson because of his tech knowledge and advice, but because I am drawn to his inability to be inauthentic. Because I have read enough of his human side to trust that he is the same person in real life and one I would trust because of it. I read Jeff Turner because he is smarter than I am, and because he manages to find beauty in dissecting a single thought or concept that may not ever make him a dime, and he does so with gusto. I didn’t know Jeff was famous when I stumbled on his blog…(sorry, Jeff).

In my few years of being online, I’ve run across a few remarkable people, who for one reason or another piqued my curiosity with something they said, or touched some emotion in me by some small act of kindness. John MacArthur left one of the first ever comments on my very first blog post that was sweet and human and thoughtful, but it was also unlike so many others – there was raw emotion and feeling in it. I am proud to call him my friend, and now, client. My sweet Canadian Tanya Nouwens was a client first, but in the conversations online and off we just clicked. I have yet to meet her in person, but I feel like I know her better than I do quite a few people with whom I’ve wined and dined on many occasions. It’s the conversations and authenticity that matter to me the most, and while they may not give me enough insight into how good a particular person is at their job, whatever that happens to be, I won’t hesitate to recommend them to my friends or family, should the need arise, based on knowing simply that they will each handle their business relationships in the same way they handle what they do in their social interactions – with care and genuine concern for the person on the other side of any transaction.

So yes, in a way, Rob Hahn and Bill Lublin are right – consumers must trust any professional first and foremost. I guess I just have a bizarre hope to have that trust be based on something a bit more genuine and human than anything that can be measured by an algorithm, no matter how sophisticated , if it can’t be judged or based on merit alone.

And lastly, I don’t believe in reciprocating in kind on twitter, FB, G+ or anywhere else for that matter. If I subscribe to someone, it is because I genuinely want to know what they have to say or because I want to know what’s going on in their lives. I think it’s asinine to expect that a writer of something I find intriguing would inevitably find me interesting. So if you follow and unfollow for numbers or on autopilot, I won’t add anything to your metrics. My pond needs to be small enough for me to find the few bits of incredible, magical or human amidst the noise.  It also needs to be deep enough for me to dive in without reservations.  I look to be challenged, or intrigued, or dissented with because selfishly, those are the connections that run the deepest for me.  Because I’ll always value an original though and willingness to state it more than the sheepish in agreement streams.  And most importantly, because it’s the only way I will know enough about you to want to learn more.

It’s also the only damn thing that can’t be measured, and I am sick to death of graphs and metrics that take the human out of the equation.

Your thoughts?

PS: to all my friends and clients/friends I’ve not mentioned – it was not for the lack of knowing or appreciating our relationship, as I sincerely hope you know…:-)

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10 Responses to On building relationships that matter & why I won’t follow you…
  1. Peter Brewer
    October 3, 2011 | 2:16 am

    Inna, I really enjoy your work and I think we’re gonna get on just fine. I’m actually about to write a post called ‘Do I have a delete key on my forehead’….. I’ll let you know when its up.


    • Inna Hardison
      October 3, 2011 | 11:25 am

      Peter – so nice of you to stop by. We already get on just fine, sir:-) I think… And by all means – anything with delete buttons in it sounds awful intriguing in this day and age.
      PS: Love the furniture story (and the furniture). Wish I were closer…

  2. Erin OBryan
    October 1, 2011 | 5:40 pm

    Absolutely loved this post, mostly because you’re first 3 paragraphs described me completely, I felt like I found another me out there. Fantastic article and right on target. I have found the best people to follow mostly by reading people;s blogs that I enjoy and relate to, usually the people they follow are the same people I find a kinship with. Thanks for sharing.

    • Inna Hardison
      October 3, 2011 | 11:26 am

      Erin – I am still somewhat surprised how many people seem to relate to that description, and yet how few would admit it, esp if their job has anything to do with sales. Thx for reading, and your way of connecting is pretty close to mine. You’ll hardly ever go wrong with that one.

  3. Ville Kilkku
    September 30, 2011 | 4:10 pm

    I definitely agree with your thoughts on following people on social networking sites: following everyone back doesn’t make any sense, it’s just a sure way to turn your stream into endless noise.

    Perhaps there is a slight difference in our following criteria though, because I do tend to follow back quite many people who discuss subjects that I’m interested in. I check out everyone who follows me and if they don’t spam and they discuss subjects I’m interested in, even if their ideas don’t seem particularly interesting, I will follow back. The more often they post, the higher the quality that it takes to get me as a follower.

    The basis for this course of action is that you never know who turns out to be a great thinker. As long as they don’t make my stream unwatchable, they get a chance.

    Your tweets are of course top-notch! 🙂

    However, when it comes to your discussion on ROI and caring about the people, I’m not sure I understand your point.

    For a business, all activities have to satisfy certain ROI requirements. Social media is no exception. Neither is customer service in general.

    I must emphasize that ROI is complicated, and often impossible to measure, at least directly. It makes no more sense to try to measure the ROI of each tweet than it makes to measure the ROI of each service call: Some of those calls are not worth answering.. Umm.. So is the correct policy to not answer some of the calls? No, it’s not, because customer service is an important part of doing business.

    Participation in social media as a business has to fulfill certain criteria as a whole. This is not the same as not caring. Doing business is not the same as not caring. However, doing business does mean that you need results from your activities as a whole, or your company goes bankrupt.

    It’s a bit like the dilemma of consequentialist ethics. Consequentialists, by definition, measure the consequences of actions. However, this occasionally leads to unintuitive outcomes, i.e. permits or even mandates actions that are generally considered immoral (murder, for example). Rule-based consequentialist theories try to bridge this gap by asserting that classes of actions are the real objects to be measured.

    With social media relationships, we could likewise measure each and every one of them, and then decide which ones to pursue and which ones to leave. Or, we can recognize that fostering such relationships is a type of activity that is worth pursuing, regardless of the actual benefits gained from any single relationship. When this decision is made, it allows us to pursue those relationships in a genuine way.

    Caring, empathy, and ROI are not in conflict, at least as long as participating in social media is considered beneficial for a company as a whole. And if it is deemed harmful, that company will shut down its accounts anyway.

    • Inna Hardison
      October 3, 2011 | 11:40 am

      Ville – just to add lightly to our chat convo on the subject, I don’t necessarily disagree, at least not entirely. I always found it hard to swallow the various dichotomies in philosophical movements or ideas… The either or dialogue is too black and white for my taste, so in that sense, I am only addressing what I know works for me personally in social space, as me I know(a bit). I am ill prepared to organize my streams and categorize people’s conversations in ways that would include ROI or anything else even mildly pragmatic. While I can understand your last statement, I don’t necessarily buy that. I don’t think that relationship building is an ‘activity’ that can be measured cumulatively. In the end, the only meaningful ROI is indeed in those few personal connections and interactions that, granted, do come about as a result of the activity. I think considering the ROI of social in terms other than conversations and meaningful connections with people based on shared interests and values is cheating oneself of those very connections…

  4. Ricardo Bueno
    September 27, 2011 | 7:49 pm

    A few things…

    – That screenshot makes me cringe like you have no idea! (Or maybe you do)
    – I think we should do more of this: “What if we approached it from the place of truly giving a shit about the people behind the numbers and avatars, and gave of our empathy and compassion generously without running the numbers first” <== I think we need to do more of this more often. Seek to be helpful, first. That says "I appreciate you" even if you never become a client. That kind of relationship, to me at least, means a lot.

    • Inna Hardison
      September 27, 2011 | 11:02 pm

      Thanks Ricardo. I think this whole mess of a place (our itty bitty world) would be certainly far better if we did that… And if not, we’d still be richer for having done it. 🙂 thx for reading me!

  5. Missy Caulk
    September 27, 2011 | 4:14 pm

    “I don’t believe in reciprocating in kind on twitter, FB, G+ or anywhere else for that matter. ”


    • Inna Hardison
      September 27, 2011 | 5:05 pm

      🙂 So nice of you to stop by, Missy… and Amen indeed.

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