Social networking has become the modern arcade game for some– a relentless pursuit to earn the high score by adding the largest number of contacts. Bemused, I watch friends pounce on new contacts: friends of friends they barely know; local celebrities; acquaintances with whom they spoke just once. And I laugh when they tweet, “Just added my 2000th contact!” or “Joe Smith is my 1500th friend on Facebook!”
I think too of the day when, clad in sleep pants and a Penn State sweatshirt overdue for the laundry, I armed myself for serious networking. Hours later, I emerged glassy-eyed, having sent 25 invitations to connect. The funny part is that, like my contact-collecting friends, I really hadn’t networked at all. Instead, we found ourselves caught in the trap of mistaking contact collection with actual networking.
For sellers, it’s easy to fall into this same trap. Accustomed to numbers and quotas, we see social networking as an expedient and highly-effective means to broaden our contacts without having to put in the long hours that face-to-face networking requires. Because time is money, more contacts in fewer hours should be a good thing. But it isn’t exactly.
Here’s the issue: When used in the way that I described here, social networking is missing the conversation and mutual information sharing that turn contacts into relationships. In other words, it isn’t social! People you “know” only by virtue of what they have posted on their social network pages are unlikely to go to bat for you—or you for them—simply because you don’t actually know each other at all. That’s why, no matter how efficiently modern technology helps us to gather contacts, we still need to do the hard work of meeting people, talking to them, getting to know them one-on-one, if our networking efforts are to succeed.
For this reason, collecting random contacts is counterproductive as well. At current count, with 479 people in my combined social networks (with some overlaps) I need to spend over 70 hours per month just to have 10 minutes of interaction with each contact. Multiply this number by a factor of 5 or 10, and you can see why having a massive contact network is tantamount to having no network at all. There just isn’t time to build relationships with that many people.
Don’t get me wrong. I love social networking. Used judiciously, it helps us meet and organize our contacts. It provides a springboard for keeping up with people and for reaching out to them personally about things that matter to them. And it’s fun, too! But numbers in the database don’t mean real contacts, and invitations to connect are no substitute for real conversations. We still need to get out there and talk to each other. Which I swear I’ll do just as soon as I send out a few more contact invites