The Rise and Fall of Friends

We have been transformed. We have been transformed from a culture of Leave it to Beaver, where friends were next door neighbors or maybe work or church associates, into a culture where “friend” is a status symbol peddled by the gazillion social networks. It’s not uncommon to hear someone at a tech conferenct like Blog World Expo, where I am for the next few days, or Web 2.0 Expo, where Ray is bringing us coverage, proclaim, I’ve got 3500 friends on Twitter or I capped out at 5000 friends on Facebook. They won’t let me add more.

Silliness, of course, and I’ve talked about it before.

Putting aside the cliché friends bit, social media has definitely altered the way humanity interacts with each other and it’s not at all a bad thing. Cultural divides are falling, business relationships are being built. Heck, people are even getting married because of Twitter.

I can’t help but think that there is somewhat of an ebb and flow that takes place and we are on a retreating slope. At the very core of our human existence, we want relationships. While the inundation of networking opportunities, associates or “friends” is satisfying in its own right, it challenges the ability for humans to have their most basic relational instinct satisfied.

The other night on The Aaron Brazell Show, I cornered guest Jim Long (a minor demigod on Twitter) about who his favorite people on Twitter were. I knew I sent him a curve ball and expected him to dance out by making a diplomatic statement like, “Everyone is my favorite” or “I don’t have one”. Instead, he noted that as the quantity of friends go up, it becomes increasingly difficult to “see” the people he loved to see.

In essence, he was stating that, though Twitter satisifed a communications need and a desire to be connected, the ability to “relate” was getting more lost.

On another episode of the Aaron Brazell Show, my friend Jessie Newburn talked about the ebb and flow of generations and how the 4-part cycle of generations demonstrated and ebb and flow of how things were done. In Generation X,  loosely disconnected from previous generations and went their own way, but that the Millennial (often incorrectly called Generation Y) generation has a tendency to regroup.

Sort of like social media. The influx of friends, the followers, the contacts, the blogs, the feeds, the networking opportunities, the parties, the conversations…. all relatively empty from a human instinct perspective. For my part, I’ve spent less time engaged in all these things and more time in one on one relationships. I haven’t read my Google Reader in over a month. I get on twitter and Friendfeed in small spurts. I don’t go to DC for as many social events as I used to.

However, my Twitter direct message box is full. My IM is going all day. My phone book is full.

It’s all about being personal?

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Controlling the Conversation

Social media is all about conversation. Some people get that, some people don’t. Regardless, conversation is where it’s at if you want to have a transparent relationship with your readers, customers and community. Some people, by nature of the fact that they know how to control the conversation, are much more adept to have the magnetism necessary to succeed in the conversation.

Now when I say controlling the conversation, let me be clear. I don’t mean telling people what to talk about and being an arrogant twit in having that conversation. I mean, be transparent and honest. People love that because it makes you approachable. On Twitter, for instance, there are people who cause me to notice them even when they say something completely insignificant. Chris Brogan is one of those. Jason Calacanis is another.

These are folks who are outside of Twitter as well, and that is good. Meeting them at conferences, reading their blogs, following their trends makes for a global reputation that attracts people to them. When they speak, people listen. A great example of this was last week when the Yankees were on the brink of elimination by the Cleveland Indians.

There are an abnormal number of Red Sox fans on Twitter, myself included. While the Sox fans caused lots of commotion and beat our chests alot, Jason taunted us one time with, “Let’s go yankees! Clap clap… Clapclapclap! Bring the Sox :-)”.

There is nothing particularly significant about this Tweet. Another Yankee fan talking shit (they all do that!). What was significant about this Tweet was the engagement J-Cal commanded. I know I sat up and gave him a quick one-liner. Others playfully threatened to boycott Mahalo. Whatever the reaction, Calacanis commanded the conversation with one line. He caused reader engagement.

Do you cause readers to engage?

On Facebook, do you ask your friends questions that taunts them to engage? Do they engage? On Flickr, do you post photos that create conversation? Do you meet people at conferences, or simply attend as many sessions as you can? It’s one thing to listen. It’s another to engage.

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