Respected author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell recently stated to a Vancouver audience that social media is not a platform for social change, nor is it a revolutionary means of generating lasting networks. This is because, according to him, social networks are easy to build and therefore easy to dismantle, too. To punctuate his statements, Gladwell asserted that just because one has 3000 friends on Facebook, it doesn't mean that one has 3000 friends.
This last point is curious. I mean, of course 3000 Facebook friends don't equal 3000 actual friends. Maybe it was just meant to be a punchline for his speech. But, I think that the act of making a statement like that as some kind of revelation to an audience points to a flaw in thinking about what social networks and social media as a tool actually are.
The fact is social networks are not easy to build, if they're done right. I think that there are ways and means to build up numbers, without too much effort. Auto-follows, auto DMS, follow-churning, impersonally tweeting RSS feeds, and plain old following/friending everyone in sight just for the sake of it, are all (unfortunately) common practices. But, that's where Gladwell and I agree; numbers do not equal connections. It takes time to foster connections. It takes honesty. It takes work.
Here's another place where Gladwell and I agree; solid, hard-won trust is where it's at. But, his dismissal of social media to me on this score is extremely perplexing. Because it is solid, hard-won connections that the savvy social media enthusiast, marketer, proponent, whatever, is after, and what so many actually achieve. Just as traditional networking is a long-view strategy, so is social media networking and networks.
The means of making connections,whether via Twitter or by Rolodex , is entirely secondary if the intent isn't right. The communication abilities, intentions, goals are still down to those people who hold them. It's still down to one person talking to another, expecting some kind of interaction on equal ground. Without that, it doesn't matter which means that person chooses to attempt to build up a network. It will fail, whether you're a President, or a mommy blogger.
To the person who's in it for the long-term, looking to create dialogue as opposed to bolstering an ego, or broadcasting a controlled, non-interactive and impersonal message, then this is the key to a robust network. I believe that's the kind of network that will have the deep roots that Gladwell is talking about. And when it is coming from a place of honesty and authenticity, and from someone who intentionally offers useful content and cooperation, any hint of anonymity is banished.
And that's when "friends" can become friends - or at least allies working toward the common good in business, politics, quality of life, and all-around success however that is determined by the people involved.
Read more about Malcolm Gladwell's 'Devil's Advocate' position on social media on Kirk LePointe's mediamanager.com. LePointe of course is a local voice in Vancouver, and on a national scale too when it comes to the relationships between traditional and emerging media.
For more information right from the source, visit Malcolm Gladwell's blog.
Rob is based in Vancouver, and blogs an awful lot. You can follow Rob at @BuildDirect, and read the BuildDirect blog, and the BuildDirect Green Blog