By Dennis McDonald in Alexandria, Virginia
Years ago when I first joined Linkedin I started receiving connection requests from people I’d never met before. Some were recruiters, some were fellow IT management consultants, and some were people I would probably never meet in a million years.
I posted questions about this on various forums and received the sage (I thought) advice, “Go ahead. By accepting connection requests from people you don’t know, you extend the reach of your network. You’ll be able to meet and communicate with a lot more people that way.”
I accepted that advice and started accepting Linkedin connection requests from everyone — even the people with thousands of connections who seemed to do nothing but networking for a living.
I soon found out that such links, while expanding my Linkedin “reach,” didn’t really help me when it came to making serious connections one or two links away. Inevitably such communications languished. I ended up doing more research outside Linkedin for email addresses. Several times I even researched the question “Does X really know Y,” since I didn’t want to commit an important professional communication to a weakly formed link.
These days my use of Linkedin is much more targeted. It’s one of many different networking tools I use and, interestingly enough, I now view Linkedin as more important than ever since it has maintained its focus on business and professional relationships.
I bring up this experience since I see something similar happening with Twitter. DJ Francis started to get at this in his recent blog post Why I’m Qwitting You On Twitter where he states in his explanation why he is “unfollowing” people on the microblogging service Twitter,
By keeping my interactions meaningful, I can create more friendships and that will probably result in more tweets for the community at large. Which means I can provide more relevant content for you (which is the goal for me anyway).
I know there are technologies that can help me sort and organize tweets, but I’ve still only got one pair of eyeballs. I’m not interested in Tweetdeck or anything like that - maybe I’m stuck in my ways. But I do know you deserve someone who can give you the attention you deserve. And it ain’t me, babe.
And that’s why, in order to stay sane, I’ve gotta qwit you.
Francis seems to have found the same thing about Twitter that I found out about Linkedin. You can use it as the basis for building an ever expanding network — that you can then use for a variety of purposes — or you can use it as the basis for building or maintaining a group of relationships.
Some people who use Twitter as a way to build a large network have learned how to use their network as a distribution system for professional publishing. Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble are prime examples. They have refined the art of managing large networks of people and regularly provide information that many thousands of people find useful. Their networks are, in some ways, focused publishing platforms.
Where this gets sticky, as we found recently when social media guru Chris Brogan published a blog post about a sponsored department store shopping spree, is that advertisers realize the value of what I call the “trusted celebrity.” Advertisers are willing to pay for these trusted celebrities to broadcast their message to these existing networks. Old time radio and TV celebrities such as the late Arthur Godfrey would fit right in to the idea of making money this way.
If you’re a professional starting out to build and interact with online networks based on professional relationships and interests, I recommend you consider what you hope to do with the networks you build. Are you building professional relationships, or are you building a publishing platform?
This is not really an “either/or” question since tools such as blogs — and Twitter — can support both goals. But I think the question is worth considering.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D., a management consultant whose email address is email@example.com.