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Feature   May 1, 2013   by Andrew Ross

Socially Speaking

I know that this is the age of social media, where friends are friends at the click of a button and stop being friends just as fast. It is also the age where many organizations are continually trying to get you to be their friend. Your bank wants to be your friend. The store you buy your groceries at wants to be your friend. Even the magazine you’re reading wants to be your friend. Social-media speaking, that is. (No need to call before you drop by, please feel welcome.)
The trouble is that it doesn’t stop there. Not only does the store you shop at want to be your friend, but if you happen to have posted that you like specialty chocolates, so does every store that sells specialty chocolates, or anything that might go with specialty chocolates, or an alternative to specialty chocolates if you’re looking to lose a few pounds, or music about chocolate, or, well, you get the idea.
I am on Facebook because I have friends on Facebook – real friends who can come to my house and don’t have to call first – but because somewhere in the depths of my profile I have mentioned “music” and “guitar” I get all kinds of suggested posts that just clutter up my news feed and make Facebook less useful.
I am sure there are as many reasons for people being on Facebook as there are people on Facebook – 500 quadrillion and growing at last count – but with the exception of teenage girls, people’s engagement with that medium is hit-and-run.
That is to say that most people on Facebook look every now and then, only post something occasionally, and usually just scan through it as a way to kill time while they’re waiting to do something useful with their time – like have a life, or possibly do their jobs.
This is not to say I don’t believe social media has its place. It can be incredibly useful when I’m trying to find someone and don’t have a phone number. Recently I was able to track down someone on LinkedIn precisely five minutes faster than by asking a mutual acquaintance in an email if they had their phone number.
And it’s huge for my community association, which would not be able to communicate with its more than 200 members with any regularity, given our current communications budget of zero plus whatever photocopying my employer will allow. (Still, when we want residents to show up for something we distribute flyers, because that works best.) Twitter, too, is a great way to get short bits of news out.
But when I see every organization that I have ever had a passing acquaintance with trying to be my friend, and treat its customer base like it’s a community, it’s a bit like being at a party with strangers and having Mr. Hadabit Toomuch put his arm around me like we’re best buddies. It’s just a bit too familiar and makes me less likely to actually build a relationship.
Maybe attitudes will change, but for now I think it’s incredibly important for anyone looking at social media to be very careful about their strategy.
If you have an ongoing relationship (business or personal), if you are part of a community of some description, then maybe your intrusion into their personal world will be welcomed.
But if it’s a hit and run, buy-a-part-then-move-on relationship, I’m not sure that qualifies and could leave you open to a big downside. If you’re not prepared to man your social media outlets to both generate meaningful content and respond to the most heinous of accusations, then you had best reconsider. Bad things can happen fast in the social media world.
In short, if you think operating in the social media space from a commercial perspective is fun and free, think again.
And for now, if you really want to get my attention, don’t send me a Facebook message. Call me. You have the number. It’s printed in the magazine.
— Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

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