Whenever you read anything pertaining to social media, you’ll read about relationships. On Facebook you can only invite your “friends.” LinkedIn will not allow you to connect with people you do not know. Twitter gives you more freedom; you can follow anyone you want, but they may not follow you back. It’s all about building and sustaining relationships. Chris Brogan, one guru of social media and an avid blogger, posted a blog where he criticized people on Twitter for trying to “sell you” on their products before they know you. He went so far as to say that he does not follow anyone who has an auto-response Tweet–whenever anyone follows you, an auto-response thank you goes out. His main concern was not the auto-response but the added request that you click on the stranger’s website or try out their new exciting product or service. “How do you know I want your service if you don’t know me?” he asked.
Being new to Twitter myself, I was surprised by this angry post and all the comments that followed. Most people agreed with Brogan. Most said they “hate” those auto-responses. Some, like me, did not realize this was not proper “netiquette” on Twitter. Some, like me, had to go back and revise our auto-responses to remove any offensive links. All this leads me to think about the importance of relationship in social media.
Clara Shih in Facebook Era tells us that the majority of people on social media sites have very few strong contacts. In fact most people on Facebook have only 10-20 strong contacts even though they may have 200 or more friends. LinkedIn used to require that you actually know the person as a colleague – having worked with them or share a group with that person before you could invite them to connect with you. This has changed and now you can also invite “friends” not just people you worked with. What all this means is that most of us have many more weak connections than strong connections. How do we develop a relationship with our weak connections?
According to Shih it’s through active use of those weak connections and good use of the strong connections that relationships form. Let’s take a look at one reason relationships matter.
The Johari Window
Two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a model of social interaction called the Johari Window in their book On Human Interaction in the 1960’s. What this model teaches us is that people interact with one another on the basis of four quadrants:
Quadrant 1: The Open Area, contains all the things we know about ourselves that we are willing to share with others. Examples of these kinds of things might be our love of animals or our propensity toward travel or our devotion to our family. Our family and friends fit nicely among the people that we share our Open Area with. Most people interacting via social media use blogging to share about themselves. All the blogging primers tell us that blogging evolved from the concept of a web-log. In other words, it is like a diary on the web. It’s your web-journal. If you simply write about your products or services and never tell us about yourself, we stop reading your blog. The idea of Web 2.0 – which comprises the interactive Web or two-way communication – evolved because people wanted to communicate with one another. Once communication becomes two-way, relationships form.
Quadrant 2: The Blind Area, contains what others know about us, but what we don’t know about ourselves. Some people call these our blind spots. Perhaps we tend to talk about ourselves a lot; perhaps we are overly indulgent with our children. All of us have blind spots that others see but elude us. We are so close to ourselves, we cannot see our own strengths and weaknesses. A good example of uncovering the Blind Area comes from Naked Conversations. When Microsoft hired Robert Scoble they described him as someone who “lets his flaws hang on his sleeve. He’s curious like a child and it’s hard not to like and trust him.” Being curious like a child enables you to open up to your Blind Area and win the trust of others. Hearing what others say enables you to uncover your blind spots. When people slap your hand for being too authoritative on your blog or for being too flip on Facebook, pay attention; they may be uncovering something about you that you didn’t know. Social media enable us to learn what others think about us-good or bad.
Quadrant 3: The Hidden Area, things about us, our products or our services that we don’t want others to know constitute the Hidden Area. Obviously, as online communication grows and expands the likelihood for us to keep things hidden decreases. The challenge that social media presents for us is to let down our walls and allow others to see who we really are. Social media enables us to put ourselves out there for scrutiny. When we post a blog and share it with our Facebook friends, we tell them something about ourselves we might not say face-to-face. When we find a delicious little quote that we post to our followers on Twitter, we let them know a little something about us they may not know. Who are the people you share your Hidden Area stuff with? People you trust. Once you trust your friends on Facebook or your followers on Twitter, you begin creating a relationship. Someone once said, “Information is like sand. The more you try to hold onto it, the more slips through your hands.”
Quadrant 4: The Unknown Area, the Johari Window contains a quadrant where we keep things that are deep in our sub-conscious minds that neither we nor others know. These things are left undiscovered until we unleash our creativity. Luft and Ingham tell us that once we listen to others and share openly, in other words pay attention to our blind spots and release information from our Hidden Area, we open the door to the Unknown Area. Social media provides opportunities to listen to our connections and to share and talk with them. Bernoff and Li in Groundswell counsel us over and over that the challenge of social media is not which tool to use but the discovery of ways to both talk and to listen to the groundswell.
Talking and listening create a very large Open Area that helps us become authentic and transparent. Authenticity and transparency create trust. And trust, by the way, creates relationships. That’s why we strive for relationships. Probably the most successful woman entertainer of our time, Oprah, delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College in 1997. Some rate this speech as the best speech of its kind ever. Why? “Authenticity oozes out of every paragraph of this speech,” said Richard Green in an interview with USA Weekend. The power of openness works not only for Oprah in commencement speeches, but can work for you if you are willing to let down the walls and welcome the multitudes.
Joan Curtis, EdD is founder of Total Communications Coaching where she specializes in helping smart, capable professionals move ahead in their careers by becoming skilled communicators.