Connecting people, not collecting people

iphone-4-facebook1I recently lost my mobile phone for a week or so, and not having the foresight to back up my numbers elsewhere, turned to Facebook when I needed to make contact with people, with varying degrees of success.  A lot of people it transpired are on Facebook without nearly being much as committed to it as their phone; they rarely check it and so you can’t expect much of a response for several days.    Either that or they were ignoring me…

One slightly annoying paradox was that the people I didn’t much need to make contact with were constantly making themselves ‘available’ in that I could see their latest bout of activity in my news feed, while I had to seek out the ones I wanted to actually get in touch with.

All this highlighted the discrepancy between the ‘real-life’ connections and the rest, which, lets’ face it, are making up the numbers.   They know they are and you know they know they are, but it’s okay ‘cos you’re serving exactly the same purpose for them.   But the sheer volume of communication from these people meant I quickly turned to the frustrated Facebook friend cull, which understandably is becoming more common as people seek to filter their Facebook connections down to the more useful ones.

Thinking about where brands are on the Facebook friend cycle, I imagine most are still very much in the ‘collect’ stage.   Of course there is a tacit understanding that in order for a brand’s Facebook page to have any clout, they need to go on a huge recruitment phase, bribing and coercing as many people as possible into becoming a ‘fan’.   For the ones that garner such support naturally due to their status in popular culture this stage is easy, but for most other brands this can be a long old slog.

I wonder if all this fan building arms race is kind of missing the point though.

If humans are now refining and culling their social networks to allow more meaningful “real life” connections, then why shouldn’t brands in follow suit with smaller, more relevant pieces of communication, rather the scatter-gun approach of sending out lots of messages to their fans and hoping a few land.

Just as real people don’t build quality relationships by adding and adding millions of people to their networks, there is a fine line between what makes for a ‘community’ and what is just a database of unconnected names, regularly stoked via the news feed.

This requires a change of mentality.  Connecting  people with people rather than people with brands.  Auditing the thousands of connections who make up your fans and working out what makes them tick, then fulfilling that need.

It’s been said many times before, but it’s what happens between those connections that holds the real power of any network.

One of the best examples last year was at the start of cold and flu season.  Heinz ran a lovely piece of activity where people could send a personalised get well message on a can of Tomato Soup to someone feeling under the weather, activated via the Facebook app.   This is the kind of empowering behaviour that unlocks the potential of all those thousands of enigmatic ‘likes’ into something a bit more relevant and worthwhile.

All it took was the right context and the tools to help make the connection – not limited to within the ‘community’ of fans but to the people they cared about outside of it.

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