I learned something powerful about my own social network last year, as I slogged my way through a protracted job search. The weaker my bond with someone is, the more comfortable I am asking he or she to do something utterly ridiculous on my behalf.
My reasoning went like this:
- If I ask one of my best friends to set me up with an interview and he or she balks, I’ve run the risk of hurting that relationship — or at least making things awkward between us.
- If I ask this guy I met at that party that one time to set me up with an interview, I won’t be hurt if he says no. After all, why would he help me out? We barely know each other. If he does, that’s a great way to deepen the friendship, but I’m not losing anything special if he says no.
The reward is the same in both cases. Risk is the only variable. I was willing to risk the relationships that were cheap first. In a few cases, that gamble paid off, and I actually established a stronger bond with a previously weak tie. And here’s the corollary: I didn’t even need to ask people who really cared about me for help. They looked for ways to help me without my having to say a thing.
What’s that have to do with social media? Think about Dunbar’s Number — the famed 150-person maximum on the number of strong ties our minds can maintain. There’s a debate raging now about whether that cognitive limit puts a cap on social-marketing efforts. But I think the real question is, “Does your social strategy make the distinction between strong and weak ties?”
I think every organization looking to put its social presence to work needs to realize that you have to cater to strong and weak fans. You’ll have a few passionate fans that you can rely on to help you — as long as you do your part to keep up the relationship. These are the people who laud you on Twitter for no reason or post your content on Facebook without being asked. They’re your brand advocates. Take care of those people.
But you’ll also have a sea of weak ties that you can put to work if you’re willing to motivate them. They won’t be there for you 100% of the time — or even 1% of the time — but you’ll still find folks who are willing to go to bat for you. Even if most people you ask for help ignore you, it doesn’t cost you a thing to put yourself out there. When someone does respond to your request, make sure you follow up and work to strengthen that tie. Remember that you never know where your next strong tie will come from.
How are you making the distinction between strong and weak relations in your social campaign? Any people feel like they’ve got more than 150 close ties?
Image credit, fpm, via iStock