Ah, the Internet. The great equalizer. The medium designed to reach more people in less time to expand your brand. I’ve been hooked on the Internet since it was first made available to the masses at home. I’d spend hours on end trying to find as many sites and as much information as I could. Remember those AOL days with the message boards and chats? Remember when social networks first started popping up (and no, I don’t mean Myspace and Facebook). It was the early 90’s when I really took an interest in the Internet and all it could do to help me grow my business and make a few friends along the way.

Fast forward today. There is text messaging, tweeting, status updates, tweet ups meet ups, and so on and so on. We’ve become an instant message kind of society. It’s all about shooting out quick sound bites telling people what you like, don’t like, what you’re mad at and thrilled about. We can leak breaking news, update on critical situations, find out business news or even what Grandma made in pottery class. We can make “friends” with millions of people online. That’s what Facebook and the like sell to us every day. We are on overload! But one thing is sorely missing. You see, in this ever growing, real time, microwave, too much information society. Real communication.

But what do you mean lack of real communication? You just said we can tweet, update and post what’s happening right now. And I have over 5000 friends who I communicate with every day” you might be saying to yourself. Bullshit I say. I love the fact that we can communicate with millions of people at any time, and if our branding and messaging is on point, we might even be able to get some two way dialog going. But there is no way that you are “connected” to 50,000 and realistically having healthy, productive conversations with each and every one of them every single day. I have long since defended the notion that you can have a big network and still cultivate it without looking like some spamming moron. I even achieved it at one point myself. But then the numbers grew and my time got more and more scarce, and I was not able to keep up my consistent “keep in touch” networking.

What happened? Same thing that always happens when you get a few people who claim to be “gurus” at something, package lessons, then sell people on the idea that they can teach them how to become social networking gurus. The space got over saturated, everyone’s messaging became carbon copies of one another, spammers gained control and people started losing interest in hearing from new people for fear that they were going to be sold to pitched to or solicited in some way. The recruiting gurus told companies that social media was the key to recruiting top talent but then didn’t give them the right information to do it correctly. Job seekers thought it was the in thing to blast emails and resumes to recruiters (regardless of their specialty) because they were told by an irresponsible guru that all recruiters are using social media to recruit and they better jump on the bandwagon quick. Celebrities (and internet celebrities) use it to talk about themselves, what they’re doing, where they will be appearing, who they’re hanging out with. How many do you actually see chatting it up with the masses? Not many. It’s all about “me, me, me” with them. Social media and social networking has become a way to blast self important messages and marketing spiels to the masses. Any way you slice it, the ‘social’ aspect is fast becoming extinct.

I have had more than a few prominent people (celebrities, business leaders, “internet” rock stars and prominent personalities) follow, friend or subscribe to be my “friend”. Many of them verified too. No, I won’t name names. I’m pretty sure you can go on any of my social networking profiles and check (the ones that are public anyway), plus they know who they are. I was sincerely flattered because I mistakenly thought that they were interested in what I had to say or in getting to know me. I would connect or follow them back only to get an automated message from them thanking me for following them now go check out something they wrote, created, released, etc. I would send a private note saying that I appreciated the follow but I was more interested in getting to know them and build a REAL networking relationship. NO RESPONSE. My guess is that they are only on there to build their popularity.

You see, I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I join a social network, group or whatever, I expect to be social. You know, interacting with others, having two way conversations, and eventually taking the relationship offline. But nooooooo. The massive popularity of social media tools, social networking sites and social marketing have lead to a cheapening of the experience. I cringe every time I hear someone say “social media is a free cheap way to get your message out and capture the eyes and ears of millions of potential customers”. WRONG! Those millions are not meant to be your customer. A smart business person knows that a targeted audience brings much more success. And I won’t even get into how the recruiters out there are using it the absolute WRONG way. I’m tired of being blasted with marketing messages, squeeze pages and links.

Well I’ve had enough, but rather than just bitch about it or try to convince people how to use these tools and mediums the way I want them to, I came up with a solution. Well, I wouldn’t call it a solution as much as a challenge. A few weeks ago, I came up with Operation Social Outreach. Here’s the gist: Every day (or maybe every week if your schedule is like mines) you pick 5 people from your “network” that you really don’t know. You reach out to them and invite them to a quick 5-10 minute phone conversation to get to know one another. Email is not good enough. You want to put a voice with the name. If you’re local, try taking it to the next step and meet for coffee or something. But here’s the kicker. The people you reach out to can’t be people you already know of even communicate with periodically. The goal is to get to know the people you connect with.

I’ve already started this and so have a few others and I have to tell you, people were shocked and pleasantly surprised. It was totally unexpected and very much appreciated. I’m that chick who is going to put her money where her mouth is. I have tons of followers, friends, listeners, connections and readers. But I want to cultivate relationships. I don’t care about marketing messages. I don’t care about having high numbers of followers. I don’t care about being label a social media rock star. I want to get to know the people who are taking an interest in what I have to say. Who knows, they may have ideas and points of view that I want to know about.

I really love that Fast Company has launched the Influence Project. I would love to know if I’ve been crucial in influencing people around the world. But it’s not really ‘social’ enough for me and I can only influence so much by words on a screen. I want social interation. So starting this week, I want everyone to sign up for the challenge. I’ve put together a tracker sheet you can download and use or edit as you see fit. Here are the rules:

· Go to Operation Social Outreach and sign up for an account to post.

· Go in and introduce yourself and tell us about your objective for participating.

· And then each week, come back and report on your progress.

That’s it. You choose whether you want to reach out to 5 new people each day or 5 each week. If the people you reach out to don’t want to communicate with you, it’s time to delete them and move on. They clearly serve no purpose. So why give them the numbers by staying connected? And don’t go looking people up and then connecting with the purposes of reaching your 5. The idea is to get to know the people you are connected to first, then you’ll have good social networking habits in place going forward as you get to connect with more people. This project will be ongoing until December 31, 2010. At that time, we will see just how connected people have become. We will have a special prize for the top 5 connectors (with verification of course). Details to come soon.

I hope that through this project everyone who participates has a chance to really get to know and grow their networks. Are you ready for the challenge? Happy Social Networking everyone!

Til next time,

Adrienne Graham

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