"I'm in a board meeting having a miscarriage..." That's the opening statement of the tweet that took only a few hours to move from the so-called "private" sphere of Ms. Penelope Trunk's 20,000 followers on Twitter to CNN News. In addition to the shocking content, one reason the infamous miscarriage tweet carried so much gravitas is that Twitter is still a relatively new concept when it comes to influence in both professional and personal relationships. It has gained a wider audience and has more of an impact than people ever imagined it would. As we wade into the vast sea of social networking, people like Ms. Trunk do so with giant splashes, while others are still on the water's edge considering whether or not to stick in their toes. I am reminded of the paradoxical warning: Don't go near the water until you've learned to swim.
The good news is that whether we are still standing on the shore or out surfing the waves, we are all in the same sea. These are uncharted waters for everyone, and it is natural to wonder how to stay afloat in the rising tide of social networks. With so many people out there bobbing around, there has to be some kind of lifeguard--a system to make sense of it all.
Five categories of friends and followers are described below. You are encouraged to make a list for each category and then cull through the aggregate of your friends and followers and place each contact on the list that best suits the purpose or role they play in your life. Some people will naturally fall into more than one list while others while remain in no-man's land and that is okay, as long as you are conscious about the people who matter.
As you accept new friends or look for new followers, you can do so with an eye toward what list you intend to place them on, and by making these decisions, you will focus your online communications. These categories and the suggestions for how to interact with them can be used on any social network.
These are the people in your circle of friends and followers who are closely aligned with your work or personal life, but they are not your intimate connections. Pacesetters are the people whom you travel with in cyberspace that keep pace with your life, and you likewise do so with theirs. They are the people with whom you have ongoing contact about your interests. These are your collaborators, those you enjoy having in your life but with whom you might not be particularly close. In any case, they are your steady, engaged personal and professional companions.
This will be your largest circle of friends and followers, and you should plan on spending the most time engaging in the broadest form of communication with them.
For example, Mark is someone who supports my mission of developing the Strengths Movement in schools. He is in consistent communication with me about my interests and goals. He is both a professional and a personal Pacesetter for me. It is important for me to acknowledge his posts and comments to my page. I thank him when appropriate with personal messages. In exchange, I take interest in what he is doing and respond to his posts with a "thumbs up" or a comment to show him I am following him and am attuned to what he is doing, thinking, and writing. Too many people never acknowledge others; they are overly focused on themselves and their own updates. You build relationship capital when you comment, vote that you like or dislike updates, share information, and send personal messages.
A Trailblazer is someone who gets there ahead of the pack. The Trailblazers in your social networks are the people who consistently inspire you with new ideas or new information. Likewise, when you act as a Trailblazer, you inspire and provide your chosen friends and followers new ideas and information you believe will be valuable to them.
For example, Matthew follows Guy Kawasaki on Twitter. Guy is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. He also serves as a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Guy is a prolific user of Twitter, regularly posting interesting and often unique bits of information that push the envelope on traditional thinking about a variety of trendy topics for entrepreneurs.
Matt has 125 Twitter followers and 124 Facebook friends. When Matt sees a particularly striking post from Guy, he not only reposts the tweet, but he also direct messages the Twitter followers he has identified as Trailblazers and sends the link to both his Twitter list that he has created for this category and his Trailblazer folder on Facebook. This takes more time than simply posting it to his Twitter and Facebook updates, but in the short time this takes, Matt has made a conscious connection with his Trailblazer friends and followers, and they appreciate the attention. '
Anyone who has become familiar with the uses of Facebook, Twitter, and other similar social networks has realized the potential of these programs for conducting various forms of surveillance or to satisfy normal human intrigue that has not been available to us in the past. "I think a more appropriate name for Facebook is Spybook," a friend recently commented to me.
Another acquaintance explained, "I was getting ready to travel 1,000 miles to Minneapolis to my high school reunion when I realized that I was able to satisfy all my curiosities about how my classmates looked, whether or not they were married, what their children looked like, and what they were doing by simply using the Facebook reunion page. Why spend the money for an expensive plane ticket when I can find out all I need to know by looking at people's profiles?"
Both of these friends were right. You can discover all kinds of information about someone by following them on Twitter or befriending them on Facebook. These people whom you elect to follow and befriend in order to keep tabs on them or satisfy your curiosity about what became of them in the years between being their classmates, working with them, or sharing a long since ended romance are called your Trackers. You allowed them into your circle to discover information about them, and once you have it, you don't have need consistent ongoing exchanges--especially if you were just cyber-spying on an old flame that is now clearly burning for someone else.
There are a number of reasons why identifying these people within your circle of friends and followers is important. While you invited them in to satisfy a curiosity, you should be aware that their continued presence might hold either positive or negative results for you. Trackers are the most likely people in your circle to become stalkers.
You don't have to only be in reaction mode when it comes to Trackers. You can track people in an attempt to understand the competition, gather research, or reunite with someone you miss having in your life. The bottom line is that it helps to know who the Trackers in your circle are and to weed out people who may not share your values. Cultivating mindfulness in how you follow others (and how you let them follow you) is always a good idea.
Bruce consistently posts funny photos, excellent videos, and makes keen observations about life. Quite often, he scours the Internet for oddball photos and then posts them to his Facebook page in an intriguing album--photos like an old man sitting in hot tub on a deck drinking a beer while wearing an orange hunting cap and pointing his shotgun into his yard at a deer--or a photo of chalk drawn hopscotch board on a driveway, and the final space where one hops is an open manhole. I make an effort to visit Bruce's Facebook page at least once a week just for the little boost of energy he gives me. He never lets me down--his page is consistently full of Booster material. I have about ten Boosters in my circle of friends and followers. These are the people whose additions to Facebook and Twitter inspire, motivate, and humor me or challenge my thinking. It's important to identify these people for two reasons. First, in the hustle and bustle of your business life online--whether its blogging, sending emails, or surfing the Internet--it may be easy to forget these people exist. Time-out for humor or inspiration can be a renewing.
Second, by placing them in a separate category and designating a certain amount of time for checking in on them, you spare yourself the probability of losing yourself (and a great deal of time) on their page. This is important because we have all gone online to accomplish one goal and found ourselves distracted by interesting and humorous posts that we feel compelled to pay attention to... and before we know it, we have forgotten what we originally logged in to do (or run out of time to do it). Online, it is easy to for us all to develop Attention Deficit Disorder. When you categorize your Boosters and set time aside time for them, you avoid getting sucked in and unintentionally wasting too much time.
Champions are the professional and personal contacts with whom you have the closest relationships. They are the people you can reach out to in need of support--the ones with whom you share your intimate life details, and those you can count on no matter what. They are offline, in real life (IRL) friends, family, and close business associates. In general, most of the communication you do with them will be via list message, personal behind-the-profile-page messages, texts, and emails.
The other day, I noticed this exchange in my newsfeed:
My mom in hospital at St. Joseph's in Ann Arbor as of last night. Doctors not sure what's wrong with her, possible mild heart attack. This is mainly for the extended family that stays connected with each other on Facebook. I'll keep updating as I find out.
Maryanne made this post for her Champions and alerted her entire circle of friends that the post was personal. By doing this, she was clear about her purpose for the update. Within hours, her Champions responded with well wishes and prayers. She responded with this comment:
This is an amazing tool for a support community that you don't' even realize exists. Thanks so much.
Maryanne figured out that strong support communities of all types do exist online, but it is our job to build and nurture them. If Maryann had a list of her Champions, she could send her personal message to the list without having to bundle it. Champions are the people to whom you should send regular (daily or weekly) personal messages. These relationships will take the most time and provide you with the biggest rewards. Contact them often, show interest in their lives, and cultivate their communications.
It may seem like a lot of work to go through your contacts and categorize them like this, but in the end, the time it takes will pale in comparison to the amount of time you would waste sending random (and possibly detrimental) messages out to a group of people, not knowing who is reading your updates, and without understanding why you are updating in the first place. Consistency is the glue that holds a social network together. Each time you log onto your favorite social networking site, you can do so with purpose or haphazardly. You can either initiate communication or simply react to others. The strongest relationships online will be a combination of purposeful initiations and reactions. You will win the day on social networks when you put your Relationship Strengths to work rather than simply reacting. By creating these five lists in your Facebook and Twitter accounts, you will begin to think about people in whole new ways. This exercise will direct you in seeking new friends and followers, as well as help you determine who to let in your circle and why you are letting them in.
Follow Jenifer Fox on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeniferfox