Imagine that you were to walk into the middle of a busy mall and start randomly shouting about things you’re interested in, what you’re thinking about, and how your day has gone. What do you think the reaction would be?
If mall security allowed you to stay, you might get a few people to interact with you in a positive way – for the sake of conversation, let’s say that 1 out of 200 people do so. Most people would probably go about their business or try to avoid you. People in the U.S. don’t tend to interact with strangers all that much (Burning Man, Oregon Country Faire, etc. being exceptions to the rule).
Blogs and Social Media Are Your Virtual Megaphones
In the context of social media – including blogging – this broadcast form of communication is often just what we do. It works because rather than shouting to 60 or 100 people passing by in a mall, we’re broadcasting to thousands of people who can’t see us. On a scale of thousands, 1 out of 200 people turns into 10 out of 2,000 people, or 100 out of 20,000.
Those 10 or 100 people who interact with us online lull us into thinking that the megaphone method is more effective than other methods of relationship building. It’s not. We just don’t see the 1,990 or 19,900 people trying to avoid us or ignoring us as we would if we were in the mall.
The Difference Between Fame and Intimacy
We often forget that the strength of a network of relationships is a combination of both the quantity of relationships and the quality of those relationships.
Think about it this way: would you rather have 1,000 “I recognize your name” (weak) relationships or 100 “we’ve established a rapport and look forward to talking to each other again” (stronger) relationships? The two choices are really the difference between fame and intimacy; it’s not that one is better than the other, but people confuse the two.
It turns out that stronger relationships lead to more strong relationships simply because people in strong relationships are more likely to share resources. One of our most precious resources is the trust we’ve built with our friends, colleagues, and, in an online setting, tribes.
The Virtual Handshake Method
When it comes to building relationships, the handshake method – introducing yourself to one person in whom you’re genuinely interested – trumps the megaphone method in both the short and the long run. It happens to be a little more awkward in the online space, but I think the awkwardness stems from recognizing that when someone approaches us, we are being individually addressed as opposed to being just another person in the virtual mall.
Back in 2008 and 2009, I challenged myself to schedule one meeting a week with one new person I’d met or seen online. Some people might not find that to be much of a challenge, but the trick was that to do it, I had to let go of the idea that to propose a meeting I needed a specific reason besides just being interested in that person.
This was well before I went on a deep dive into network and chaos theories, so I had no idea what was to come. But what I knew then was that, as much as I loved the breeziness of Twitter, it was lacking the type of intimacy that I wanted and needed.
I did my one-meeting-a-week challenge and met some of the people who are my closest friends to this day; for others, we haven’t spoken in years but we still retain a bond. That was also the time that I became better known for my body of work here at Productive Flourishing. While I can’t quantify it, I know for a fact that had I not done a year’s worth of connecting offline with people I met online, I would not be where I am today.
The irony here is that I didn’t do the challenge to increase the size of my network; I did it because I wanted to have more intimate relationships with the people I was interested in. It turns out that I got two birds with one stone.
Rather than focusing on the megaphone method, which favors the quantity of interactions, I invite you to focus on the quality of the relationships you’re wanting to build. (Click to tweet – thanks!)
So, I’d like to extend the same challenge to you: every week, ask one person you’re interested in if they’d like to meet with you for coffee/tea/drinks or in a virtual meeting space so you can learn more about them.
Focus on the ones, and the many will come.