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.
This is great, and I’m curious how you got around the awkwardness of asking to meet without a specific reason — it’s definitely something that’s given me pause.
Charlie Gilkey says
I’m not sure I really got around that awkwardness as opposed to just working through the awkwardness. I still feel it to this day. It’s much like what I said in Fire Through the Tears – it’s not so much that the fear (of rejection or embarrassment) goes away, but rather that I don’t let the feeling stop me from doing it anyway.
Thank you for sharing this idea, Charlie! It’s always such a relief to hear someone who’s successful share that even now they still feel the same feelings newbies [mistakenly] believe are solely theirs. I’m going to keep pushing through my anxiety and embarrassment to try and connect with people, both online and off. I love being a part of the Productive Flourishing Community now!
Charlie Gilkey says
I think you’ll like the Creative Giant Show – our podcast that will be rolling out in a couple of weeks – because a lot of our conversations highlight that the feelings newbies or aspirationals feel are no different than what people further down the path feel; it’s just that those down the path respond differently. You’re totally not alone.
With people spread geographically all over the place, what online yet intimate ways have you found to work best for connecting? Skype, phone, or something else I don’t know about yet? I really love this concept, thanks so much for bringing it up!
Charlie Gilkey says
When it comes to building intimacy, video trumps audio and audio trumps text. So Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, etc. would be the way to go.
That said, sometimes phone is the best because people can do some task layering like calling you on the way home from work or while they’re out walking.
Thanks, Charlie. That makes sense. I guess what I’m asking, though, is how you approached people. Did you just say, “I’d love to get to know you better — want to skype?” (Or get coffee, or whatnot). Thanks!
Charlie Gilkey says
Seems I answered the wrong meaning of the question. 🙂
It’s normally something like …
I was just checking out your website and love, love, love that your work connects so many (what seem to be) disparate dots. It’s refreshing to see a kindred spirit that sees how exploring those connections lead to greater understanding.
My work also explores how productivity, flourishing, creativity, and business intersect. I think we have a lot of overlap and would love to learn more about what you’re up to.
Would you like to have a real-time conversation about this? It’s so much easier than email.
If you don’t want to or can’t because you’ve got a lot going on, no worries.”
(Or something along those lines.)
The last line gives them an out that’s not awkward. The middle paragraph connects things they care about with things you care about – never forget that people love geeking out with other kindred geeks. There are too few of us weirdos going around.
Caveat: I started this after I had a bit of work published. What also happened is that one person who said yes would also say “you need to talk to Jimmy” and either introduce me and Jimmy or I’d say “Betsey mentioned that I should talk to you and I now see why.” It’s the first 10 emails that are the hardest, and then it snowballs.
I have a follow-up to this post coming before too long. Actually, I suppose I have 3 followups, including this one, another one I had already written, and yet another that I answered via email.
Hope this helps!
Thank you for this post! I’ve definitely felt that to a large extent social media is a megaphone method and not an overly effective one. I really like the idea of building relationships and communicating with people on a more intimate level!
This is a really interesting concept Charlie. I am getting a few ideas about how this can work in my business. Thanks for sharing!