You’ve probably received LinkedIn connection requests from people you don’t know? You’ve probably accepted them, because someone you know knows them, despite that niggly feeling of discomfort in your belly.
In marketing, they say that connecting or engaging with clients and customers on social media sits at the periphery of the relationship circle. It’s a loose, weak connection. And yet we spend a great deal of time in these online social circles debating with, sharing with, and developing ‘friendships’ with people we don’t necessarily know. And sometimes those online connections become something deeper.
We also live in an incredibly busy, noisy, chatty world, with a lot of things vying for our attention both physically and virtually. As Robin Dunbar explains in this New Yorker article, we have a fairly fixed amount of social capital and cognitive resources at our fingertips every day. So the more people we need (or choose) to interact with daily, the more we have to dilute our resources, which means that everyone ends up getting less of our time and energy, and we end up being spread thin.
Even though we can easily put a name to the faces of up to 1500 people, Robin Dunbar’s numbers indicate that we fare best with between 100 and 200 acquaintances (150 is the middle ground and has become known as Dunbar’s Rule ). His numbers suggest that we can maintain good relationships with up to 50 close friends, up to 15 true intimates and a core support group of 5.
Whilst the numbers may be fixed, the people who make up those numbers can be fluid. His research has also indicated that these numbers apply both online and off. So although you may have over 500 connections on your LinkedIn, and thousands of Twitter followers, consider just how many of them you actually communicate or interact with regularly?
Our online interactions very often “lack a synchronicity of shared experience”. In other words, we don’t experience a moment that is shared on social media, as deeply as we would if we were actually right there with that person in their real world.
When building a business where you happen to be a central part of the brand, it involves creating a foundation of trust, building deep relationships and strong connections with people over time. So for me it isn’t about the amount of people I can connect with. Instead, it’s about the depth of the connections I can make with a smaller, closer group of people. People I want to get to know better, and who will want to get to know me too.
I’ve recently found myself inundated with LinkedIn requests. They’re from people I don’t know, but who know people I know. In these instances, the common thread between us seems to be people who I don’t know very well yet, because they in themselves are fairly new connections.
The people I connect with are mostly people whom I’ve first met in my physical world. So there has been a synchronicity of shared experience before even taking our relationship online.
Occasionally my LinkedIn connections are people I’ve been recommended to connect with. In which case, there’s some formalities that are followed … an online introduction of sorts from the person who recommended us to each other.
Or if there’s someone I really want to connect with and we don’t have a mutual business friend to facilitate our meeting, then I send a little message explaining the context of why I want to connect. They can then find out a little bit more about me before deciding if they want to add me to their fold. Why bother? Because that’s good business and that’s how you build deeper relationships. One considered message at a time.
What matters is why I should know you, and you should know me? If I have limited time and energy, then I need to put it to very good use developing relationships with people who I know will benefit from knowing me in some way.
So why on earth, random stranger, would I accept your connection request, if you can’t take the time and energy to wangle an introduction, or explain the reason why you want to be my ‘friend’?
If you click ‘connect’ on LinkedIn without suitable reason, please don’t expect a response.
I’d rather invest my cognitive and social wealth in fewer, more relevant relationships than building an empire of numbers, because we are more than just a number.