751 LinkedIn connections.
1,443 Twitter followers.
410 Facebook friends.
Those are my stats as of this morning. Trust me, I know there are countless people whose numbers make mine sound limp. And trust me again, I know the numbers don’t mean much for anybody if the connections aren’t real.
Collecting followers, fans and friends is an ultimately fruitless hobby unless something substantive happens after the point of “accept” or “approve”—or unless something substantive had already happened before the request was made. Even as my numbers organically grow in my social networks, the most valuable online relationships are the extensions of real-life, three-dimensional, old-fashioned human contact.
As social media has taken hold in the business world, there’ve been those voices touting its use as a panacea for small business sales and marketing. Of course, those voices typically follow their definitive proclamations with “act now” offers for webcasts, seminars or the like. Fact is, social media is an amazing tool, but it’s not fairy dust. Just like everything else, it takes strategy, hard work, skill and savvy to be effective. There’s no secret formula for this stuff. No matter how much we log on and rack up online connections, if we’re not making one-to-one connections with other people in substantive ways, it’s all for naught.
No matter all the social media, it still matters how quickly—and kindly and effectively—you respond to customer requests and concerns. It still matters that you are in direct touch with what’s going on with your clients, hearing straight from them and nurturing the relationships established long before anybody had a LinkedIn or Twitter account.
Here’s an example… I’m a Comcast customer for wireless Internet service, and as a work-from-home professional, I rely on that connection for just about everything I do. When a felled tree took down our line and thusly our service, I scheduled the repair with Comcast, and waited patiently during the lovely three hour block of time in which they’d promised to arrive. As the minutes ticked down, I grew wearier and tweeted my frustration.
In no time, I had direct messages from a couple of Comcast’s Twitter watchers, stating they could help, etc. Yet still I waited for the service technician to come reestablish the line. When the fellow finally arrived—well out of the prescribed time window—he explained in very human terms that “there’s only one of him” and that one of him had a very full day. In spite of the immediate response of the Twitter brigade, it was only the feet on the street that mattered.
And frankly, I much more appreciated the realness of the on site technician, than the false hope of a couple Tweets from unseen people I’ll never meet. That technician has since been out to the house to remedy another issue, and we have had positive interaction that represents Comcast well.
My point? (and I do have one…)
Yes, social media is real. Undeniably real. It has an ever-evolving, ever-growing role in the business world, and business people are well-advised to embrace it and determine the best ways to incorporate it into their overall strategies. However, it’s essential to maintain interpersonal contact—great service and solutions, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, personal correspondence—to forge the kind of relationships that will sustain for the long term, through the ups and downs, over time.
I just checked my email; I’ve got three new LinkedIn connection requests: #752, #753, #754. But that won’t mean much if I never relate one on one.