My last job took me on the road frequently to trade shows, user conferences and other industry events. A while back, I decided to sift through the towering stack of business cards I had accumulated and get rid of those for which I had no use. That ended up being more than three-quarters of them.
Even when still covering a beat that involved many of the folks who'd handed me a card, I enjoyed regular contact with only a tiny percentage of them. Why? There were several reasons, though two stand out. First, I'm lazy. I was better at establishing easy relationships over an open bar than I was in later maintaining them.
Second, most of those people were superfluous. I further cultivated relationships with those who ended up being valuable sources. All those others, not so much. I may have missed out on the story of the decade by ignoring so many folks, but I doubt it.
I've decided these are more or less the same issues I have with Facebook, LinkedIn, et al. And I don't think I'm alone.
I had dinner with a friend the other night, a busy and successful freelance writer who specializes in coverage of the restaurant and food industry. We were talking about networking sites, and he admitted, "I've got 100 people in my LinkedIn network, but I don't know what to do with them." Another editor here tried using LinkedIn to round up sources for a story she was working on. Most of the suggestions turned out to be dead ends. She got some interesting leads, though few related to the story in question.
So I related to a piece on Harvard Business Online called Why I'm Dropping You as a Facebook Friend. The author, Paul Michelman, enumerates some of the ways he's tried to use his Facebook account, including promoting his features on his Web site, recruiting bloggers, driving traffic to his columns, and getting folks to connect to his Twitter account. None of them panned out.
Sure, a few other prospective business associates have popped out of the woodwork along the way, but they've offered the most flimsy of platforms for a relationship -- she once taught a business course in Grenada or some other dubious spot, he's "in the media," they are -- God help me -- independent management consultants. What does a connection with them offer me? Nothing. What do I offer them? The same. We're each just another number, another utterly useless "connection."
Michelman's solution? He's culling business-related contacts from Facebook and reserving it for personal purposes. One advantage: This will create a buffer between his business and personal lives -- something he doesn't see as a negative, though some Type A folks likely would.
I guess this makes me sound like a flip-flopper. After all, I just wrote yesterday that I thought Facebook had possible business potential. Commenting on Facebook's new Great Apps program, I wrote:
If there's going to be a category called Great Apps, why not one called Apps for Business?
I base this more on Facebook's broad user base, popularity with both business and non-business types and a vague idea that "it makes too much sense not to work" rather than any demonstrable value currently on the site, however. I am generally underwhelmed by articles like this one, from The Motley Fool, on Facebook's possible business uses. The three items on the list all sound pretty lame.
- Social networking is a proving ground for cloud computing? Please. I think plenty of others, including EDS, Amazon and Google, beat Facebook to the punch.
- Social networks can lead to high levels of customer engagement. True enough, until customers tire of it and turn to the "next big thing," a not-uncommon occurrence in social media.
- Social networks foster network effects. Um, sure. How many of these effects prove useful? See above.