The Social Media Connections Arm Race: A Zero-Sum Game?

Last week I learned a lot about social media as I took a few days off for a midweek ski trip.

While I was ripping it up slope side, my email inbox filled up with social media requests: new followers on Twitter, new friend requests on Facebook and requests to be LinkedIn with me.

Thankfully, the place we were staying had no Internet, no cell phone reception, not even dial-up access. I was, for the first time in a long time, offline. My only access was on my iPhone, which worked because of the tower at the top of Sugarloaf. A couple of times while I was on the chairlift I updated my status.

When I got home I checked my emails. Turns out that I lost 15 followers on Twitter after a seemingly innocuous tweet. I rarely lose followers on Twitter so I was surprised that a single tweet lost me so many. (I use a service called Qwitter to track my un-follows.)

As I looked at who had quit my Twitter feed almost all of them were new followers who I just hadn't gotten around to following back yet. You have a year to send wedding gift thank you notes, but apparently the time to respond to a Twitter follow is significantly shorter.

Some of these disenchanted followers were following over 20,000 people, but they no longer wanted to follow me?!? I've always wondered about these people...how did they get so many followers? 

Since Twitter limits the number of people you can follow to 2,000 initially, and then has a moving cap that limits the number of people you can follow based on how many people are following you back, you get a lot of people who regularly follow someone, and then unfollow them if they haven't responded within a set number of days. In fact, there's also people who follow to get follow backs, then quickly and discreetly drop them so they don't take up the limited number of follows allowed.

I see similar behavior on Facebook and LinkedIn, where people are madly trying to add as many friends and network connections as possible. 

Now don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of building connections and I actively track the number of followers, "friends," and flyte's email subscriber base. I understand that a bigger audience can mean more business opportunities.

However, as I see new followers with 20K+ followers of their own, or people on Facebook with 2,000+ friends, I wonder what the value of these connections are. If someone's only interested in following me to add to their own numbers, what's their value to me? If they're following 25,000 people, that means that I only get 1/25,000 of their attention, and that's only the attention they give to Twitter.

There seems to be some sort of social media arms race going on, where the perception is that the person with the most followers/friends/connections wins. However, measuring your success by the number of connections you have is like measuring a business based on how many clients they have. That's no way to value a company.

A follow is only as valuable as the person behind it. One good follow can be worth hundreds or even thousands of mediocre follows. So don't sweat if your social media network is growing at a sustainable, organic level. Just continue to add value with every tweet, every status update, everything you contribute to the social media matrix.

Unless the government ends up creating a stimulus package for social media A-listers who are "too big to fail."

If you'd like to feed my own need for external approval, and help me drown my own self-doubt, feel free to follow me on Twitter.

Rich Brooks
flyte new media

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