Can You Put a Value on Virtual Relationships?
More and more relationships are being developed online first. It's true for professional networking, as it is for dating. People are connecting with “the right” people online before they connect offline these days. The reason for this change is the evolution of first impressions, the amount of background information available to us with a click of the mouse, and the use of the web as a people filtering device. People have less time than they did a decade ago, and are much lazier, as well as bombarded with noise, from advertising, to social feeds. We don't want to waste our own time, and we do want to meet people who have mutual interests. That's why there are Ning networks, forums, Facebook fan pages (and groups), LinkedIn groups, and other special interest communities.
Social networks are starting to monetize (Facebook is now valued at $35 billion) because connectivity is the new currency, as well as our “life support system” when it comes to our careers.
How much are your online relationships worth?
Some of you might be saying “priceless” or “not so much,” but research proves that even one active email contact is worth $948 (IBM/MIT, April 2009). In the online world, email contacts are still worth more than any other types of contacts, such as Twitter followers, Facebook friends & fans, LinkedIn contacts, Google Buzz contacts, and blog subscribers. All contacts do have some value, whether they generate revenue for your business, support your job search, or link you to people that can support you in various other ways.
Online relationships: From strongest to weakest
- Email contacts: By far the strongest types of contacts on the web and the most receptive to product/service promotions are email subscribers to your list. A lot of people have email marketing lists, and companies are investing more of their budgets in email marketing (it's not a dying breed!), because it coverts the best. On a 2010 ExactTarget survey, 54% of marketers said they will boost budgets for email marketing. It's targeted, personal, opt-in, and email is still the primary way people receive information FIRST. When you receive a social network friend request, you get an email. When someone messages you on a social network, you get an email. Your other inbox's on the web are regulate by your email, which is why it's the most important. Finally, with email databases, you know who is subscribing to them and you can have fields that people need to fill out before they subscribe, such as location, profession, etc.
- Blog subscribers: When I think of RSS or email subscribers to a blog, the first word that always comes to mind is “loyalty.” The value in blog subscribers is that they are receiving every single one of your posts in their own reader, every time you publish (unless they unsubscribe). Another benefit of having blog subscribers is that it's easy for them to be part of a public community — your blog — and for them to share your feed with people in their network. Blog subscribers are content evangelists (or can be). The downside is that you don't know exactly who is subscribing and since the posts are public, they aren't as personal as email.
- LinkedIn contacts: LinkedIn contacts are more valuable than Facebook friends because the network is focused on professional networking. People that add you as a contact on LinkedIn are more apt to do business with you, hire you, etc. It's also much harder to build your LinkedIn database than Facebook or twitter since there are fewer people on LinkedIn (60 million people on LinkedIn versus 475 million combined on Twitter and Facebook). Also, the LinkedIn ecosystem permits you to be introduced to second and third levels of contacts, which can help you further develop a base of people for career purposes.
- Facebook friends: Typically, your Facebook friends are your real friends that you've shared experiences with for years. Of course, many people challenge “friendship” on Facebook because a lot of people, like myself, accept all friend requests, without discrimination. People aren't, for the most part, looking to Facebook to hire you, but rather to sift those out who present themselves in an “unorthodox” way. It was built as a social network, and remains to be a place where your “social” activities are held.
- Google Buzz contacts: Your Google Buzz contacts tend to be those who are in your Gmail database. Buzz is a Gmail parasite (although that has a negative connotation), so your close contacts will already be there for you. Most people that I've spoken with are either using Buzz to promote their other social feeds, or to keep in touch and crowd source with their primary network (inner circle).
- Twitter followers: The least valuable relationships are developed on Twitter because reciprocity isn't mandatory and since most of your tweets won't even be seen by your followers (especially if they're following thousands of people). You can follow me, but I may not follow back. Although, it's a public form of networking, and you can create lasting friendships and make money, I would much rather have 10,000 blog subscribers than 100,000 Twitter followers any day.
As you can see, your online network is a very powerful force, and the traditional system of marketing to a list has just been replicated throughout all of these distribution systems (YouTube included).
Online versus offline relationships
Above all types of online relationships, offline one's are still the most powerful and important. Online relationships are great starting points, but you'll want to move your most important contacts offline. The human experience, including your five senses (smell, sight, etc), body language, verbal cues, and interpersonal communication, is extremely important. I would rather have four hundred offline friendships than thousands of online one's for this very reason. When it comes to your career, offline relationships convert into opportunities much more than online one's. Although, there are online assessments and phone interviews in the recruitment process, all final round interviews are in-person for this very reason. You could build a false online brand, trick people, convincing them you're someone you're not, but offline you can't.
This is not to say that online relationships aren't extremely important though. It's impossible for someone to know how large your offline network is, but online it's more prevalent and can be observed and critiqued. This is why we're being judged based on network size, reach, quality, and activity now, and weren't years ago. We are back to “high school rules” at some level.
5 tips to grow the value of your online network
- Invest more time and feelings: The more of your time you give to others, the more time they'll give you in return. This means that by investing more in your online relationships, they will become more valuable to you.
- Have an open door policy: I've said before that you should accept all friend requests because you never know what doors it could open for you, or how you've touched that person. By having an open door policy, you shouldn't block your social updates and activities. As a result, your online network will grow with haste.
- Push online contacts offline: Since offline contacts are worth more, you'll want to take some of them offline, to enhance the relationship and bring meaning to it.
- Become one of one: When you're offering the same type of content as thousands of people, you can't stand out, and people won't rely on you for that information. The more people depend on you, the more critical you become to their lives, and thus you have stronger relationships, and more career potential.
- Develop social proof: When people see that you're popular and influential, they will want to enter your social circle. By using your current network to build a positive perception of social proof, it will be easier for you to grow the value of your overall network.
Have online relationships converted into job opportunities, new business or new friendships for you?
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