The Great Social Experiment – Roundtable Question 4: How Aggressively Should I Try to Get Connected?

REPOST from original series started on back in September of 2007

Back in September I began a series experimenting with social networks to view their effectiveness in helping organizations expand their reach, and be included in conversations about their industry wherever those conversations occur.

Now it is time to look at the results. The other day I introduced the panel (Aaron Brazell, Chris Brogan, Doug Haslam, Cathryn Hrudicka and Brian Solis) and the questions on the table.

Today the fourth question: How much of getting social networking to work is the contacts you bring with you? How aggressive should one be in reaching out to new contacts? Should I, for instance, try to befriend Chris Anderson (see the original round table from Aaron Brazell for the reference to Chris Anderson) even after I have composed a note meant to appeal to what he is interested in?


It probably always helps to bring more offline contacts with you to your key social networks, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. It is very important to be aware of who each new contact you befriend is, and to know whether they are in the category of a potential client, a potential client referral, an influencer or thought leader, a media contact and what type, a professional colleague, a potential marketing partner, and the like. You would not approach any two people in the same way offline, and that applies even more online.

No two media contacts should be approached in the same way, either, which is contrary to how some traditional PR people have pitched media in the past (which, in my opinion, never was the savvy way to do PR). For example, Chris Anderson (Wired) requires a much different approach than Robert Scoble (Scobleizer, PodTech) or Walt Mossberg (Wall Street Journal), or anyone else, and pitching individual bloggers is very different than how you would pitch a story for a print magazine, a trade, radio, podcast, or television. This is key, and you will get in trouble if you try to send everyone the same email or socnet message, or make a traditional, blanket “pitch�? to all sources, regarded as “spam�? these days. The need for an individualized approach does make public relations and marketing campaigns more time consuming, complex, and research intensive, but the results you’ll get, and the good will you’ll achieve on behalf of your organization, will be worth it.

I do think that meeting your key social network contacts in person or at least by phone, is crucial. I have found my online contacts in any category are significantly enriched by learning more about each of them in person, making that face-to-face connection, and discovering more about their personal interests, especially which ones you share. This is true for marketing or sales contacts as well as media contacts.

How aggressive should you be? Again, that depends on the individual contact. I have found that it works best to start out with a genuine, friendly, but professional approach, ideally mentioning a common friend or interest, and pay close attention to how the new contact responds. Usually, if you listen and remain aware, you’ll be able to discern what type of approach and how frequent, will work most effectively. If in doubt, you can tactfully ask how each person prefers that you contact them.

Most media outlets have guidelines, although not all bloggers do, for instance. You can simply ask individual media contacts for their contact or public relations guidelines. They probably will not fault you for being a “newbie�? or for asking an intelligent question; or you can ask someone who knows a particular contact how to approach him or her.

Brian Solis

The art of relationships is based on the same principles and intentions online as it is in real life. In Social Media these days, we tend to get caught up in the coolest tools and forget that this is all about people.

Getting Social Media “to work�? has less to do with what you have and more to do with who you know, who you should know, and how you communicate with them now and in the future – and it’s ongoing.

Before you can reach out to new contacts, it’s absolutely critical that you monitor where the conversations that matter to you and your business are taking place. Observe. Listen. Read. Embrace the unique dynamics that are inherent to each community.

Once you get a feel for it, participate as a person and not a marketer. This is such an important and pivotal step and is both easy and natural to overlook. Marketers are good marketers. But in the realm of Social Media, the community benefits from people who are good listeners as well as those who are helpful and provide value.

It’s not about how aggressive you engage or whether or not you’re worthy of befriending a-listers. This is about finding opportunities to do so. And, it’s an investment of time in communities, conversations, and relationships; an investment that is radically underestimated by most businesses who wish to reap the benefits of Social Media without the due diligence or effort.

This shares more with the principles of good customer service and relationship building than marketing, popularity contests, or cursory attempts achieving ROI by hollow engagement.

Each community requires dedication and a unique approach to how to find, listen to, and interact with the people that matter to you and to your business. Relationships are based on mutual benefits, so think about what you bring to the table and why before you jump in.

How do you want to be remembered within the social networks you participate? Answer it and then reinforce that impression in everything you do.

Aaron Brazell
I take the approach that everyone who is interested in me, interests me. Therefore, if I have totally random people follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook, I inherently trust them enough to add them as friends as well. As long as that trust isn’t violated in some way, I’ve found it to be an incredibly productive way of engaging with people I might not otherwise know.

There are these “social media starter kits�? floating around which gives a person or company a headstart on important people they should be engaging with. I find this concept tremendously offensive because it puts some individuals on a higher plane than others and, though that is the nature of life, it counteracts the “level playing field�? that new media is supposed to create. It also prevents a company marketing a product from having to do their own homework and engage in the community themselves.

Traditional PR put Chris Anderson on a list of “important people�?. He was probably on one of these “social media starter kits�?. The folks that engage in the community in this way are asking to be burnt, or in the case of the hundreds of PR people who pitched Chris, outed.

Chris Brogan
The contacts are the key, but it appears from your question that you’re comparing social networking to traditional, schmooze-based networking. Neither are especially effective at getting a trusted network in place. Instead, you have to build value with the network of contacts you select. How? Sometimes it’s as easy as communicating with them, paying attention to what’s of interest to them, and then slowly introducing things of yours that matter to you. It’s not the same as old fashioned handshaking, business card exchanging, and “what can I do for you?” exchanges.

Doug Haslam
Any social network, online or off, is defined by the people in it. A combination of number and quality will get you results. Bringing contacts with you gives you a head start, but is not necessary. For one thing, are you already getting value from those contacts outside of the social network you are entering? If yes, then their best value here is to extend your network.

As for aggressiveness, use the same common sense you would in any outreach campaign. Find that line between effective outreach and spam, and come as close as you can without going over. That sounds cynical, but my point is: yes, you need to be aggressive to grow a network quickly. To use a personal example, to grow my network on Twitter, I looked through friends’ networks for potentially like-minded marketing/public relations individuals and followed them. If they “followed�? me back, great. If not, I might eventually drop them as well. The percentage of success, because I targeted, was high, and I feel I get a lot of value, personally and professionally, from this network.

To bring those two thoughts together, the network you grow through aggressive-enough outreach becomes the contacts you take with you to other platforms; my Facebook network, for example, is largely made up of people I know from Twitter.

As for your Chris Anderson example; as a public relations person, I would be looking for feedback on whether my pitch is suitable for Wired magazine. Generally, a note isn’t enough. If you have an opportunity to connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or some other network, you should do it. You need to be where your audience/targets/customers are most likely to engage, and those can be different places for different people.

In my experiment I believe I tended to take much more of a wait and see mentality, which was probably good given my experience level within these communities. But my expectations were definitely not in line with my level of activity. Now that I understand better how these things work I feel like I can be more proactive in reaching out to people. And as many have said here, in general people will not fault you for being new to the game as long as you a) do your homework, and b) are genuine in your approach.

Last up on Friday – how can I build better mechanisms into the framework to increase feedback?

Social Networking round-table articles:

  1. Did I devote enough time to the exercise? More to the point, where should social networking be placed in terms of marketing priorities? Does this change for companies that are more or less mature?
  2. How should we be judging the outcomes from social networking activities? Are there tools you recommend?
  3. Is social networking the right tool for the tests I created? Are my expectations of social networking in line with what it can do? What is social networking best geared to address?
  4. How much of getting social networking to work is the contacts you bring with you? How aggressive should one be in reaching out to new contacts? Should I, for instance, try to befriend Chris Anderson even after I have composed a note meant to appeal to what he is interested in?
  5. How can I build better mechanisms into the framework to increase feedback?

Previous blog articles in this series:

Can you digg it? I knew that you could – The Great Social Experiment

The Great Social Experiment – #1 Getting Started

The Great Social Experiment #2 – Will You Be My Friend

The Great Social Experiment – #3 owwww, i’m u’r biggest fan

The Great Social Experiment – How has it gone?

Oh and don’t forget to use the social networking tools below to share and enjoy – part of the experiment right?



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