Last Friday I proposed to my former girlfriend…now my fiancee…and after much hemming and hawing, negotiating and thumb wrestling, she said yes. Feeling like a rockstar riding the high of finding and locking down (without the need for tranquilizer darts) such a wonderful person with whom to share so much I started thinking: conversations, thoughts, experiences. The mundane and the exciting. The novel and the old-hat. Our engagement really is about our interest and commitment to stay involved and ENGAGED in each others’ lives. To communicate even when chatting is inconvenient. To give a thumbs up in support when one of us is endeavouring. To share each others’ accomplishments with friends in order to point out how much we like the other person. To follow each other into situations with an unspoken agreement to never break ranks. To participate in group activities together. Wait, WTH?
Sharing, thumbs up, chatting, groups…it’s almost like the analogue version of the social web. AND THAT, my friends, is funny. We’ve modelled the terminology of online social interactions off of familiar real-world human interactions, needs, and modes of, well, engagement. But the big difference is that when you get engaged (hopefully) you’re doing it in a binary way. You either are or you’re not. Getting engaged is the ultimate commitment to a strong-tie relationship. You take a person with whom you share no genetic material (for Bob’s sake I hope this is the case), and then make them family. Ironic that we use this same word to talk about levels of interaction and participation online.
We live in the era of weak ties and that’s fine (as I talked about here). It’s an era in which we connect digitally to an ever growing number of people but engage with fewer and fewer of those connections in ANY way (meaningful or other). And from the data that we’ve seen,”a little” engagement is effectively the same thing as none at all. 70-80% of your online network doesn’t exist in any real way in your life. Literally since you first connected you’ve never so much as hi, re-posted or shared their content or even ‘Liked’ a picture of theirs. That’s 600-800 people with whom you have a “connection” but NO engagment.
I demoed with Team SnapGoods at NY Tech Meetup on Tuesday and talked about this a bit as it relates to a general malaise that I see in the social web world: because connecting digitally has become such a commodity we have become dangerously under-invested in those connections. They don’t mean much by themselves. Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, Foursquare, Meetup, Gowalla, Quora, namesake, Snapgoods…social connections abound. The social layer is everywhere. And yet we don’t actually utilise these connections.
It used to mean something if you and I were FaceBook friends. Now, I’ve been forced to adhere to a social norm of accepting just about any facebook request that isn’t from a gorgeous scantily clad woman who has 1,200 all male friends and whose account suggests that she likes ‘dating an American mans’ (Read: spam). But before you reach out to friend me, know that you may wind up on the ‘I DON’T KNOW YOU’ friend list. For reals. So what’s the point? The point is there is an opportunity in the data. An opportunity to better understand the relationships and behaviours in order to unlock real chances to make your network work for you. With a 9.2% unemployment rate in this country, people now more than ever need to make their networks WORK for them. Meeting strangers is great, but finding out how to get a warm introduction into a company you’re interested in is better. This requires a better understanding of the knowledge, expertise and connections within your network.
You and I may not know each other well, but we probably initiated a digital connection because of mutual or at worst one-sided interest. However the lack of day to day engagement means you will likely not remember when you come to NYC that you’ve got a hardcore native NYer in your network (that’d be me) who loves nothing more than making trusted recommendations about what to see and where to go in my hometown. #Fail. And I may forget that you work at Amazon in the Strategic Partnerships Group, a company I might be trying to do business with. #doublefail. Again, if you’re not communicating or engaging with some frequency you might as well not have the connections. So what do we do?
Give up and not connect at all? Spend more time trolling our social networks for opportunities? OR, let the little robots in the cloud do more for us? Turns out I’ve been thinking about this for months even as I was preparing to fully and completely engage my FG.
And what I think I figured out for myself (others have said this already) is we only have so much room in our lives for meaningful life-altering all-in engagement with other humans. We are not built to have 2,000 close friends.
But that doesn’t preclude us from having 2,000 connections with real value in specific instances. If you want 24/7 good times and not-so-great engagement, keep liking people’s birthdays like you do with approximately 20% of your network. If you want lifelong, super intense commitment, find your own special someone or get a puppy. BUT if “all” you want is to find value in your rapidly growing digital social network, I think you’ll find yourself needing tools that help you uncover that value that is ALREADY there.
So that’s what my Team at SnapGoods has been obsessing about for the past few weeks. Engagement. Value. Even as I was contemplating…my own all-or-nothing Engagement. Weird, huh? Well, we landed on something we’re calling Knodes (knod.es) but more on that later. If you’re interested in seeing our demo at the NY Tech Meetup you can take a gander.
There is so much value in our networks that we are not accessing. We need better tools.