During my first year at university, slaving away learning how to drink more coffee than was good for me and navigating Canberra’s bus system, I had a housemate who would come home every few days and announce that he had made a new friend. My brother, who also lived with us at this point, would raise his eyebrows and ask the same question:
“Did you make a new friend or just meet someone new?” The housemate would blush and look at his feet.
“I guess I just met someone new.”
“You don’t just make friends by talking with them for five minutes,” my brother would point out.
“I know,” the housemate would mumble, “but I think we’ll be friends.”
“Good for you,” my brother would mutter sarcastically before going back to whatever it was that he had been doing before feeling compelled to correct the housemate on this obviously-very important issue.
My reaction tended to be somewhere along the lines of ‘meh’. If the housemate wanted to believe that everyone they met on the street was a friend, then that was lovely and optimistic. I kept my judgments to myself: he’d learn eventually, or not, in which case I wished him every goodness in the world for being the one person who liked everyone they met.
The point of this little anecdote, apart from making me nostalgic, is that building relationships take time.
Recently, the Social Media Examiner shared this picture on LinkedIn.
I commented on this, of course, as I am wont to do when something interesting crosses my feed, especially since the comment ahead of mine was in the same vein with what I was feeling:
Karen Price: Yes! We are often so busy trying to get through our to-do list we just give the cursory acknowledgement to things we see online, when really we should be using that opportunity to look for openings for deeper connection.
After which I responded by voicing my wholehearted agreement. There are plenty of companies – and individuals – out there, desperately trying to push their brands to the top of a list, fighting for followers, clicks and likes.
For example, I’ve noticed lately that a whole lot of people start following me on Twitter just because I make one tweet about a subject relevant to their product or service. This morning, I made tweeted about restarting carb detox, and within seconds – and I’m not exaggerating – I had fourteen new followers and had been added to two lists. Now I know that Twitter has lost the plot a little, and it’s probably not the best example, but the point stands: I got nothing from these people, not even a message or a DM. Maybe a ‘Like’ or an RT, but certainly nothing to make me go ‘Oh! Who are these new people who apparently like what I do?’. That’s the problem.
Relationships don’t just start because you say hello to someone on the side of the street and then keep walking. Relationships start with a conversations; and yes, maybe only every 1 in 20 conversations you have with random people you meet on the street, in a store, at school, or at a convention actually turn into friends, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop to have that conversation to begin with!
What I’m trying to say here, is that we all need to make an effort. The Internet is provided us with so many options to connect that we’re not actually connecting anymore. Sure, we’re sharing plenty of pictures and random comments, we’re commiserating with people’s grief, and we’re talking about interesting subjects, but we’ve never been more disconnected.
This isn’t just about individuals either.
Companies should stop following a million people in the hopes to get a million followers. Stop sending automated Crowdfire messages without following them up with a personal note.
Here’s a little trade secret:
I’ve set up automated responses for our company accounts; I don’t have the time to welcome each and every one of our new followers on Twitter, or thank everyone for liking our Facebook or LinkedIn pages. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the audience, it’s that if I had to write a personal message to each and every one of them, that’s all I would be doing all day long! (Pssst, really do appreciate the massive following though, THANK YOU!)
What I do, however, and I know that I’m not the only one; is that after my automated message has gone out I check to see what sort of follower/Liker they are. If they’re someone I think may be interested in a deeper connection, or perhaps someone who might be interested in discussing customer service experiences and developments, I follow up with a personal message or mention.
What does this do? It opens the door and reveals that there’s an actual person behind the automation who values the follow/like/click.
Nothing is more important than showing someone you value their time, effort and their connection.
Growing a customer base starts and finishes with customer engagement: are they interested in what we’re doing? Do they like how we’re delivering our services or our products? Is there room for improvement (yes!)? What’s the best way for us to understand our customers’ needs?
Funny, the answer to all those questions is quite simple. By talking to our customers, we can easily ascertain what they’re after and whether we’re meeting their requirements and garner feedback about our company. That’s customer engagement, and there’s no way we’re just going to get that if all we’re doing is saying ‘hello’ – like any relationship, any attempt at customer engagement has to grow out of a conversation. By all means, start with ‘hello’, but let’s not leave it at only that.
This is the first step in building a relationship, whether it’s with a prospective friend or a prospective client – at the end of the day, the two are remarkably similar!