Social Media: Relationships, Not Connections

Some time ago one of my LinkedIn connections posted a link to an article titled “Why You Should Connect with People You Don’t Know on LinkedIn.”

That headline struck me as patently foolish, so I read the post. And sure enough, its author proceeded to create a mess of the subject.

Her basic premise is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point“; specifically, about connectors — people who know a lot of people, and who in turn tend to introduce people to a lot of people.

It ought to be obvious to everyone that someone browsing through LinkedIn profiles and randomly sending connection requests based on keywords, in the hopes of pitching a product or getting free labor, is not the same as someone introducing himself, taking a genuine interest in who I am, and expressing that he knows someone whom I can help or who might help me.

She says:

(LinkedIn is) a social network after all, not a private country club — be inclusive, not exclusive. The more connections you have, the more relationships you will forge.

This woefully ignorant view of how social media works is all too common in the marketing world, and the purpose of this blog post is to do the best I can to disabuse people of “whomever dies with the most followers wins.”

Connections Are Meaningless; Relationships Are Meaningful

Let’s hear from Seth Godin, a leading authority on modern marketing:

If you can’t or don’t want to watch the whole 2:11 (you should), here’s the gist:

It’s worthless to have lots and lots of friends on Facebook because they’re not really your friends. They’re just people who didn’t want to offend you by pressing the ignore button. …

Networking is always important when it’s real. And it’s always a useless distraction when it’s fake. … What translates is, are there people out there who I would go out of my way for, and who would go out of their way for me?

Accepting every LinkedIn request you get is a waste of time. In fact, it’s counterproductive. You are expending time and effort on a connection that is never going to reward either party in a substantive way.

John Q. Public, located half a continent away from you, whom you have never met personally, who does not ask something of you or offer something to you, and whom may not even be in the same market segment as you are, is not someone with whom you should connect.

Jane Smith, whom you have met in person and hope you’ll never see again because she is an annoying bore, is no better.

What begins the creation of a real relationship is a sincere interest in the other person. It can be that I would like someone else to help me with a problem. Or it could be that someone else needs my help. Or I could have a sincere admiration of another person’s work. Or perhaps an acquaintance of someone else I know would like to meet me, based on my friend’s word of mouth.

The problem, of course, is how we manage to make those quality connections in the first place. And the answer is, be genuine.

What Should You Do?

So you’re a programmer and you’d like to build a genuine network of relationships. How do you do that?

Attend usergroups. But don’t just listen: Offer to speak, as well.

But I’m not comfortable with public speaking.

Attend conferences and introduce yourself to the person sitting to your left and to your right. Ask them about their businesses / jobs.

But I’m introverted.

Start blogging. It costs you nothing but your time to give back to the community.

But I am not a good writer.

Join StackOverflow and when you see a good answer, upvote it and add a comment complimenting the answer. If you find someone consistently giving great answers on something you’re interested in, send him a personal note letting him know you think he’s doing a real service.

But I’m too introverted.

If you’re too introverted to pay someone worthy of it a sincere compliment, you need professional help.


What creates a real bond is sincerity — whether you are offering something of value or seeking something of value.

I don’t blog because I am being paid for it. Yes, I’ve made some money (less than $3,000 in 8 years) as a result of paying jobs I have contracted from people who found me through this blog.

I blog because I feel it is my duty to give back to the community. You can claim that’s self-serving hogwash but it is Gospel truth.

And I also blog because it feels great when someone thanks me for something I’ve written.

You know that feeling you get when you Google some problem that has you completely stumped, and right there is the answer? That feeling of relief and euphoria knowing you will get this thing done after all?

It feels exactly the same when you’re the source of that good feeling someone else has.

I have scores of emails from people along the years who have asked me follow-up questions on a blog post. In most cases, I have replied back to them, offering advice, clarification or some other help.

Let’s look at a recent one:


I came across your website ( while trying to figure out how to solve a scripting issue I have. I have little to no script experience but have found myself in a pickle, and really need some help.

It turns out the person who sent me this message found a solution elsewhere. But of course I replied and offered some advice; he needed help and was sincere in his request.

You’re not going to get that response from everyone.

Sure, there’s the periodic news stories about celebrities going to proms as some poor kids’ dates.

But if you email Bill Belichick to see if maybe he can give you some pointers on coaching, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I am talking about the average person. Not CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or NASA’s chief scientist.

Strip the sincerity out of what you request, and you’re wasting my time. From another email sent to me:


I am having a 3 month long process of making a game for my project and I am require to have a mentor. I was wondering if you can be my mentor?

You want me to mentor you for three months on a project, but only because it’s a requirement? No.

The Bottom Line

Be a sincere, real person who is out there looking to give something and get something in return, and you’ll be social networking the right way.

You do that by putting good things out into the world because you feel compelled to do it. Whether that be as complex as Linux or as simple as a handwritten thank you note.

In fact, that is a great way to get started: Buy a pack of nice postcards, like these, and stamps. Fill out every single one to someone with a short note thanking them for something, whether they did it for you or for someone else. Mail them.

Now you’re networking.

All links in this post on delicious:

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