You know how much I am obsessed with “long-tail blogger outreach,” right? I am a man possessed! That said, I really don’t collect people. People don’t like being collected. They — we — don’t like being part of a ménagerie de personnes (people also don’t like folks who drop French for no good reason at all, by-the-way). While it’s really too easy to collect people, it’s even easier to take them for granted — and maybe there’s a tipping point. I have been consulting some bouncing social media babies recently and they’re doing it right. They’re each running a couple-hundred followers and friends and they know every one — they’re aware of exactly who they’re following and get really excited whenever anyone follows them back.
But please forgive me, I felt the same way too — and I must tell you that I really needed the reminder. I mean, not to brag, but I have been 500+ on LinkedIn since before many of you were born. And with 43,571 followers on Twitter and 4,777 friends on Facebook, maybe I am “that guy.”
And with such a torrent of conversation splashing and sloshing at me all the time, manifesting in an endless din, I of course am just about always overwhelmed.
It’s almost impossible to both maintain the cultivated intimacy of those very first days of exploration when you knew the name of everyone you followed and, especially, everyone who followed you.
And, in order for your good words, your good message, your brilliance and genius to make its mark is to have built an audience.
There’s the rub. If you’re unable to remember that each thousand followers you accumulate will widen the gap between you and your followers. While your followers and friends will probably may not lose their attachment to you — in fact, their attachment might grow as they spend more time with your voice, your words, your wit, and your wisdom, you’ll get overwhelmed, too — just like I did.
Honestly, I don’t know if I have done a very good job of it myself. I have tried to create Twitter lists and keep connected, but it’s not easy. It’s also not easy when people, over time, know you more than you can know them — even on Facebook.
Always remember, people don’t like being collected.
Do your best to not allow your burgeoning social media empire to go on autopilot. While it’s virtually impossible to keep up with so many people (unless you keep the number of people you follow to a severe minimum or limit your engagement with people you don’t personally know on Facebook to just followers and not friends), that doesn’t mean you can’t keep up with any of them.
At the very minimum, you’ll need to pay attention. You’ll need to listen. You’ll need to participate with everyone, at the very least.
At-replies (@replies), direct messages (DMs), and third-party mentions. At the very least. And you need to engage with generosity of spirit and patience. You’ll need to engage with everyone who engages with you with as much personal touch and attention as you would someone you already know — with the understanding that you’re only being damned with your success.
There’s an amazing book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird. It’s a book about writing that suggests that no matter how overwhelming the Herculean task before you — the overwhelming wall of tasks that keeps you from writing that great American novel — you can reduce it to simple steps. In the case of the book, a ten-year-old boy was freaking out about a book report about birds:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Bird-by-bird, follower-by-follower, friend-by-friend.
People don’t like being collected but people hate being dismissed.
The beautiful secret about being present, being well-engaged with your followership as you develop the sort of followership that extends into the thousands and tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands, potentially — is that, outside of private messages, engaging openly, honestly, presently, and sincerely with people publicly and before others is an outstanding way of shaking hands and kissing babies while the cameras are on.
However, that’s just a parlor trick. It’s a way of expanding and deepening perceived intimacy online, a way of spending quality time with one person publicly so as to show humor, humility, kindness, and attention to everyone else — sort of like how CEOs like to profess how the door to their office is always open.
Well, you sit there and thank God that you’re trusted and respected enough by each and every one of your employees that they’re actually willing to take you up on it (because, generally-speaking, the sort of CEO who does something like this is the sort of CEO who is pretty sure that his minions are too intimidated to ever cast a shadow on his door).
But you, you’re different.
Because you know, now or even before, that people don’t like being collected, people hate being dismissed, and people resent being trifled with, you’ll make a business of engaging pleasantly with everyone who comes to your door, no matter how casual the encounter, no matter how modest their pedigree, or no matter how non-existent their Klout.
Remember, every day, that you don’t have to do any of this. You need to neither collect thousands of people nor do you need to maintain a simple cadre of real people you’ve met in real life. It depends on what you want. Do you want access and influence or do you want relationship, intimacy?
They understand you’re busy. They know you’re probably torn in two by your schedule. That said, remember that this relationship must be a relationship of mutual respect: do you thank people for their retweets? For being mentioned in a #FollowFriday?
Are you responsive enough to take the time to brandish your virtual Sharpie to sign autographs? To smile sweetly as you’re immortalized in a virtual mugshot-with-a-star.
You don’t need to engage every day with every one of your 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 100,000 followers: remember, bird by bird, friend by friend.