Throughout the web you can see people proudly displaying badges showing how many friends they have, how many followers they have and how many connections they have made. It appears to be a numbers game – our business is better than yours because we have more followers. It’s the “mine is bigger than yours” syndrome.
Of course, having lots of followers or thousands of connections on some social network means nothing unless you do something with them which leads to results, such as more sales. Having a high number of followers means nothing unless you benefit in some way from that following.
When I was a student, one of my mates was very successful with women – at least so I thought. He was attractive, hunky and was forever being surrounded by women. He had far more female followers than the rest of us added together. My goodness how we envied him. Until, that is, one night when he confessed to being lonely and unloved. He was surrounded by girls, but none of them had any meaningful relationship with him. He was asking me “how did you manage to get a girlfriend for so long?” There I was, with just one girl on my arm and we’d been going out for months and months. Yet my friend, with dozens of girls on his arm was the one who envied me. It is a reminder that it is not the number of relationships that matter, but their depth.
So, online measuring how many friends or followers you have is meaningless. How deep are those relationships? Are those connections actually worthwhile?
Thankfully, psychology research can point us in the right direction. A study from the University of Wisconsin shows that people have a layered system of communication, going through each layer as they deepen relationships.
At the most shallow layer people connect with each other via social networks online, such as Facebook or Twitter. They only move on to other forms of communication when the relationship deepens and becomes more meaningful. Ultimately, from a technological point of view, people have the deepest relationships when they speak to them on the telephone.
So it is quite simple to see your depth of relationships with your online contacts. How many do you speak with on the telephone? The chances are that you will only speak with a few – which means that your online relationships are superficial psychologically. You might think you are well-connected, “knowing” lots of people. In reality, the research shows that we only deepen our relationships with our social networking contacts when we move them up to the next layer of communication – outside those social networks.