I was asked this question during a recent presentation about social media and there isn’t a simple answer. Opening up your social networks to the world is better for SEO, as certain content can help you to rank higher in search. So, let me start by saying that I am an open networker (in most cases). If someone wants to connect with me on social media, I am open to their request. Sort Of. Let me explain:
My Facebook page is open to the public – I don’t have anything to hide and if someone wants to “follow” me, that’s great – I’m flattered that they think my content is worth following. If they want to be a “friend” with me, the criteria is more stringent: I’ve met the person in real life, or we have lots of mutual friends and similar interests so they look like someone I’d like to meet in real life (and often do after we’ve connected on Facebook).
On LinkedIn, I have over 20,000 connections. Most of these are people I have never met. I accept connections from anyone who requests it as long as their profile doesn’t make them look like a spammer or terrorist. Why? Because you never know where the next opportunity is going to come from. If I only accepted connections from people I already know, I am limiting my possibilities. The person I am connected to may not need my products or services, but it is a good bet that they know someone who does. For example, my friend Ken McArthur recently put out a request of things he’s looking for including locations for a film shoot he’s producing in the Philadelphia area. I don’t know the Philly area, so I can’t help him with this. But I can put out feelers to my connections and pass this on to Ken if anyone responds. (Click here to read Ken’s post). That’s the power of social networking and one of the reasons I’m a fan of open networks.
What the downside? Many people prefer a closed network because they don’t want to deal with spam and security issues. Yes, these issues are real. I receive hundreds of email everyday that I simply trash without reading. My spam folder is even worse – I often clear out thousands of unwanted messages every week. Open networks leave you vulnerable to “haters” that can post negative comments. My colleague Guy Kawasaki, in “The Art of Social Media” (which I highly recommend) points out that its not about mass or quantity – its about developing real relationships. How can you possibly have a real relationship with 20,000 people? This is the biggest concern most people have with open networks.
In an article on Oprah.com, Karen Salmansohn states “There’s a huge trend these days to collect as many friends as possible on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. Sadly, with this cultural encouragement to amass people, you can miss the whole point….Unfortunately, if you’re too busy amassing a quantity of friends on social networking sites—or in live networking events—you might be creating a quantity of unfulfilling relationships, which won’t make your life happier at all!”
This is similar to the problem I’ve seen at many live networking events where people go around collecting business cards from everyone without ever really getting to know someone. It’s one of the reasons why I dislike networking events – I’d much rather be at a small gathering where I can actually talk to someone and get to know them. But that’s not how social media works.
As Aaron Lee of AskAaronLee.com states, “People in general define your social success based on the numbers of Twitter fans you have, the number of likes, RSS subscribers, and YES, they look at your Klout score as well. Sadly, we’re in a society where people judge the bottom line. It’s how humans are. It’s human nature. People would rather eat in a partially full restaurant rather than eat in an empty restaurant. I know I do, so do my friends and family. The same theory applies in social media as well. Whether you like it or not, the NUMBERS sell.”
This is known as “Social Proof”. Social Proof can open doors for you. It can get people to pay attention to you; it can get people to be curious about your work and want to get to know you. So for me, quantity is important, even though you must still have quality. The simple is truth is you need both.
One of the best ways I know to incorporate quality into your social media presence is to actually engage with people. For example, if someone “Likes” a post you created, respond with a comment and tag them by name. You might say something like “John– I see you liked this post. I discuss this topic in more detail on one of my YouTube videos (provide link). Have you seen it?” That way you can start developing the real relationships that social media is all about.
And if you want to connect with me?