Recently, someone posted a kind comment on my Facebook Wall, saying how special I am and how much my friendship means to them. At first I thought, “Wow, I’m really glad that person is my friend!” and started to post back a thank you for the warm and friendly post. But then I noticed where the comment was generated from.

You know how Facebook tells you when something’s been posted from HootSuite or Ping or a mobile application? Well, this one was posted from a tool that acts much like an e-mail list management tool that lets you insert “%firstname%” into the body of your text so that the person’s actual name appears. For example, when I write my weekly e-zine, the software I use allows me to write something like, “Hi %firstname%, Welcome to No Suits Allowed!” and the e-mail that the subscriber receives, says, “Hi John, Welcome to No Suits Allowed!” Well, this software allows you to do the same thing, but with social media. So you can write something like, “Hi %firstname%, I just wanted to let you know how special and amazing you are, and to say that I really treasure our friendship,” and send it to a thousand people.

Efficient? Yes. Totally against the entire point of social media? In my book, pretty much.

Social media isn’t designed to be a mass enterprise. It’s designed to form and build relationships and connections among people. Whether you’re talking about Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, social media is all about a conversation that takes place between individuals. If you want to leverage social media to its greatest advantage, you have to actually participate in that conversation.

I’m not entirely against time-saving tools for social media. In fact, I make great use of them myself. I use Networked Blogs to automatically post my blog posts to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I use HootSuite to load in links to articles I’ve written, to maximize visibility of those articles over a longer period of time. And I recently started using the feature in my e-mail newsletter software that allows me to post my weekly e-zines to my Twitter account.

But the automation stops there. If I automate personal messages, how, exactly, am I building high quality relationships, and how can I bring true value to my friends, followers, fans, and associates? How can one form an authentic connection, if one starts by deceiving people by posting what seems like an intimate and individual comment, but what turns out to be a generic message which was actually posted to several (or even hundreds) other people?

Back to the individual who posted this message to my Wall…I looked at this person’s Facebook Wall, to see what response she was getting from others. Many people had posted and thanked her for the message she posted (and a little detective work proved that indeed, it was identical to the one posted on my Wall), and it’s pretty clear to me that most didn’t know (or didn’t care?) that this was the exact same message she’d posted to everyone else…and that she hadn’t visited their Facebook pages to learn about them, but rather had just clicked a single “Submit” button to send one message to many.

So maybe this tool provides a jumping-off point for forming a relationship? But…no. Because as I suspected, the person in question hasn’t responded to a single one of the people thanking her on her Wall, which is what you’d think someone would do, if they understood the point of social media and were truly interested in forming those connections.

Folks, social media isn’t about collecting followers and friends. The numbers aren’t what’s important – the quality is what matters. If you have thousands of friends, how much good does that really do you, if you don’t talk to them or engage in a dialogue with them? How does it serve you to have that many friends you don’t have a relationship with, and more importantly, how can you possibly serve them?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…social media is about engagement and it’s about the conversation. If you post to your Wall or tweet and you get no response from your friends and followers, there’s a reason why. You’ve got to get to know people to know what will interest them. You’ve got to get to know your friends and followers to know what they want to hear about from you. And if you don’t bother doing that, you’re wasting the incredible business and personal potential that social media puts at your fingertips.

Now, if you’ve got thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, obviously you won’t be able to have conversations with each and every one of them every day. But what you can do is post things that appeal to your friends and followers, and engage in a dialogue about those things. Different things will appeal to different people, which means that over time, you’ll get a good mix of many of your friends and followers involved in the conversation. People will talk to you and they’ll talk to each other, and you’ll create a little community, just by getting to know the people who you’re connected to in social media. And that’s the point.

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