Background: How I got into this mess.
I spent several years perfecting the art of “social networking,” for the purposes of blog and personal brand promotion, and I did it well. And for a while (circa 2002-2013) I actually enjoyed it.
I caught the bug when I was working on my masters degree online. I saw a dearth of easy-to-access high-quality content and research material online and wanted to help fill that. Over the years, I used several pseudonyms (“alts”) for different industries, and had clients and partners in several industries — higher education, political campaigning, creative writing, web hosting, and career development.
I maintained several blogs of my own, as well as blogs and online profiles for clients and friends on several platforms. Some days I found the alts talking to each other (and not getting along very well). I spent endless hours reciprocally “liking” stuff that I really didn’t have time to read or enjoy. I was following people I didn’t know, and who didn’t know me — and we really didn’t want to know each other. We just needed the “follow back” points to get our numbers up.
And I had the numbers. One of my Facebook accounts was at the 5,000 friend limit, and several others were well over 1,000. Twitter? Oh, yes, I could tweet, and my following-to-follower ratio was always within the recommended 90%.
Bloggers in our various networks were spending countless hours writing carefully crafted (on the best days) and mediocre (the rest of the time) blog posts then linking to each other just to get Google “juice” to rank higher in the search engines. Everything I blogged went on numerous social networks — and we had entire networks of people that were on all of those social networks who would “like” or up-vote everything all of the rest of us posted. Everything. On every network. Facebook, Twitter, del.icio.us, reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg (yeah, I just dated myself, didn’t I?), Ning, and a bunch of others we’ve all forgotten about.
But what was the point?!
Most of the time we weren’t even reading the posts. We were just reading the headlines and maybe an excerpt, because that’s all we had time to do in our frenzy to meet all of our social media obligations.
There was no point to any of this. We weren’t selling anything (not successfully, anyway). Mostly, we just wanted people to see what we had written or created. This was ironic, because most of the people we were “networking” with were too busy developing their own networks to really enjoy looking at the content we were all “liking.”
We weren’t really getting anywhere with the search engines, either, because they kept changing their algorithms to thwart the black-hat SEO professionals. Google’s personalized search updates were making most of the techniques we’d been using obsolete, and futile.
And then one day, much like Forrest Gump, who had been running for three years, two months, fourteen days and sixteen hours…I stopped, and thought, “I’m pretty tired…I think I’ll go home now.”
It took a while for everyone to notice, and when they did they were mostly just annoyed with me because I’d stopped “liking” their posts and linking to their blogs.
After a few weeks, things quieted down and I was bored with all of the free time I had on my hands. I missed some things about social networking. I missed the validation of posting something I’d written or created and getting the validation of having people click on it, like it, or comment.
I missed reading and commenting on material that interested me, and exchanging ideas stemming from that content.
So, I decided to start over, and see if I could develop a network that would work for me…on my time…my way. After several aborted failures, I think I’ve settled into a system that is working for me.
I call it “unsocial networking.” Networking, without the social obligations.
The first thing I did was develop a new online profile, just for this experiment. It’s a version of my real name, but is separate from the one I use for real-life friends and colleagues.
Quit following me!*
Next, I borrowed a tactic from the top Twitter users, and decided not to worry about “follow backs.” Of course people still follow me sometimes — mostly to try to get me to follow them back. I don’t, and sometimes they drop me. That’s OK. I applied this to the other networks too — not just Twitter.
I tried new networks that I wouldn’t have tried back when I was worried about SEO and SMO. Surprisingly, some were kind of fun, within their intended context. Some were for a much younger audience, so I dropped those. I was free to do that on a whim, because I hadn’t developed mutual expectations with the other users there.
The one exception I’ve made to by “no follow back” policy so far is Google+ which, ironically, was never good for search engine optimization, but it surprisingly good for actual interaction within “circles.”
*Since this was originally published on @Medium, I’ve discovered that my original system on Twitter of using secret lists really didn’t work as well as I thought, so I’m going back to the more traditional system of following people on Twitter. This new system is a work in progress. Stay tuned…
Just have fun.
Again, I borrowed an idea from one of the most famous (and successful) social networkers I’ve ever seen — George Takei (Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series). George Takei has a website that looks like it was developed in FrontPage, and no ascertainable central theme, goal, or purpose. He just has fun. He posts what appeals to him and what interests him, and hundreds of thousands of people read and re-post him on a daily basis.
I’m not trying to get famous like George Takei, but I would like to enjoy the social networks the way he seems to. So that’s what I’m doing.
I join groups that interest me. Comment on posts I like (or don’t like). Re-post stuff that really impresses me (regardless of whether I think the original poster will reciprocate or even notice).
And voila! Once again, networking is fun! Who knows? Maybe I’ll even make a few friends.