Why Social Networking (locally and digitally) Can Be a Bad Idea.

148.7 – The maximum number of social relationships any average human being can handle, according to research by anthropologist Robin Dunbar (1998) and others.

73,395 – The maximum number of people following one person on Twitter.com (right now.)

Houston, we have a problem. Are we wasting our time with social networking?

As Craig Harrell of Rainmaker Marketing says, “A rubber-banded stack of business cards is not a sales strategy.” We have transferred the impulse to gather stacks of business cards from local networking events, to gathering stacks of “followers” on the internet. Without an intentional strategy, neither one will make us more money in less time. We can use our digital relationships to build business, but not the way we think.

We’ve been taught that the best way to grow our business is to go WIDE, when actually the best way is to go DEEP. The fact is that hundreds to thousands of tepid contacts (these aren’t relationships) online or at a networking event don’t hold a candle to one strategic alliance partner who will feed us business on an ongoing basis. Go deep, not wide.

Can you go deep and still have a wide digital set of “followers”. You bet.

It’s the difference between networking and building a network, the difference between collecting contacts and developing connections.

While 148.7 is the maximum number of social relationships we can have, almost none of us are taking advantage of this relational capacity to grow our business. If you have more than one or two alliance partners truly feeding you customers, you are in an elite group. And yet I’m convinced that the majority of businesses under $50 million a year can be built on one to two dozen truly committed strategic alliance partnerships.

It’s not easy to find a friend. You sift through hundreds if not thousands of people in your life over many years to come up with those few people you feel comfortable letting your hair down around. It’s no easier to find a strategic alliance partner, and we don’t have years in business to do it. That’s where a WIDE reach can lead to a few DEEP relationships that will increase the revenue in your business.

Having 73,395 followers on Twitter is, by itself, largely meaningless, but with a very powerful potential. As with the analog (physical) world, it is our own intentionality that determines whether anything will come out of this stack of contacts to make us more money in less time.

Which of these people are we truly connecting with? Which ones can I truly serve by connecting them to others or to resources to build their business? Zero in on those few relationships at a time and see where they take you. Then go back and dive into the pile of contacts and zero in on a few more. Keep doing this until you find those few people who you can rain on and who can rain on your business for years to come.

The other advantage of having 73,395 people following you is that this “tribal identity” of being on Twitter together gives you a built in WIDE audience that will likely always be a better channel for future clients than a shotgun advertising campaign. If you want to introduce a new product or service, there is no question this is the best place to start – with people who already have a passing familiarity with you.

Continue to develop a following. Get it as big as you can – it’s much better than stone cold advertising. But always be mining this growing group of followers to find the few that you can really serve, the ones you can send clients or customers to regularly. They will be able to do the same for you (hint – the best way to train them to help you is to help them first.)

The short story – Go deep, not just wide. Whether locally or digitally, stop networking and build a network instead. Stop making contacts, and develop connections. You’ll make more money in less time.