Social networks like Twitter and Facebook allow you to keep up with people you know in real life. But they also allow you to meet and keep up with people you've never met. For example, you may wind up adding a person to your social network simply because he or she works in the same industry as you, shares similar interests or has a lot of witty things to say.
On Twitter, many people expect that if they start following someone, that person will follow them back. And if you send a friend request to someone on Facebook or MySpace, you pretty much expect acceptance. But what if that doesn't happen? What if your friend requests are ignored? What if your list of followers is so cavernous that your tweets echo? Should you care that you aren't gaining any friends, followers or adds in these online communities?
Well, sure. Social networking is about relationship building. If, despite your efforts, you aren't getting adds, it makes sense to review what you're doing that may be affecting other people's perceptions of you. In the social networking community, no one is required to add another person, and it's much easier to ignore people online than it is in real life. But by adding people online, you may improve your relationships in the real world.
People online are looking for the same things that they look for in real life. They want good information and the feeling that they're in a relationship. They don't want to feel like they're on the receiving end of a sales pitch. If, after taking steps to change how you present yourself online, you still don't have as many adds as you would like, don't take it personally. Some people prefer to have more people following them than they follow (on Twitter), while others intentionally keep their friend count low so that they can easily maintain the relationships.
While you never know other people's motivations, there are certain things that you can do to increase your odds of attracting and keeping people in your social network. What are they?
Why No One Is Adding You
There are plenty of reasons why you may have trouble getting people to add you to a social network. First of all, you should take a look at who you're friending or following. If your list is made up of celebrities, high profile business people or companies using social networking to distribute press releases, don't expect many adds.
If you're following everyday people and you're still not getting reciprocal adds, it's time to look at what keeps people from following you. Because a 140-character Twitter update can be sent from a computer or a mobile device, it's very easy to send a tweet -- almost too easy. If you send tweets too much, your followers may sour and potential followers may not add you. When people look at their Twitter homepages, they want to see a mix of tweets from various people. If the majority of a user's homepage is made up of your tweets, that user may ditch you.
The opposite side of the coin is the person who never updates. No matter which social networking site you use, if you don't visit your page, don't expect anyone else to either. It may be tricky to come up with something interesting to post on a regular basis, but it's worth the effort. Users don't want to follow someone who only reposts news headlines or posts material that seems self-promotional or too introspective.
People become involved in social networks because, on some level, they want to build relationships. They're going to follow people who post interesting and relevant content and who interact, reply and share. If every post is a broadcast, you may come across as a know-it-all, and if every reply brings the topic back to you, people won't want you in their networks.
Finally, be patient. Even if you implement all of the strategies in this article, relationship building takes time. It's easy to think that in the fast-paced world of the Internet, things will be different, but they really aren't. It takes time to build a body of posts that people want to read. As you follow others and add more and more interesting and relevant content to your page, you'll find that more people begin to add and follow you.
How to Make Your Online Connections Stick
After going to the trouble of adding people to your social network, you don't want to lose them. Keeping people in your social network is as difficult as getting them in the first place. So, what's the secret?
First of all, develop personal relationships. When your posts start to feel like advertising or spam, you can count on losing friends. Participate in conversations. But don't be so eager to assert your opinion that you come off as a know-it-all. Give-and-take conversation is the foundation of social networking.
Many people will send you a "getting to know you" post when they add or follow you. If the response is automatically generated, it's okay to ignore it. But if someone takes the time to send a personalized message, you should probably take the time to respond personally. If the other person doesn't receive a personal response, he or she may drop you from their list.
Of course, you don't have to wait for someone to approach you. When you notice someone new following you or someone adds a comment to your wall, take the time to send them a personal message. Auto replies are worse than no reply at all. Instead, invest a few minutes in writing a genuine thank you to the person following you.
Replies and @conversations on Twitter are what people want in the world of social networking. Look at your posts. If they're a series of statements about what you're doing, reposts of news, research studies or announcements that you have a new blog post, you can't expect to hold onto readers for long. Read the posts of the people you're following. Respond when you have something helpful, witty or relevant to say. Look for opportunities to add something of value to the community.
Can you ever have too many friends?
Is there an upside to not having many friends or followers in your social network? Maybe. Researchers at the University of Georgia conducted an interesting study about Facebook users. They had volunteers who regularly used Facebook fill out a questionnaire that allowed researchers to accurately determine the personality of each person. The researchers were able to identify Facebook users with trait narcissism, a personality trait that means the person has an inflated sense of his or her own intelligence, attractiveness and power.
What was so interesting about this research? A group of strangers who didn't know the focus of the study were also able to identify who among the group had trait narcissism. While they weren't 100 percent accurate, the untrained strangers were reasonably competent at determining who among the Facebook users had this personality trait.
How did they do this? Without even realizing it, the strangers zeroed in on three key facts about the Facebook users. They picked out people who had many social contacts, had self-promoting updates on their site and who used professional style photographs as their profile pictures as being more narcissistic than average.
So what's the problem with being viewed as a narcissist online? Others may assume that you're using them as a stepping stone for advancing your own agenda and not feel that you're interested in maintaining meaningful relationships. They may not even consciously realize they're reacting this way to you.
You can prevent people from viewing you this way by doing a few things: Choose a low key profile picture. A snapshot of you with others is a good choice. Keep a manageable number of friends. And finally, reply back and maintain conversations with friends. These simple steps can help to shape how others feel about you when they view your social networking page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Baig, Edward C. "How to Make the Most of Social Networking on Facebook." USA Today. Feb. 19, 2009. (May 25, 2009).http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/edwardbaig/2009-02-18-facebook-how-to_N.htm
- Claborn, Thomas. "Facebook Users with Lots of Friends More Likely to be Narcissists." Information Week. Sept. 23, 2008. (May 26, 2009).http://www.informationweek.com/news/internet/social_network/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=210603417
- Evans, Meryl. "Why People Don't Follow Me Back on Twitter." Web Worker Daily. May 20, 2009. (May 26, 2009)http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/05/20/why-people-dont-follow-back-in-twitter/
- The Associated Press. "Got an Unusual Name? Facebook May Boot You." New York Daily News. May 19, 2009. (May 26, 2009)http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2009/05/19/2009-05-19_got_an_unusual_name_facebook_may_boot_you.html