A very good friend of mine and respected industry figure said to me recently: “I’ve never had a PR strategy…I’ve always just been helpful”. This philosophy had stood him in good stead, as without wanting to name him, he has always enjoyed an enviable media profile.

His comment has stuck in my mind, as he wasn’t meaning to undermine my profession and the importance of PR, but rather highlight the continuing value of being a useful connector. This is even more true with the growth of social media.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in his well-known book The Tipping Point, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts…This is the Law of the Few…”

Gladwell talks of connectors, mavens and salesmen. Connectors he says are “people whom all of us can reach in only a few steps because, for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subculture and niches”.

His book was first published in 2000, three years before LinkedIn launched (in May 2003). LinkedIn has undoubtedly transformed the way in which people can socially connect on a professional level, in many ways making it a lot easier. In the real world, strong connectors often have a great deal of self-confidence, energy and likeability. In the world of social media, and LinkedIn in particular, personality traits become less of a critical factor in being a power connector.

In the latter part of last year, I was increasingly receiving LinkedIn requests from people who I had never heard of before, let alone met, who were merely a member of the same LinkedIn group as me. Via this ‘loophole’, they were able to request a connection with me – it was obviously up to me to decide whether to accept or not, and in most cases I didn’t.

While this approach may enable some people to quickly expand their number of LinkedIn connections to improve their social klout, and potentially hook them up with some high profile figures, is this connection going to be ‘helpful’?

In some cases maybe. If you have a genuine reason for wanting to hook up with a particular person, sites such as LinkedIn can provide a very useful ice-breaker. For example, a friend of mine recently received a very tailored introduction from a recruitment consultant, that took heed of where she lived and what she specialised in, that ultimately led to a very attractive job opportunity for her. But similarly, I frequently receive very spammy, untargeted communications from recruitment consultants via LinkedIn that I always ignore.

Social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter can be incredibly powerful business tools, but there is the danger that in 2011 they will become exploited and consequently less useful. Let’s do our best to keep them real – sometimes it’s good to refer back to the rules of the real world and traditional media. Let our reality check be, are we being helpful by doing this?

Happy New Year from Populate Digital!


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