Building Relationships Beyond 140 Characters

I’m not great at social media. I think I have a Facebook account, but I don’t know the password. I make an effort at Twitter, but it is an effort and not something I am a natural at.

My LinkedIn account is a mess. I don’t accept invitations from anyone I haven’t met and typically don’t accept invites from people I haven’t done business with and yet, I have more than 600 connections. I don’t know 600 people well enough to recommend them to anyone, so how did that happen?

I understand social media. I understand the attraction and (for some) the addiction, but I’m just not that into it. Funny thing is, I’m not a long content kind of guy, either. The idea of reading a 400-page business book makes my skin crawl because it seems like words just for the sake of words. Usually you can get the point in the first 20 pages…I don’t understand the need to create a book when a pamphlet will do.

I remember visiting my grandparents as a kid. My grandfather was a pragmatist. An immigrant son of a priest who began his career as a soldier during World War II and retired a quarter century later as a colonel in the Army. In his retired years he worked. Hard. And when we visited, we worked hard.

There were lawns to mow, gardens to tend, sheds to clean, and cars to work on. There was a schedule to keep and a process for how to keep it. He owned quite a bit of land in his hometown, and did an amazing amount of volunteer work at his church, and we would care for it all.

With each stop at each place, someone, or many someones, would say, “Hi Colonel!” and somehow in our packed schedule, my grandfather found the time to stop and have a conversation with each of these people.

We didn’t have a cellphone. We didn’t have a car phone. We never used a pay phone. The Internet wasn’t around – at least not in a big commercial way. We almost never watched TV, unless Texas A&M was playing football, and we still read the paper. Yes, the paper. The way we all used to get the news.

Every Sunday my brother or I would go and get the paper and bring it in. My grandfather would sit in his chair at the kitchen table and carefully open the package and unroll it on the table. Then he would pull out the comics, which he called the funnies, and we would read them together. The man with the schedule to keep and the plan to keep it took the time to read every funny every Sunday.

One Sunday when I was about 12 I asked him why he read the funnies first. He pointed to a Peanuts cartoon on the front page and said, “See this cartoon about Snoopy? It is eight pictures, less than 100 words, and it tells a whole story. It takes amazing talent to tell an entire story in eight pictures and 100 words and I appreciate that talent.”

I am a lot older now than I was then. My days are hectic and my schedule is packed for nearly every waking moment. I have all sorts of devices that keep me “connected” to everyone and everything. I am busy and, according to LinkedIn, I have a lot of connections. But every now and again I find myself surrounded by people and all alone.

At those moments, I remember my grandfather and I slow down. I reach out to one of the handful of people I call a friend and have a conversation. I sit next to my wife on the couch and enjoy just being near her knowing words are optional and presence can mean everything. And when I want a book to read in those times, more often than not I turn to one of my favorite children’s books – The Little Prince, The Giving Tree, Zen Shorts, Catcher in the Rye, and anything Calvin and Hobbes.

Each one simple. Each one just the right number of pictures and words to tell a story and leave an impact. Each worthy of a taking a few minutes to slow down and really digest. Each one of my favorites.

I am not great at social media. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer building a relationship over coffee and a conversation to connecting over social media and I still appreciate the simplicity and power of a funny story meant for children and I don’t think I am unique in this.

I have been thinking a lot about content strategy recently. The type of content we create and the way we put it to use to connect with people. It is a balancing act. More is not always better in a relationship. Sometimes simple is better. Sometimes saying nothing is better. Sometimes a story and a picture are better and sometimes a textbook is needed.

As we build our nurture campaigns, we should strive to build relationships with those on the other end, not just connections. Understanding who they are and providing what they need the way they want to receive it, not just want we want to say the way we want to deliver it. Popping in to say hello in less than 140 characters every once in awhile, not once an hour on the hour, while striving to deliver the content they turn to first every Sunday morning, with just the right number of words and pictures to tell a story.

And, if we are really good, occasionally creating for our audience something they want to return to when they want to slow down, when they can take it in and digest it. When we do, marketing automation becomes less robotic and more human and our relationships are nurtured. And isn’t that what it is all about?

Image via Shutterstock.

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