I have been thinking a lot lately about how people connect with each other on the internet. Who are your Facebook "friends"? Who do you follow on Twitter? Who subscribes to your Blog? As more and more companies start to enter the world of social media, as a way to connect with their customers, it is extremely important to understand what type of connection they are forming. By far the best explanation I have found is by Peter Hershberg, who outlined three types of online connection in his article What Social Media Means for Search. They are:
- Direct Connections: People connected by real world relationships.
- Interest Generators: People who share an interest but don't actually know each other.
- Experience Sharers: People who do or have done something that interests you.
This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. On Facebook, Twitter et al. I have my friends - people who I have known for years. However, I also have people who I have 'connected with' online through blogging and work etc. - I don't necessarily know these people but I interact with them regularly and share advice and experiences. Finally I also have various events, brands and so on - these represent things that I have an interest in in the lead up to, but quickly become disinterested in once they pass.
For a business there is clearly a hierarchy of connections here. The last, the Experience Sharer, is the easiest to create but the most difficult to maintain. The second, the Interest Generator, is more difficult to initiate but once created can be sustained longer without a huge amount of effort. Finally, the first, the Direct Connection, is by far the most difficult to form, but perhaps the easiest to maintain. By actually becoming a friend to your customer you are in a position where not only will they go out of their way to find you but they will promote and defend you. This is a level of trust that every brand should aspire to.