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Maintaining Relationships With Pokes, Pings, Winks, Drive-bys and Twitter

by Joe Loong on June 29, 2009

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Back when I worked for a big company on a sprawling campus, I used to make it a point to stop by the offices (well, usually cubicles) of friends and other people with whom I’d worked before.

I almost never pre-scheduled these little drive-bys in advance, instead just relying on a simple calculus: I’d stick my head in, and if they weren’t busy, on the phone, or otherwise waving me off, I’d stop and chitchat for a bit, find out what was going on, gripe and get griped to, then leave.

If they were busy, I’d just wave and move on, and maybe try to catch them on the return trip.

I can’t be positive, but I don’t think I annoyed too many people with my drive-bys. A lot of times, people were surprised that someone would actually, physically, visit (some folks were very head-down, e-mail and IM-only types) — especially someone who they weren’t actively working with at the time.

So what’s the point of this story, other than to show that I was (am) a big slacker? It was all about maintaining relationships within my professional social network. And not in a coldly-calculating, Machiavellian career-advancement kind of way: These were people whom I was friendly with, yet who weren’t necessarily my “friends,” but with whom I’d worked before and might work again.

And it was often pretty useful, not just for gossip-swapping purposes: You could get a sense of how other groups worked, what challenges they faced, who was doing what; all stuff that you can’t really get from a status report (even if you’d see another groups status report, which generally, you wouldn’t.)

Now take that idea and expand it, using modern social media and online communication tools, as well as the concept of ambient intimacy. It’s not that big of a stretch — using pings, pokes, winks, and general status updates are low-cost ways (in terms of attention and interruption, not money) to seed conversations that have no set agenda, but are still valuable for maintaining relationships.

Truth to be told, though, for these purposes, I still prefer one-on-one communications like IMs, direct messages, and other targeted conversations over social broadcasts. They’re a lot warmer than just shotgun-blasting status messages out to your entire network, even if it’s just a one word “‘sup?”, harassing a friend with a silly quote, or sticking an earworm in their head. (I also think privacy, or at least semi-privacy, leads to more candor and thus more valuable — or at least more interesting — conversations.)

Also, 1-to-1 drive-bys of this sort online probably work better for personal relationships — you should be more judicious in the business context, and not bother people unless you have a valid (and not just plausible) reason to say hi. At least with my in-person office drivebys, I was physically in the neighborhood, which wasn’t just a pretext — it was the truth.

If you want to be cynical about it, you could say that you’re just keeping lines of conversation open and primed, so that they’re available for when you need to use them for something substantive. One likes to think you can spot that kind of ulterior motive, though.

Do you do anything to maintain your online relationships? Are you the cold, calculating sort with calendar and stopwatch; a social spammer; or something in between? Leave a comment.

And if you’re one of the folks I used do drive-bys on, also leave a comment and let me know how you felt about them. Even if they bugged you. I can take it.

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    • http://www.julieminevich.com Julie

      Joe,

      I haven't found the perfect system yet, but I do love all these social networking sites for making checking in with my extended network so easy.

      A lot of people would say that birthdays seem like an easy excuse to get in touch, but I believe that in that case, one ends up getting lost in the crowd.

      In my opinion (and Keith Ferrazzi – @keithferrazzi – would be so proud right now as he describes something similar in Never Eat Alone), a really great way to reach out contacts is to send them a news article or something similar that I think they could benefit from or that made me think of them.

      Not only does this spark a conversation, but it's genuine and uniquely tailored to the recipient – all key ingredients in making one's communications stand out and be remembered.

    • http://www.joelogon.com/blog joelogon

      Julie — I agree that the “saw this article and thought of you” technique is a good one… especially if it happens to be true. (I remember years ago, some marketers adopted a tactic of snail mailing a press release/article, with a post-it attached saying words to that effect, signed with a suitably generic first name, the better to look like it was coming from a friend…)

    • http://www.joelogon.com/blog joelogon

      Julie — I agree that the “saw this article and thought of you” technique is a good one… especially if it happens to be true. (I remember years ago, some marketers adopted a tactic of snail mailing a press release/article, with a post-it attached saying words to that effect, signed with a suitably generic first name, the better to look like it was coming from a friend…)