I thought I'd briefly talk today about permanence as it relates to social media.  Specifically, the fact that once you obtain a friend/follower/fan, it's really hard to lose that person.  It is perhaps one of the most understated benefits of establishing a good presence for yourself or your brand while it is relatively easy.

Facebook and LinkedIn require a two-way handshake for people to identify each other as friends/trusted contacts.  The social contract of friending and acknowledging trust is an important one that happens at the point of first request.  Think about when someone friends you:  you get a notification over e-mail and you then have to decide what to do with it.  Does this person fit your "friending policy"?  Would you want to associate yourself with him/her?  And is this a contact who you will regret not friending some day if you are perhaps on the fence?  As I've pointed out before, most people start off with rigid rules then relax them after gray areas become more often than you'd think.

Twitter is a little different.  Following is a much more common and lower impact decision.  You get notifications from a person until you are tired of hearing from him/her.  As long as you're interested in the subject matter, you remain a follower.  If someone takes his pedestal too far, if he/she comments too often, or if he/she changes the purpose and/or mix of professional/personal Tweets, that may result in having fewer followers.  I think a lot of the same things are beginning to happen with Facebook Fan Pages.  Like Twitter, a Fan receives content from you on their News Feed on Facebook after they decide to associate with your business or brand.

What does all of this mean for personal and corporate social media strategy?  A few implications come to mind:

  • It is relatively easy to establish a presence with followers/fans/friends today in large part because social media execution is not yet standard operating procedure.  It's like creating a powerful corporate Web site was in 1997… on the mind of a lot of companies but not yet in full execution mode everywhere.
  • Therefore, it will get *harder* over time to set up an effective social media presence.  i.e. there will be no novelty in getting started with social media say in 2011.  Everyone will have a presence and most innovative ideas will likely have been explored by then.
  • Permanence dictates that you won't "lose" friends/fans/follower that you get right now easily… unless you make a big mistake.  Make a friend/fan/follower today and you are likely to keep that person for awhile.  So investments today could pay off for many years to come.
  • We are at the beginning of a several year phase where the real meaning of having a large # of fans/followers/friends will take shape.  Nobody knows where it is headed *today*.  But I do think it is relatively safe to say that monetization and ROI will become a lot clearer over time.  What you're doing today with social media is setting the stage for the future of effective advertisement — you are lining up people who you may market to in the future.

This is the time for experimentation.  We are at a point in the history of the Web where people and brands will try a lot of different things to engage with customers effectively.  Make mistakes now while you can and learn.  You can get away with a lot more today than in the future.