97: Putting a Price on Your Friends List

Dinner Party with Price Tags (combination of iStockPhoto purchases)Thanks to all the magazines to which I subscribe and to my line of work, on a regular basis I find advertisements in my mailbox for all kinds of business, design, and advertising conferences.  Most don’t interest me; a small number like this one do but wouldn’t be worth the time away from the office or the travel expenses to attend.

Then there’s the postcard I received tonight.  It made me feel icky.  Near the top of the list of headline seminars was one called “Make More $$$ Using Social Media.”

If I had a dollar for every time I saw or heard the words social media, my wife and I could go on an international vacation—and I don’t mean Canada.  I’m sure the same holds true for you.  Websites like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube are touted as marketing gold mines, the future of advertising, the magic answer for harvesting clients out of thin air.

I can understand the temptation.  Facebook is a global force, a community well more than double the population of my country.  Twitter has aided revolutions.  YouTube has changed the way we entertain each other.  Blogs have democratized the publishing industry.  Social media in most ways is all it’s been cracked up to be.  In the least, it’s where a lot of your friends are congregating.

That’s where “Make More $$$ Using Social Media” gets uncomfortable for me—at least for Facebook.  Facebook is a permission environment, a relational place.  The online equivalent of a chamber of commerce meeting, an alumni reunion, a church gathering, or the bleachers at a sporting event, Facebook centers on community.  In our offline community, we’re okay with commercial signs on the outfield wall, ads in special event programs, and sponsored arts presentations.  It’s an acceptable practice in our culture for companies to create corporate parade floats, to put their logos on the back of fundraising shirts, to have advertising on vehicles that employees drive home.

That’s why we understand ads around the periphery of our Facebook environment and company pages mixed into the entities that we can like and follow.

The social contract is broken, though, when the intent of social media use is to get friends to buy stuff.  You know that feeling, when someone invites you to a Juice Plus party or an Amway presentation.  And you know how your friendships with those multilevel marketers feel after those experiences.  There’s only so much Mary Kay items you can wear, only so much travel you can book through YTB, only so many ways you can pamper the chefs in your life.  And there’s only so much of your wallet to spend on friends’ wares.  There’s a pressure there, a pretense that often changes the nature of your relationship.

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?”  People in your offline life ask similar questions: “How are you?” and “What’s new?”  If you regularly answered in offline encounters, “ABSOLUTE AUCTION! I’m selling a 3BR, 2BA brick ranch in Parkland,” or “I’m having a sale on firearms,” what do you think the response would be?  Friends would suggest that your loved ones submit you to examination for potential psychological disorders.  In the least, acquaintances would start avoiding you and maybe even environments that you frequent.

When Facebook becomes a broadcast medium, an advertising channel—an environment in which you participate only for commercial reasons, you become the multilevel marketer who people cringe to invite to dinner parties and backyard barbecues.  If we don’t unfriend you, we unsubscribe from your posts or hide your updates from appearing in our feeds.

By all means, go to seminars on social media.  Actually, go to lots of them from multiple presenters—especially by those with Klout and PeerIndex scores higher than your own.  There are a range of diverse opinions, helpful expert specializations, and technological updates to consider in developing your strategy in these environments.  So, it’s good to absorb a range of recommendations in best practices while honing your online participation.

Just be wary of emphasis on monetization of relationships.  You would probably never attend a seminar about making money off bar mitzvahs, baby showers, or birthday parties (as a participant, not a vendor).  You might, however, read articles or watch videos on how to organize one of these social environments better or to know what’s appropriate to bring to them.  See the difference?  There are appropriate ways of talking about your work and promoting your business in social contexts.  The way we do it online needs to resemble the way we do it offline.

I wish all my friends and family knew Jesus on a personal level, where they feel his pleasure and hear his promptings.  I wish everyone could experience the spiritual highs I have—to feel the supernatural.  Forgiveness, acceptance, love, hope . . . . at a core level.  Candidly, I even wish that they could feel the corrective convictions, the distance of disobedience, and the stretching challenges that have brought growth and shaped my walk.

Sometimes, though, I feel like a religious multi-level marketer.  The way Christianity is too often sold (when not yelled with ultimatums and jingoism) regularly has the same elements: trying to get people to buy into a system and then get their friends’ friends to buy into a system.  We even have the rallies for the ambitious sellers, the marketing bumper stickers, the prospecting home parties.  I’ve even seen churches offer incentives for bringing guests to church.  And we’ve all seen or heard of the promises that televangelists make for prosperity and the ambiguous “blessing.”

The line between evangelism and multilevel marketing for me, I guess, is the heart and its motivation.  Am I wanting someone to get counted as a person I led to Jesus, or do I love someone enough to change their eternal trajectory?  Am I trying to earn favor with a God (who can’t be earned), or am I trying to share a wonderful gift?  Am I trying to sell my church and grow my personal kingdom, or do I want more in heaven and more of heaven on earth?

In short: if I am I trying to sell real estate in the afterlife or peddle a religion, I am an idolator.  If I love truly love people, though, my evangelism will be shaped with compassion and patience, authenticity and tempered courage.


[footer]Stock images used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

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