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Social Networking, Reciprocity, and Hypocrisy

by David Brock on October 26th, 2012

I’ve always approached networking and social networking from the point of view of trying to build genuine relationships, trying to create value for people without a condition of reciprocity. 

For example, I tweet things I think are really interesting and may be interesting to my followers.  I don’t do it with the expectation that someone might tweet my stuff.  I “follow” people that I think have interesting views and hope that people follow me for the same reasons.  But sometimes this means that I don’t follow everyone that follows me.   It’s interesting to see my twitter followers go up and down.  Clearly, a lot of people follow me with the expectation that I automatically follow them, building our mutual followings.  If I don’t follow within a certain period of time, they stop following me. 

I’ve noticed the same with the new LinkedIn Endorsements.  I’m deeply appreciative of endorsements I get.  It’s flattering to have people who think highly of my capabilities.  But I’ve also noticed an interesting phenomena.  With many people there seems to be an expectation of reciprocity.  “I’m endorsing you and expect you to endorse me.”  I’ve noticed several people who have endorsed me, that later “unendorse me,” because I have failed to endorse them.  I guess the reasons they endorsed me were not because they thought I had certain skills or capabilities, but only for me to reciprocate.  And If I failed, then all of a sudden my “skills and capabilities” disappeared. 

Frankly, I’m delighted by this!  I may not get the “rules” of social networking, but I think it is pure hypocrisy to like, endorse, follow with the expectation of reciprocity.  It’s a very transparent way of trying to “game” the system.  It lacks authenticity and creates “clutter” and misrepresentation in the social network. 

We’ve all seen the offers on twitter, “We can get you 10,000 followers.”  We know that is meaningless.  Soon we will see similar things in LinkedIn and the value of endorsements will be meaningless.

This may not be a popular view, but I won’t be held hostage to it.  It may mean massive drops in followership, people “unendorsing me,” but that’s fine.  I really don’t care about people who are in this only for reciprocity.

I will follow and endorse people that create great value for me.  I may not endorse someone because I don’t know them very well. I may not endorse someone for other reasons.  I hope I am generous in my endorsements, but I hold myself to be authentic in these endorsements.  I do not endorse people casually.  I make none with the expectation of reciprocity.

What do you think?

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9 Comments
  1. Since you asked, Dave, I think your attitude about following & endorsing is what Shakespeare meant when he said, “To thine own self be true.” I, too, do what feels right and because I want to; reciprocity doesn’t enter into the equation. That said, I’ll readily admit that I try to be as supportive of people as I possibly can, as long as it comports with my own personal “rules and regulations.” As to buying Twitter followers: I’ve noticed that many of the individuals who are attempting to entice me into doing that, don’t do it themselves. How ridiculous and TELLING is that?! I’ve also noticed that some people–in order to have a lot of followers but keep their own following list small–follow you for a short while and then unfollow. The point of social media for me, Dave, is the people I strongly connect with; the wonderful friendships I’ve established-they’re priceless. That they lead to tangible benefits (and they have), makes my efforts doubly enjoyable. My retirement career motto is, “If it isn’t fun, I’m not doing it!” Social media has proved to be rollicking fun. If I played the kind of games with it that you described in your article, it would cease to be fun, and what would be the point of that? Great post, Dave!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Bob! I couldn’t agree more, social networking is about being supportive, helpful, and creating value. It’s about building relationships–ultimately transcending the “virtual” boundaries into rich, real relationships. Many of my most value relationsships, like ours, are a result of the social network. I think this is really waht social networking ultimately should be about.

      We see many who are in it only for themselves, are exploitive, and manipulative. I don’t know whether that’s a successful or meaningful strategy, it’s one I choose not to be a part of. Fortunately, there are many that feel the same and we develop very powerful relationshsips.

      Thanks so much for our relationship and for your comment! Regards, Dave

  2. Tim Ohai permalink

    I completely agree. While I appreciate the value of unwritten rules, I’ve always benchmarked the rules against what is healthy – not normal. The concept of normal is just too unstable, too defective to anchor against.

    In Hawai’i, we have a word – pana’i. It is often translated as “reciprocity” but it is better to translate it as “give and receive.” Not give and take. Pana’i is not about about taking. Ever. I would even argue that if you don’t know how to receive, you don’t really know how to give. So, when people want to “give” you a follow/like/klout/etc. without expecting anything in return, they are truly generating the value of social media.

    • Tim, thanks for the outstanding insights! I really like the concept of pana’i. The wonderful thing I am discovering about Social Networks and Media is the number of people that truly are willing to give–their openness, desire to learn, desire to create value.

      Sometimes they get lost in the clutter, but it takes great comments like yours to bring them back to the forefront.

  3. Dave great post thanks for bringing the topic up.

    However, there are times when I follow someone because something caught my interest but I eventually unfollow them. It’s not because they didn’t follow me back but because their other posts just didn’t live up to my expectations.

    Usually its because they start tweeting excessively or spend too much time tweeting about their personal lives which means the tweet I chose to follow them after just wasn’t representative of what they use twitter for.

    I’m sure there is a lot of what you describe going on. But I wonder if much of the phenomenon isn’t just the nature of the beast.

    • Roman: Thanks for the insightful comment. Like you, I tend to follow people for a period of time, then may stop following them, not because of reciprocity, but because I may no longer be interested in their content. What I am describing is a different phenomena, those people that follow you for a few hours (24 max) then stop because you haven’t followed them (it’s clearly not the content, it’s something else). Or those that are triggering off key words in your tweets. For example, a few weeks ago, I noticed within 24 hours, I got a flood of lawyers following me–then in another 24 hours, all of them disappeared. They are just chasing key words–which is meaningless for all parties.

      Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  4. Dave et al, thanks for fighting the good fight! I wrote one of the first Executive’s Guide to LinkedIn in 2007, and ever since, I have encouraged people to be true to themselves. One’s network should reflect who one is. Most of my career has been in B2B, where, as I suspect all you know too well, deals are big and relationship and trust matter. Therefore my network on LinkedIn is fairly tight. My philosophy is, I serve my network, I am the gardener. If I’m good, it blooms. Based on the people I care about (CxOs), how can I serve them best? By making high quality recommendations and introductions. However, that’s me; it’s not *right* for everyone. For example, I know a lot of high-tech recruiters who create loose tie networks because that presumably serves them and their clients. They have a more transactional view, where I have a relationship view.

    In case useful, all the Exec Guides are together at the Executive’s Guide to Social Networks, which has tons of tools and free guides for LinkedIn, Twitter, executive blogging, etc.

    On Twitter, Lists are very useful; it’s not a matter of only following or not. For example, on client work I may want to read tweets of certain groups and even interact with them. I select them and add them to a list (they can be public or private). It’s a nice hack to have a “trial” people list to put prospects on; after a week or so, if you like their stuff, then follow them.

    • Christopher: Thanks for the comment and the links to the guides. Everyone has different strategies for LinkedIn. I tend to be like you, keeping my network pretty tight. In the months since I originally wrote the article, there have been many more with similar observations about the LinkedIn endorsements. Frankly, I’ve seen people I have little relationship with endorsing me for things for which they have no first hand experience—their endorsement is really valueless. We know the same thing is being done with millions more. Undoubtedly, someone will figure a way to “sell endorsement” just like you can buy twitter followers.

      All of this dilutes the original value of the system to being valueless. I predict endorsements will be discontinued within 12 months.

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