Happy Birthday to Me, and How Distributed Cognition Enhances Relationships

It’s 9am on my birthday, and already, 65 people have posted birthday wishes on my Facebook wall.


Several more have Skyped me.


Sure, it’s just a simple act – some might argue it’s only slightly more social than a poke, but I disagree. Frankly, I think this is really what the social web is all about: using distributed cognition to truly enhance relationships.

How so?

Ever heard of Dunbar’s number? Basically, it’s the theory that the size of our social network is limited by the size of our neocortex, and for human beings, the maximum number of “close” relationships we can theoretically have – the number of people whose names and faces you remember easily, who you can remember details about them, like what they do for a living, the last conversation you had with them, etc.

But what happens when our capacity for social relationships is no longer limited by our brain capacity?

Some people think that tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even CRM or contact management systems have created an illusion of having more “real” friends than we actually do. I suppose, for some, that’s true.

I look at it differently, though. I look at these tools as distributed cognition. Essentially, we’re making our brains larger by using external tools to enhance our memory. I can “remember” hundreds of people’s faces, because they’re right there when I interact with them. I can call them by name – one of Dale Carnegie’s most important tips for winning friends and influencing people. I can easily recall the last conversation I had with them with a couple of mouse clicks. I can see what they’re up to and ask specific questions about it rather than wasting my time and theirs with small-talk questions like “So what are you up to these days?”  LinkedIn already knows, so I already know.

Social media isn’t just a way to have a bunch of trivial relationships; used properly, it’s a way to treat more than 150 people that you truly care about like you treat those 150.like you would if you were smarter, or had better memory.

To put it in Virtual Handshake terms, using Information well demonstrates your Character and helps you increase the Strength of your relationships.

This isn’t a new concept, by any means. It’s the same principle behind The Mackay 66, a collection of 66 questions that uber-networker Harvey Mackay used to build the strong relationships that allowed him to build a phenomenally successful company in the face of much larger competitors. It includes information such as the client’s college fraternity/sorority, children’s interests and birthdates, their immediate and long-term business objectives, health conditions, etc. Before every call, Harvey would pull out the client’s file so he could have that information at his fingertips. As he gleaned little bits of information during the course of the conversation, he would note it in their file.

As a result, his customers were constantly amazed at his apparently great memory, and the remarkable personal interest he took in them.

Cynics might say that it’s just a brilliant ploy to manipulate people. Harvey will tell you that it’s just the only way he could keep track of the information that helped him show how much he truly cared about people. And that’s also good business.

So this is why you should wish your Facebook friends happy birthday. Congratulate your LinkedIn contacts on their promotion or new business venture. Comment on their blog about how adorable their new baby or puppy is. It’s not being manipulative. It’s not being trivial. It’s acting like you want to act towards people you truly care about, and like you would on your own, if you were just smarter. Let social media make you socially smarter.

P.S. In the 30 minutes it’s taken to write this post, 7 more people have posted to my Facebook wall and 4 more have Skyped me. What a great way to start the day!

Social Networking for the Equipment Leasing & Finance Industry

Pool Equipment

I just learned that the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation has finished their study on “Social Networking for the Equipment Finance Industry 2010“.  The executive summary is available at http://www.leasefoundation.org/IndRsrcs/MO/SocMed10/ ; the full study is $300.  The author is Suzanne E. Henry.

The study shows that B2B social media marketing in the equipment finance industry is still in the nascent stage, with participants waiting for clearer directions and guidance for return on investment and development strategies.  For context, in its report, "B2B Goes Social," marketing agency White Horse reveals that 86 percent of B2B firms are using social media, compared to 82 percent of business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations. However, B2B firms aren’t as active in their social media activity with only 32 percent engaging on a daily basis compared with 52 percent of B2C firms.

The study is a good overview of social media for a B2B executive with little background. The best part of the study are the case studies of:

GE Capital, undoubtedly the largest equipment leasing and finance industry player, which has been exploring and using social media for more than a year. The organization encompasses corporate lending, vendor/dealer financing, core equipment financing, and specialty finance, including GE Commercial Distribution Finance Corporation, which offers inventory financing;

Duncan Aviation, the largest family-owned aircraft support facility in North America, which offers comprehensive service for nearly every make and model of business jets and turbo-props; and

American Express OPEN Forum. American Express OPEN is the leading payment card issuer for small businesses in the United States

For more on the use of social media in the investing industry (at no cost!), see our research.

(Image by billjacobus1 via Flickr)

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Final draft available: private equity and venture capital funds' best practices in originating new investments

Lincoln on U.S. one cent


We’re in the last lap of editing our research study on best practices of private equity and venture capital investors in originating new investments, which has a particular focus on use of social media.  We plan to publish this in a major private equity journal.


If you would like to review a copy of the 12,000-word report, please contact us.  We would greatly value your feedback.


(Image via Wikipedia)

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Writing Great LinkedIn Invitations

Idliek2addu2 Great LinkedIn invitations? Are they really that big a deal? Sure, canned messages are lame, but inviting someone to connect via LinkedIn (or any other social networking site) is just a simple matter of record-keeping. What’s wrong with just, “Hey, let’s connect?”

That’s one way to look at it. But consider this: every communication you have with someone in your network is an opportunity to move that relationship forward, to make it stronger. It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with treating a LinkedIn invitation as a simple mechanical action, but it’s a missed opportunity. A few extra seconds can transform it into a relationship-building activity.

There’s another reason your LinkedIn invitations matter: if too many (five or so, best guess – LinkedIn doesn’t publish the actual number) of your invitations are rejected (“I don’t know the sender”) by the recipient, your account may be temporarily suspended and you will lose the ability to invite people to connect without their email address.

One way to ensure having your LinkedIn invitations accepted is to email the person before sending them a LinkedIn invitation and ask them if they’d like to connect on LinkedIn. That’s not always possible, i.e., old friends/colleagues/classmates who you’ve lost touch with. I also don’t think I’d email somebody solely for that purpose. But if you’re having an email dialog with someone already, slipping it into one of your messages is a good way to grease the skids for an invitation.

Let’s look at the “stand-alone” invitation in three scenarios: 1) someone you know well, who you are confident will accept the invitation, 2) an acquaintance or colleague that may not immediately recognize your name, and 3) someone you don’t know personally, but are interested in connecting with.

The basic format is the same in all cases:

  1. Establish context. This is the main thing that will vary between the different scenarios. More below.
  2. Invite them to connect, in your own words.
  3. Suggest a next action. Coffee. A phone call. Sending them a link. Making an introduction. If you’re particularly interested in developing this relationship, make a commitment and then keep it. Otherwise, you can put the ball in their court.

[Read more…]

Free Social Media Webinar Series

As part of Vertical Response’s Social Media Webinar Series. I’ll be presenting Opening Doors and Closing Deals on LinkedIn on Friday, December 4, at 10am PST / 1pm EST. This will be focused entirely on using LinkedIn to grow your business, not for recruiting or job search, so all you entrepreneurs and sales & marketing professionals, this is for you! The webinar is free, but registration is required. A free playback will be available afterwards. I’ve included the first three webinars in the series below for your viewing pleasure.

John Jantsch – Making More Money with Your Business Blog

Anita Campbell – Get Business Exposure by Hosting or Speaking on Podcasts & Radio

Chris Brogan – Twitter for Your Business

Webinar 9/23 – How To Use Social Networking & Social Media To Grow Your Business

This Wednesday, 9/23, I’ll be conducting a 90-minute webinar on how to use social networking and social media to grow your business.

Most of my recent webinars have focused on a particular tool (e.g., LinkedIn) or a particular business function (e.g., recruiting). The primary focus of this program will be how to do more with less, i.e., how to get the highest returns from your virtual social interaction with the least (or at least a manageable) amount of effort.

As much fun as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogging and so on are, it’s easy sometimes to get lost in all that activity and lose sight of the fact that if you’re devoting all that time, you’re hoping for some kind of results!

As we put it in The Virtual Handshake:

People who know how to leverage their networks are called successful. People
who just know a lot of people are called socialites. Do you want to be a successful person or a socialite?

All cocktail parties come to an end, but on the Internet there is always another person with whom you can connect. This can be both healthy and hazardous; it’s very tempting to spend far too much time chatting with far too many people. We recommend focusing only on building your network to the extent that your marginal benefit equals your marginal cost. Otherwise, you will be so busy maintaining your relationships that you will have no time to leverage those you have formed.

So if you find yourself spending a lot of time in social media, but are still wondering when the payoff is going to come, you’ll want to be sure to attend this webinar.

Your investment is 90 minutes and $99, which includes a few cool bonus items and comes with a risk-free money-back guarantee if for any reason you’re not completely satisfied.

Learn more / Register

Professional Networks in China and America

As a followup on my old blog post about Chinese-American Networks,  I was interested in Dr. Roy Chua’s comments on how professional networks in China and America compare. He highlights the family-like nature of Chinese business ties.

Practical Tools for Law Firms to Expand their Clientele and Mindshare

I’ve been asked recently to present to law firms (in NY, CT and DC) on practical ways to improve their online presence, and combine this with traditional relationship building methods. The result is this presentation, which describes specifically how to polish a LinkedIn individual or company profile, obtain speaking opportunities and be quoted in articles with minimal effort, and use surveys and low-key events that allow industry executives (who are your potential clients) to mingle.

The steps require between 1/2 hour and 2 hours a week for your partners who emphasize business development. The range depends on whether you want to be simply “credible” in your online presence, or “facilitative” in blending networking and outreach with online activities, as shown on my slide about the efforts & results continuum from “Simply Present” to “Online Leader.”

For those attorneys and practices that still are challenged to find time to build their presence and relationships, online marketing consultants (there are talented independent consultants these days so less need to hire a firm) can make it easy and cost-effective to draft content and research speaking/article/outreach partners, while leaving the final sign-off and interpersonal communications to you.

The slides can be viewed here:

Scott Allen Interview on XtremeRecruiting.tv

I had a fun experience last week — my first virtual video interview.

Bill Vick, who I had the pleasure of working with on LinkedIn for Recruiting, interviewed me via Skype for XtremeRecruiting.tv, his video blog "about the collision of recruitment and technology". We talked about the importance of interpersonal skills ("soft skills") even in virtual networking, as well as the near future of social networking sites and what users should be watching for.

Sorry the sound is a little out of sync, but I suppose until we’re all running T1 lines into our homes, it comes with the territory. 😉

So what do you think? Where do you see social networking sites headed, and how does that affect how you’re using them now?

Social Web Aggregation – The Next Killer App, Part 1

508664515_853780cf3a Remember the good old days? Back when you had to log on to one email system at work and then at night dial up your favorite BBS’s one by one, replying to all of your emails while you were logged in? (I’m showing my age – if you don’t actually remember that – just use your imagination)

But then along came the internet and the idea of a universal email client — one application from which you could handle all your email across multiple servers. And you didn’t even have to be online to read and reply to email — you could do it at your convenience.

Remember Usenet? The same thing happened there. You used to have read in real-time while logged in, but before long came aggregators that allowed you to subscribe to the content you wanted and read it at your leisure. Eventually Google pretty much took it over and turned it into Google Groups.

AOL became the largest ISP at one time not just because they spent millions on marketing, but because they offered a simple, unified interface to the internet, accessible to the typical user.

As the web grew, it became apparent that it was far too complex to simply navigate via hyperlinks from one site to another. There needed to be a centralized directory of web sites. A couple of smart people realized that they could monetize that and Yahoo! was born.

While no one might ever have imagined it was possible, the web became so complex that it outran the capacity of a topical directory, and along came search engines to fill the gap. Was Google really THAT much better a search engine than all the others? Or did the "I feel lucky" button that promised one-click satisfaction have something to do with their success?

Some of the web’s biggest brands have been built around a fairly simple aggregation concept:

  • Amazon provides access to the pretty much the entire library of published books (and more, now, of course).
  • eBay aggregates individual buyers and sellers.
  • craigslist aggregates all types of classifieds, not just buy/sell.

And now the web is social. OK, it’s always been social, but now it’s mostly social. According to Comscore, "The number of worldwide visitors to social networking sites has grown 34 percent in the past year to 530 million, representing approximately 2 out of every 3 Internet users." In some countries, such as the UK, social networking sites account for more than 75% of all web traffic.

So where’s the super-aggregator for the social web?

Facebook wants to be it. So does MySpace. Google too. A host of startups are aggregating social networking profiles, online video and more – even multiple Twitter and Jaiku accounts.

Users are starving for this, even if many of them don’t realize it yet. As more and more social networks pop up, particularly those with niche focus, the space becomes increasingly fragmented. A new social network focused on one particular topic no longer competes with just other social networks on the same topic, but with all social networks vying for the user’s attention. And as anyone who’s ever studied GTD or any other productivity methodology knows, fragmented attention is counter-productive.

The inevitable trend is that unless social networking sites make it easier to aggregate their data, they’re going to lose their most active users to social network burnout (it’s already started). A widely-adopted, highly effective aggregation tool could stave off that trend and put the social web back on course to being an indispensable productivity tool, rather than a waste of time and a security risk.

It’s clear from the internet’s evolutionary past that whoever can figure out how to make a simple, unified interface to the social web is well-positioned to make a ton of money. But they’re going to face some significant challenges, and the technology is just one of them. I’ll address those in Part 2.

Image: Aldo Gonzales via Flickr