Monday, May 5, 2014

Of Making Friends and Influencing People: The "You're Doing It Wrong" Edition

For many years I had an overactive guilt complex. Simple statement, anything but simple issue. I didn't have boundaries. Or, more accurately, I had poorly placed boundaries. I didn't have a problem standing up for myself against people who had proven themselves to be cruel, callous, or unkind; I had a problem standing up to everyone else.

I let friends, family, and even casual acquaintances walk all over me. I didn't consider myself a doormat because I could stand up for myself, I just didn't always realize when I needed to.

photo credit: thewatershed.com/blog

Why this trip into self-therapy? Because over the last several years I've worked hard to make positive changes in my life. I've worked to become more positive in my outlook, more realistic in my expectations, more discerning in who I allow to lay claim to my time and emotional energy. It hasn't been easy, but it's been right. Part of this has been putting up boundaries, deciding who is allowed to traverse those boundaries, and who has no right to petition for entry. In doing this, I've learned there are a LOT of people who think that by virtue of them being upright and breathing, they have the right to make demands (often shrouded in the guise of social convention or an offer of friendship) and place expectations on others. Where am I seeing this A LOT right now? Social media. But I'm going to speak directly about something that happened on Twitter a little while ago.

I have a Twitter account. I also have Facebook, Tumblr, multiple jobs, a toddler, 2 cats, an overly needy dachshund, a husband I don't talk to nearly enough, and a house that starts to cave in on itself if it isn't cleaned at least once a quarter. My point? Twitter doesn't come too high on my list of priorities. That's not a judgment on anyone who has all of the aforementioned and more and still loves their Twitter. We all prioritize differently, and my personal social media time tends to go to Facebook. To each their own. I often forget Twitter entirely until someone messages or follows me and I get an email about it (or until I need a response from Comcast, because for real, that's the only way to get one). People follow me. When I realize it, I check out their profile and generally follow back. If I get an immediate DM with a request to buy their stuff, I give their avatar the side eye and hit unfollow (it's social media, not direct marketing central). It's all pretty standard. And then I received this tweet.



Not a big deal, right? The message hit my email, I rolled my eyes because I have no idea who this person is in real life or virtually, and clicked to go to their account. That's what you do, right? That's the final piece of the reciprocal relationship. They followed me, they tweeted me (not DM, actual tweet) to let me know they followed me, and now it's my job is to go follow back. That's how it works.

That's what pissed me off.

I don't know this person, in real life or virtually. I did not ask this person to go to my Twitter page and follow me. Hell, I'm not even on Twitter more than a handful of times a year. And yet, because this person made the choice to seek me out (likely through a key word search that brought up writers and my general geographic area), I'm supposed to reciprocate their action. If I don't, well, I'm being mean, right? This person is being nice and offering friendship and they're already following me, so the nice thing for me to do is follow back.

This is manipulation. And I'm not dumb; it's also a really poor marketing strategy. This is a writer marketing to other writers (i.e. not readers), hoping to beg, borrow, or steal someone else's platform (i.e. friends and acquaintances) in an effort to launch their own platform and career. Someone looking to bump their sales by getting onto as many feeds as possible. If that's friendship, Verizon and I are best buds because I get promo emails with "forward me" links from them constantly. I'm calling out this specific example because it's on my mind, but this is by no means the first message of this nature I've received. I'm equally sure it won't be the last. Why not just delete it and go on about my merry way? Partially because I want any writer who stumbles across this post to realize this is NOT a good marketing idea. If you're doing it, knock it off! It makes you look like an amateur, at best. If you want to join the online writer community, than join it authentically. Enter the conversations. Ask questions. Forge actual relationships. Friend and be friended organically by being a real person; someone other real people want to support and see succeed. The other part of the reason? This has been bothering me for a while, and I wanted to finally put into words why it rubs me the wrong way.

The sender of the above tweet writes in a genre I neither write nor read, and from the tweets popping up on the first page of their feed, is obviously fiercely conservative in their views and very vocal about their related opinions. I have no issue with this person's belief system; the reason I mention it is because this person's particular set of beliefs, as indicated by their statements in their feed, proves they didn't make it any further than my Twitter bio before hitting "Follow" and tweeting me their 140 character guilt trip (tweeting, not DMing). My language alone would have this person blocking me, not following me, had they bothered even a casual glance at my social media presence. But, this person never saw me in my Twitter avatar; they saw a potential client. A source for free marketing. A warm body (or active account) that could be used to up their number of followers and hopefully tweet and retweet about their books. This person doesn't want a friend, this person wants sales, and sees me (if seeing "me" at all) as merely the means to an end. THIS is what pisses me off.

If you see me online and what to know more about me, by all means ask. I tend to be open about almost anything. I'm not unapproachable. Friend me, follow me, start a conversation with me and odds are, I'll friend or follow you back to keep the conversation going. I like the online community, especially the online community of writers. I have been helped and aided by many fantastic, knowledgeable, amazing authors to get where I am (not that I'm by any means an important fixture in the writing world), and I'm happy to pay it forward. But, and this is the important part, the relationship has to come first. I will promote my friends to the ends of the earth because they are diligent, creative, hardworking people who deserve every ounce of success that comes their way. I care about them as people, so I act out of that caring. It's not faked, it can't be purchased, and it sure as hell can't be guilted out of me. But to try to (at best) increase your Twitter follow count with a thoughtless "I did this for you so you should so this for me" public message--again, I don't think this would bother me as much if it were a direct message--or (at worst) to co-opt my friends as an extension of your marketing platform to endlessly Tweet messages for your benefit while not at all caring about their needs or interests?

I'm not a stepping stone, and neither are those I care about. Furthermore, an action I didn't request has no power to manipulate me into a reciprocal action.

So no, I do not care to follow you back. This is my boundary, and it has a No Solicitation sign posted on the door.

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