I read a lot of blogs. Starting from the ones in my reader, and fanning out to the ones my friends and friends of friends recommend on FriedFeed. I tend to follow the links of those who link to me - when Technorati has a good day - and those recommended by the writers I enjoy in their posts. You get the idea.
Having had exposure to people before blogging, I've come to understand and recognize what I call the fall in love and now I know you effects. The first one is inspired by a brand new source of content. Wow, I got here from who can remember what search or link, but boy, am I glad I did! Lots of enthusiasm and promises of never ending, daily reading.
Attracting new readers, customers, employees, that can be an exhilarating adventure in the short term.
Then a few weeks - in some cases, days - go by, the exploration continues in earnest, and sometimes the overwhelm starts to set in, and you have the now I know you feeling. The posts are not what they used to be, I already know all that stuff, there is so much more out there to explore. Yes, we even start taking ourselves for granted.
This happens because our brain loves novelty. We are built to notice all that is different and new. It was included in the sticker price with survival instincts. Not an optional. And as we start learning and growing, we feel the need to move on to higher, better ground - whatever that may be.
Retaining readers' attention, customers spend, commitment and energy from employees, all this can be a challenge in the long term.
What happens is that we develop a relationship of giving and taking with someone through their content. As Toru Sato writes in his psychology book The Ever Transcending Spirit, when we have this relationship of giving and taking, the relationship we are experiencing is not directly with that person. It's in our mind. (It's a fast read, I recommend it.)
Sato states that learning and growth put us in a constant process of rebuilding our self-system. When we are in "The Zone", this process occurs so fast that the boundary between accepting what is happening and taking action is undetectable. In interpersonal relationships, this is what people experience as like-minded, being on the same wavelength.
You might know the concept of being in The Zone from sports. You might also be familiar with the work of Mihalyi Cziksentmihalyi on "Flow". Some of the characteristics of flow are important to this conversation on the "falling in love" effect:
- your attention is completely absorbed by the activity
- the activity you engage in is perceived to have a goal or direction
- you are open to clear and immediate feedback
- you experience a sense of control as active participants in the process
- you lose self-consciousness
- you lose sense of time
Think about some of the new and fun endeavors you engage in and you will discover that they meet many of these characteristics. What happens when this turns into "now I know you" may be the sense of overwhelm. You start to gain your sense of self as separate from the activity or task, your mind is wrestling with too many things.
One of the ways to deal with overwhelm is to break down a task into smaller, manageable steps. This is probably why micro-blogging is so appealing. You break down content, impressions, and interactions into small chunks. Now you can regain control for shorter bursts. I've seen many say Twitter fits better with their daily routines, for example.
Brands, companies, people all wrestle with the same issue - how do we retain and build on relationships when we're not new, sometimes not even improved anymore?
Have you noticed how there is a constant need to define and redefine our reality? Discovering new presentations of similar concepts in blog posts, new versions of products that were already in the marketplace, reinventing what it means to be on Twitter or to blog, even reinventing our careers, personas, and space, which is something that North Americans have a bit more practice doing compared to Europeans.
These are all types of communications.
According to Sato, communication is a continuous process of breaking down and rebuilding our self-esteem. People change. People's circumstances change. People's desires change. In order to keep any relationship working, we need to be constantly open to those changes and adjust accordingly each moment we interact.
That's why you cannot really engineer a viral marketing campaign, but you may be able to create content that could go viral.
It sure sounds like social media is allowing many more to scale these dynamics so that they map to the way we're built. As you blog, market, retain employees and customers, consider that relationships unfold in stages, from the "fall in love" to the "now I know you" and everywhere in between and build that into your processes and plans.
I leave you with some beautiful quotes from Soto's book (attributed to native tribes, in translation):
"Creation is ongoing."
"The greatest strength is gentleness."
"Do not point the way, but lead the way."
"If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself."
"He who has great power should use it lightly."
"Life is both giving and receiving."