Working together

As human beings our ability to maintain meaningful relationships is limited to 150 friends at most. This number has remain consistent over the history of mankind and the hundreds of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter friends we have has not changed this fact.

And this doesn’t sit well with the social media mantra that we hear over and over again: Companies need to start a meaningful conversations and relationship with their customers.

But what if those customers have spent their entire capacity of 150 on their real friends leaving no room for brands to establish a relationship?

Do relationships last forever?

While 150 is a well-documented limit I can’t help but wonder how the dynamics of these work and have changed since we ate Mammoth trunks for breakfast.

I heard somewhere that a million people move out of London each year and another million move in. And I have noticed that Londoners are good at establishing strong friendships fast, probably based on experience that these relationships may not last long as people move out of the city again.

It is safe to assume that not only for Londoners but for everybody the 150 relationships do not remain the same 150 relationships throughout our lives and to allows us to form new relationships when needed, a chunk of those 150 are reserved for establishing new relationships including what we could call event-driven relationships, relationships that emerge spontaneously and instantaneously bringing people together with a common purpose. Once the event-driven relationship has reached it’s goal it dissolves.

An example of an event-driven relationship

Event-driven relationships are valuable to companies. Let’s say a customer calls up a help desk due to problems with a product. The customer representative suggests a solution to the problem, which requires the customer to hang up the phone.

However, rather than leaving it up to the customer, the representative suggests that she can call back in 20 minutes to hear how it worked saving the customer from having to go through the whole “please hold, your call is important to us” routine again.

I’m sure the customer will feel appreciated and feel that there’s actual value in retaining the relationship with this particular representative. After the issue has been resolved the relationship dissolves but the goodwill towards the company stays.

Digital relationships

The communication options facilitated by social media allow us to quickly and easily “Friend” people but I argue that this does not equal tangible relationships. Rather befriending people digitally merely establishes the connections, the foundations to build relationships on if we so choose.

But digital relationships don’t need this manually defined connection to emerge. Take the Playstation game “Little Big Planet”. In the game you control a little puppet character named “Sackboy” and the game itself is simple in that you hop around on platforms to pick up points as you move along the game grid.

Little Big Planet has an online aspect as well where you can join random levels in which other players are already roaming around. As a player you cannot speak to the other players and you cannot text chat with them either… In fact you are limited to making your Sackboy point with his hands and simple facial expressions (smile, laugh, cry, sad etc). But this is enough to establish communication allowing players to solve problems together in event-driven relationships.

Once a level is complete, the game ends and all players are scattered most likely never to see each other again. The relationship has come to and end.

If you are not in the game-making industry this may not seem relevant but it is. It shows how quite effective relationships can emerge around an event, task or object. Digital campaigns can make use of this, especially considering the Gamification angle on in this. Some social networks are well suited to these short-lived relationships. FourSquare and Instagram springs to mind. One creates relationships around locations, the other relationships around photographs and both real-time around events happening right now.

Real-life events with associated digital communication (such as webcasts or Twitter hash-tag discussions) also make good use of event-driven relationships where people come together physically and digitally to participate in the event. Some may keep in touch after the event comes to an end, but most don’t as the relationship has full-filled it’s purpose.

What are your thoughts on event-driven relationships? Do you make conscious use of them in your role? Does your company consider the value they bring to the brand? Please share.