When I worked in sales I called on insurance brokers to use the shop that I was representing. I’d make phone calls, I’d stop into offices and I’d have the occasional lunch, usually with an office manager. If they were older (I was 22-24 at the time) like 30 or more they’d treat the relationship pragmatically. I had something to sell and they had clients to please. It was easy. When the women were younger they would see me as their friend. I never really felt like their friend but here and there I’d meet them for drinks here and there. I’d probably have described someone like that as a Work Friend or perhaps an acquaintance. It’s not that I didn’t like these women, it’s that they weren’t part of my life. They only knew the work part of me and I suspected (and was correct) that when I left my job I’d leave them behind too.
Twenty years later I’m still selling things to outside vendors. Like every blogger whose blog is their day job I’m writing proposals, sending emails and having phone calls where I explain my relevance and perhaps more importantly my audience’s relevance to their product or service. I’m either defending my pageviews, explaining the value of being on a site where sidebar ads don’t compete for eyeballs or explaining why a brand isn’t a match for me but surely something else in their portfolio must be. I’ve made some friends along the way and they’re different than the vendors of my earliest career. We know each other because we’ve shared so much of ourselves on the web.
Or maybe we haven’t? Maybe we just share what we want the world to see? Facebook in June is a portfolio of vacations few can afford and I’m torn between dying slowly of envy (my Facebook friends) and being really happy for people (my real life friends).
A good number of online relationships are transactional. Please don’t assign judgement to this. A transactional relationship is neither inherently good nor inherently bad. It is simply a type of relationship. These relationships in the blogging world come about naturally with one blogger linking to another and expecting a thank you in the form of post promotion or a link back. Many bloggers join private groups and exchange comments, Stumbles, Alexa clicks or Facebook likes. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. There’s power in being part of a group and I can’t bring myself to say that being part of a group is bad or good. It’s just something that is.
It gets sticky for people who don’t reciprocate and they’ll never know that it’s gotten sticky they’ll just get frozen out. Send too many emails asking for Facebook likes and you’ll find yourself off people’s timelines. DMing for Stumbles day in and out is fine if you’re spending an equal amount of time promoting the people you’re asking (you probably aren’t). Since these Facebook friends aren’t sipping lattes in your living room or picking your kids up from school it’s unlikely that they’ll put up with too many requests.
I’m involved in many transactional relationships. My drycleaners clearly adore me and my unwillingness to iron my husband’s shirts. I pay money, they iron the shirts, I stand at the counter and they pretend to care about my day when they ask, “How are you?” I pretend that they’re listening when I say, “Fine, and you?”
Bloggers go on junkets and get to know the folks on the trip, though they genuinely may enjoy one another there are transactions occurring at every moment. Take my picture, talk about me, let’s make this fun… we’re doing for others with the expectation of something in return. I can’t even talk about how the hosts (publicists and marketers) must feel. Those are incredibly unequal relationships. One person has the ability to shower another with corporate goodies, how will they ever know if they’re liked, appreciated or respected? Does it matter?
Transactional relationships can turn into friendships. Real ones with people who enjoy and respect one another’s talents and strengths that are unrelated to work but it takes time and experience. Non transactional friendships can come from a transactional one. You might decide that you like someone enough that you don’t care about scorekeeping. It’s like crossing a million moats and in every moat there are favors you don’t need, want or ask for instead of crocodiles.
Photo credit Abdul Rahman