The act of following someone is not a relationship.  It is a static connection that allows the person who connected to you to get your content in their stream.  Relationships form because people interact with one another within a given context, or topic of interest.  I hear you say something and I consume it or that we have a conversation.  These are the building blocks to a relationship. Relationships are formed, often over a period of time, around a context.  Think about your relationships.  You may have interacted with me over time about startups or social analytics.  The more we interact the more we start to trust each other about the subject.  If one day I start giving you parenting advice you're probably going to look at me like I'm nuts.  You don't know if I have kids or if I'm a good parent or bad parent.  We may form a relationship within multiple contexts but our relationship and level of trust changes from topic to topic.  I love my dad and I trust him on many things but I'm not going to trust much of his advice on digital marketing strategy but he will trust me a ton about the subject.

relationships
relationships

The importance of context being core to a relationship was never more evident to me than it was in a conversation I found myself in a few weeks ago during the US government shutdown.  Remember that?  Most of us have probably moved on with our lives but at the time people had some very passionate feelings about who was to blame or how it was going to play out.  Typically I avoid political conversations on social networks because I know I have many friends, in other contexts, that have very different views.  I came across an article that I thought did a good job in outlining the facts of how the process of budget approval works and why the balance of power is there.  At least, that's how I read it.  So I posted it to Facebook thinking I was adding value.  One of my friends blew up on it.  She had very passionate feelings on the opposite side of the conversation.  There was a bit of a back and forth that started to heat up.  I stopped and said that it was not worth the argument.  The reality was that my relationship with this person was around a different context, the use of social media.  I do know some personal things about her and I respect her as a smart person, but our relationship did not extend to political views.  In that context I did not have a relationship with her and vis versa.  We agreed to walk away from the conversation and we are still friends today - just in a different context.

So many times context is an after thought in a social media strategy.  It can't be.  It defines the relationships we create.  Context is the foundation of these relationships, not if I follow you or not.

What do you think?  I would love to hear about your experiences.  Leave a comment below or tweet me at @matthixson.