I didn’t go to many high school dances, but from what I remember, they were rather uncomfortable experiences. I know they are very dance-feetdifferent today, but back then the scenario was always the same. Boys on one side of the gym, girls on the other. All of us waiting for someone – someone *else* – to make the first move. We all wanted to dance and wished someone would walk over and utter those magic words, “Would you like to dance?” As we waited, some of the kids wondered aloud what was taking those on the other side of the room so long to take action. Didn’t they know, after all, that if they asked, the answer would be “yes?” Really, how hard could it be?

My mind wandered back to those days after some recent social networking encounters on Twitter, although this could have taken place on any other networking platform or with people I’ve met face-to-face. On Twitter, one chooses to “follow” another person, meaning that if I choose to follow you? I will be able to view your posted messages and information.? (Following someone on Twitter is much like subscribing to someone’s posted messages.) I may like to follow you because it allows me to learn more about you and to respond if one of? your messages interests me. Your messages are not intended specifically for me, but rather are broadcast to all who’ve chosen to follow you. Similarly, if you choose to follow me, you will see the messages that I post and have the chance to reply to me. Many times, this engagement with others has resulted in fascinating discussions about topics of mutual interest, often leading to new friendships and business opportunities.

How in the world does this relate to the high school dance? When I’ve come across people using social networking sites who state that they yearn for interaction, yet they do not follow others’ messages, I have to ask if they are sending mixed messages?? In fact, many preach that those using social media must interact with others in order to be true to the intent of the platform.

Indeed, there are many social media personas, such as Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble, with tens of thousands of followers who do a wonderful job of balancing broadcasting content while also managing to frequently interact many of their followers. Unfortunately, the reason they stand out is that they are unique in their level of connectedness to their network.

One well-known person on Twitter, for example, trains businesses to better communicate with their customers, has 400% more followers than people she is following and stated that the “best way to connect (on Twitter) is through conversation.”? What I hear is, should I choose to walk across the dance floor to you and ask you to dance, you will indulge me; but you will never walk across the gym to engage me. If you are not following me, you will never see my messages, therefore you don’t know that I exist. I don’t take this personally; how could I, since they don’t know me? I’m simply puzzled at the apparent contradiction. From those claiming to be social media gurus, yet don’t follow others back and rarely reply when contacted directly, it sometimes feels like a generous helping of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I recently encountered another interesting situation. I was following James (not his real Twitter username), but he was not following me. I noticed that he posted a message questioning why more people were not using Twitter to engage him in conversations. After noticing that the number of people following his messages far outweighed the number of people he followed, I replied and asked him about the apparent (to me) contradiction. While we still don’t agree,? I’m pleased to say that we had an open discussion about our different approaches toward networking in a world where universally-accepted rules of etiquette do not exist. Each of us defines our own networking goals and tailors our style to suit our needs. Had I not taken the initiative to walk across the gym to ask James to dance, we would never have had the chance to get to know each other.

Ordinarily, I would never have called someone out simply for having a significant imbalance of connections, as it is certainly their right to network as they choose. It is only when they have such an imbalance, profess to place a premium on interaction and wonder? aloud why so few people are interacting with them that I’m left confused.

What has been your experience? Have you attended a networking event, made new contacts and indicated interest in connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook? Did you follow-up or did you wait for the other person to take the initiative?

Do you ask people to dance or wait for someone else to make the first move, all the while wondering why they’re not rushing over to talk with you?

<Side note: For those of you who respond that it isn’t possible to manage a Twitter stream once your followers reach a large number, I suggest that applications such as Tweetdeck are easy solutions, allowing you to manage a large volume of messages, while also filtering messages from your favorite people giving them higher priority.>

Image courtesy of Wasaby