Not a day goes by where I don’t get some kind of solicitation from a Social Media expert wanting to help me with my online presence.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am the first to admit I need assistance in the space, with only 13,500 fans on my Facebook page, a Twitter following that could fit in a bus, and a  LinkedIn account that I rarely visit. I am SURE I could do a better job. Especially considering I used to own a technology company, I broadcast into 35 million homes on cable TV each week, and speak to on average 30,000+ people in conference audiences a year.

But outside of doing the best job I can as a broadcaster, professional speaker, and average business bloke, I still seem to get lost in the woods on what works and what does not when it comes to the social media space.

Given I am a tactile, visual kind of guy I figured that the best way to fix that was to actually run some research to see the results, kind of like a live focus group if you will. And from that I could then draw some personal conclusions as to how we might use the medium of social media to enhance our marketing strategy in our companies.

Unlike so many I do not believe that social media is the marketing savior for business in the new millennium. I believe it is simply another bright shiny object for business people to latch on to, until superseded by the next big thing, much like radio was at the turn of the century, and TV some 30 years later, and then color TV some 30 years after that, and then the internet some 30 years after that. For sure these are all great marketing mediums, and all still relevant today, but at the time of release of each of these great marketing tools were THE thing to be latching on to and everything that preceded them was headed for certain doom as a waste of time and money.

So to prove my bright shiny object theory, I started a few little social media experiments.

Day one on my research crusade, I created a fictitious person on Facebook. This became the first of my experiments to find out just what impact I could create with a ‘Fakebook’ person on Facebook. Let’s call him ‘Nigel No-friends.’

Nigel put limited information on his page about his business, no information about his family life other than he was a 30+ year old business person working in property, in a long distance relationship with his girlfriend, and the only photo in his profile was that of an inanimate object.

I made the personal rule that I was only going to spend 15 minutes a day on this experiment for 2 weeks, so that I would not fall into the trap that social media is a time suck and therefore results could be skewed disproportionately to the time invested in the medium. So, for my allocated time I would snoop around Facebook, joining business-networking groups and looking to invite interesting people to be my friend and accepting the requests of those ‘friends of friends’ that I had made. In just over one week Nigel had 1,000 new friends. In just over two weeks he had 2,000 friends, and at about two and a half months be reached his maximum of 5,000 friends on his Fakebook page.

One of the most significant and interesting social metrics was that only just over 2% of the people he invited to be his friend sent him a message saying, “Do I know you?” The rest simply accepted the request; some saying, “haven’t seen you for a while, good to hook up on Facebook,” while others openly sharing some very personal information with him right off the bat. One of Nigel’s new Fakebook friends even said, “Hi, how are the wife and kids, it’s been too long since we caught up.” Now of course Nigel does not have any wife or kids because, well, he doesn’t exist.

The highlight of this unreal connectedness came with someone ‘tagging’ Nigel in a picture of him from about ten years back as a young bloke at the beach with his mates. Good looking young lad he was too, if that was in fact him. But, Nigel was only ‘born’ a few months back.

Almost daily Nigel would post some interesting quotes on his page, some philosophical prose, or some information about interesting business books, networking groups, or websites he’d come across. And whilst he seemed quite intelligent and friendly to the outside world, rarely would any of his 5,000 new mates comment below these posts.

However, when Nigel made comment on the ‘amazing tuna sandwich’ he had for lunch, or the ‘great movie’ he’d seen, on average 20+ people would make comment under his post.

When he posted up pictures of fast cars, links to sporting events, or links to comedy again the posts would go nuts. But alas nobody seemed to care when he was too serious or thought provoking.

Throughout the course of the last year Nigel has continued to attempt to inspire his new friends to engage them on a deeper level, and each and every time it’s the simple, shallow, superficial things that gain comment.

And when you think about it, it stands to reason that the relationship he has with these individuals has to be superficial, given he is after all, not real.

My simple, and somewhat humble conclusion from this part of my research:

The laws of marketing, no matter what the medium, remain relevant. In other words, it’s great to have the ‘connections’ on a medium such as Facebook, or for that matter the ‘eyeballs/listeners/viewers/subscribers’ on any marketing medium, but at the end of the day unless you are SIGNIFICANT in your relationship with these individuals you seek to influence the relationship is somewhat superficial and fake in its being and in turn therefore light in value to you on either a personal and business level.

Real relationships in business and in life don’t happen by simply clicking ‘accept.’ REAL relationships happen when you invest in them, when you take the time to truly understand those you seek a relationship with.

And to ‘keep it real’ we need to check ourselves on this every day.

Every week I come off the air on television after broadcasting into 35 million homes across the USA. To some marketers on face value that might sound like a fantastic marketing platform. To me, it’s a fantastic challenge.

How am I going to break through the fantasy that I am connecting with the individuals whose homes I beam into each week? How am I going to better connect to that audience to build a more significant relationship with them and in turn a more loyal audience for the next week? And this is my challenge on a marketing medium that’s been around for decades. Imagine how much harder it will be for me to achieve that same impact on a medium that has only been with us a few short years. And my fictitious friend Nigel has proved that point.

So my question to you: what are you doing to invest in the relationships with your customers, your spouse, your family, and your friends to achieve real connection?

Social media may well be the new bright shiny marketing object, but be clear you still need to make that connection real and significant for it to be of any value to you.

Oh, and don’t go looking for Nigel on Facebook, that’s not his real name either! Hey… why would I give up the real identity, of an unreal person, and reveal a great party trick!