Star Trek has a special protocol for establishing “first contact” with new civilizations. It has to do, first, with ensuring that the people are ready for aliens who come in peace on spaceships. More broadly, it’s about setting the stage for a fruitful relationship.

Closer to home, we’re having a hard time with this concept. Especially when using social media.

My gripe is with people who squander opportunities every day. The other day, for example, I tweeted in conversation that I was headed on a road trip to Albuquerque. Immediately, @AlbuquerqueApt and a second local company followed me on Twitter. But did either bother to say hello, suggest any cool restaurants, or point out a great hiking trail?

Now you might say that it doesn’t matter or that I’m not going to be in Albuquerque long enough to go hiking. But (1) they don’t know that, and (2) they don’t know who else I know who just might live there or be moving to the area. Contrast that to Busboys and Poets here in DC which tweeted me to say they looked forward to seeing me the next day. Or the Roger Smith Hotel, which I’d recommend in a heartbeat even though I’ve never stayed there.

Clearly, my point isn’t about brands on Twitter that don’t know anything about social media. It’s about business, and how you build communities.

Mitch Joel had a good post the other day about people who feel compelled to ask favors of strangers. He wrote:

Because we’re all intrinsically connected … many people are asking people do things that are over and above the social capital equity they have put into the relationship…

 

The real world is the same as the online world. In fact, even making the false assumption that our social rules do not apply online is silly (and wrong). One of the better mantras to embrace when it comes to engaging with Social Media is:“just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should.”

 

While Joel is talking about presumed intimacy and I’m talking about failing to build intimacy, both are ultimately about lost opportunities.

Are you squandering first contact?

Photo by Scragz (Flickr).