Show me your Facebook account and tell me that you have a thousand “friends” and I may look at you askance. While everyones favorite social media site has done its share to bring folks together, it does have one sin that I lay directly at its collective feet.

It has butchered the meaning of the word “friend”.

If people honestly applied the ART scale (Awareness, Relationship development, Trust) to their list of friends (or “connections” on LinkedIn, “followers” on Twitter, etc), most would barely make it out of the Awareness stage. So, how can we actually check that and keep ourselves honest?

Let’s look at characteristics of relationships at each of the levels. If we meet a majority of specifications at a given stage, then we can honestly say that is where we stand with that person. We can also get an idea of how to develop the relationship further, should we desire.

Awareness. These are the folks you just met. In friendship terms, they haven’t even gotten to the level of acquaintances. You might know one or two personal things about them, but mostly you just know what they might have on their business card. Chances are, these are the folks you’ve met once at a networking event, spoken for five minutes, and exchanged business cards.

Relationship Development. In the friendship continuum, these would be anything from recent acquaintances to people whom you might call friends, though they wouldn’t be in your inner circle. You’ve met with them for coffee or lunch. You probably know a fair amount about their personal life including their interests, their immediate family, and maybe a little about their long-time goals. They would probably know similar information about you.

Trust. On a personal front, these would be your true friends. In business, they are trusted advisors and colleagues. These are the people to whom you would lend money or (even more important) lend your reputation. You probably know who their parents are and where they live. You’ve probably actually met their immediate family. You not only know a lot about their interests, goals, and business, but you’ve also gone out of your way to pass them information and/or referrals which would help them along in these areas. These are the folks who have passed the very best referrals along to you and act as your ambassadors, always looking out for your best interests.

So, now look over your lists of connections, friends, followers, etc and ask yourself, where do these people fit in my ART levels? Moreover, what will you do to start developing these relationships into true connections and friends?

After all, the strongest and most profitable networks are based on the strongest relationships.

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