I get this question pretty much every time I go and speak somewhere. It’s generally about MySpace, but it also relates to anything like the automated friend adders, chat bots, scripts and automatic human being replacements in social networks.

Essentially this is about making decisions about the kind of conversations you want to be involved in.

I’m sure you can already guess that my answer to the title question is a resounding “No” – but this is not about making you do all the hard work so that you have to reap the benefit. Believe me – this is not my serious work ethic talking here.

I’m a deeply lazy individual.

A bit like the tortoise and the hare
While it might seem that using an auto-friend adder is like strapping a jet propulsion system onto your online social networking system – chances are it’s not going to help you win the race.

Tools that can seem to get you ahead really quickly have the downside of exponentially diminishing the quality of that engagement, and the overall effect thereof.

But that’s not to say you have to set aside an hour a night to add ten friends at a time for the rest of your life, plodding away adding genuine contacts on a slow, incremental basis. It’s also possible to make serious headway quickly using this approach.

Let me tell you a story. And there are no anthropomorphic animals in it.

The Street Evangelist and the Neighbour who Bakes
Two churchgoers want a lot of people to come to their church meeting. They both enjoy their church, but they’re also really passionate about it, and what’s more – they think it’s really important.

One of them stands on a box in a busy intersection and shouts at people.

The other bakes a cake and knocks on the neighbour’s door.

Now the obvious problem is one of scale. Both approaches are hindered by the physical constraints of the world. One has machinery that will allow for a message to get out to hundreds or even thousands of people at a time. The other has a cake.

If you want to shout at more people, one way is to get a bigger megaphone. The logic at work there is that the more people hear your message, the more chance you have of connecting with someone that will want to come to your church meeting.

The other approach, you’ll recall, is to pop over to the new neighbours with a cake you made. You have a chat, and they eat your cake. They get to know you as nice people, and you invite them along to your church. They’re new in town and you seem nice, so they come along.

You can’t shout through a cake
Now obviously, the number of people who hear your message in the first approach is much greater. The number of people who will come to your church because you made a cake is very, very small.

But here’s the thing: the people who came because of what started with a cake will likely come in the first place – then they’ll stay, they’ll find that it’s a community they fit into – and chances are they’ll invite their own friends next time they’re around for dinner.

Especially if your church holds a bake-a-cake, invite a friend event.

Because the friends of your neighbours have friends too, and before long, they’re making friends, inviting friends and being part of a community.

It’s not so much that there was cake (although cake, it has to be said, is very good), but it’s a lot to do with the fact that you didn’t start out by shouting at them through a megaphone about what a miserable time they were going to have down below upon their imminent demise.

It’s not really about cake
I’m sure we can agree that cake is, indeed, a wonderful thing. But this is, of course, an imperfect metaphor. We can’t yet email each other cake. Nor beer, sadly.

But the approach to the conversation is the same. Rather than try and accumulate as many hits on people as you possibly can through the use of obvious and much hated communication methodologies such as megaphones and auto-adders, go for quality of connection.

It might seem like one at a time while you’re doing it – but the power of a recommendation by a trusted friend is an amazing thing. Getting people to bring their friends and build their communities with respect to your music builds exponentially.

Cakes are louder than megaphones
The trouble with a megaphone is that no matter how big it is, sooner or later the sound decays and reaches no further. A softly spoken word by a trusted friend who is having a good experience not only continues, but multiplies upon every connection.

So, perhaps one way to interpret this parallel of the street shouter and the cake baker is to say that maybe building a street team of trusted individuals who are tapped into powerful networks, and enabling and rewarding them to evangelise in quiet, enthusiastic tones on your behalf is better than gathering as many random MySpace accounts as you can find and spamming them with ‘HI! WE’RE A BAND! ADD US AS FRIENDS NOW!’

The other, more literal way to interpret this would be to offer free cake on your MySpace profile to anyone who ‘friends’ you – but I wouldn’t recommend it. Like I said – imperfect metaphor.

But you get the picture (and no, I won’t come to your church meeting, no matter how good your cake is).