Social Medici – Lesson 2: The Social Network

No, Mark Zuckerberg is not a Medici, at least so far as I can tell. Although that would be kind of interesting historically speaking. Factually, the Medicis built a lot of their early wealth, power, and fame on the foundation of knowing how to make people happy. Not coincidentally, they also tended to lose a lot of power and wealth when they sort of “forgot” how to make people happy. Not too dissimilar from what can happen in the online world today, right? Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Amici degli Amici

Cosimo’s son Lorenzo, who eventually became known as Lorenzo Il Magnifico (Lorenzo the Great) realized something pretty interesting. While it was important to keep other rich and powerful people happy, the less powerful people, the poor or the sort of middle class folks, had pretty powerful voices. If you could keep them happy, you could pretty much keep anyone happy. Lorenzo took to meeting with people individually, face-to-face. They would give him something – whether it was something they baked, an animal they had killed, whatever – and he would listen to their problems and try to help them out. They would leave his home happy and would remember what Lorenzo had done for them. This network came to be known as amici degli amici – friends of friends. It was an understood part of society that if someone did a favor for you, you would try to help them out when they needed something. It was also poor form to beat up a friend of a friend, so the wider the network expanded outward, the more people would be hesitant to cause the Medici family trouble. Pretty smart, right?

In the online world, there are many ways to create this kind of network. The easiest way, perhaps, is to comment on a person’s post. This shows that you are interested in what they have to say, are willing to take the time to comment on it, and aren’t just leaving a comment for your own good. It’s also a good way to know people. You can also create a network of friends online by answering questions a person might have, supporting a project of theirs, sharing their posts, or other favors that show you are interested in their success. It is understood (I think) that when someone does a favor like this for you, it is good form for you to try to return the favor some day. In the 21st century online world, this has come to be called “Give to get.”

Of course, the more you give just to get, the less you’ll actually get. Your desire to help has to be genuine. That’s the tricky part.

Too many friends!

Here’s the interesting thing about the concept of the amici degli amici. Eventually, Lorenzo got a LOT of amici. He had festival-like parties at his palace almost every night where folks like Botticelli would hang out and talk about arty things (Michelangelo would be there sometimes, too).  The more friends he got, the more people came by asking for favors. As Lorenzo became more and more entrenched in his art and culture buddies, the less involved he became in the family business. In fact, a lot of the Medici banks had to close down because they ran out of money during this time. Not surprisingly, Lorenzo started to forget some of his friends. He simply couldn’t keep up with all of the favors people were asking him for. People left empty-handed, and they left mad.

If you’ve been online for awhile, you can probably feel this problem resonating with you.

In the online world, once you are seen to be a person who supports people, “friends” start coming out of the woodwork. You get more followers. You get more blog subscribers. It’s a great problem to have, but if you get too far behind in paying people back, you are going to create a stream of really angry people who won’t be so ready to jump to your defense when you run into trouble. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to Lorenzo. As we’ll talk about tomorrow, Lorenzo’s love of art and non-traditional “Pagan” paintings earned him damnation from Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola. Indeed, Savonarola convinces Florence that they are all a bunch of sinners, and his last words to Lorenzo are that Lorenzo is headed for hell. By that time, Lorenzo doesn’t have many friends left who are ready to jump to his side.

Keep expectations realistic

Perhaps Lorenzo’s biggest mistake is that he gave the impression he could be the friend of every single person in Tuscany. He gave the impression that anyone who came to his house would get their problems solved. Promises like these are of course seldom sustainable. So it is online. It’s impossible, no matter how hard you try, to keep everyone happy. There will always be a person who feels you don’t visit their blog enough after they comment on yours. There will always be a person who will complain that you don’t reply to them as often as you should. This is inevitable, and the bigger your community grows, the more likely it is that you will tick people off.

Keep expectations as realistic as possible. Be observant, too. Try to spread out who you do favors for – if you always help one or two people you’ll be accused of clique behavior rather than social network behavior. Try to give a hand to one new person on a regular basis – daily, weekly, whatever. And make sure you do your best to let people know you’re trying your best. Don’t complain about how much it stinks to have so many people in your community. Be grateful. Just be real about it.

How do you think the amici degli amici concept is working online today? I’d love to get your input!

Image Credit: via Creative Commons




You hit the nail on the head. It is impossible to be everywhere and be friendly with everyone. There is only so much time in the day.


You can't make everyone happy and you will fail if you try. However if you are honest and let people know what you are about you can try to manage things.


Example: I am trying to use my blog to build a platform to help promote my work as a writer. I want lots of readers/subscribers. I ask people to become a fan of my FB page and to follow me elsewhere because I think it is going to help me.


Some people view that in very dim terms and say that I am using them and others don't care. I am just playing it by ear and trying not to be a jerk. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't try to make use of tools and resources. The way that I try to manage things is to try to make sure that everyone knows what is going on and to be real.


Can't do much more than that, or at least I haven't figured out how yet.

margieclayman moderator 1 Like

 @TheJackB great points all the way around, Jack. Eventually, people are likely to get to know you and they will understand that either you are a jerk or you aren't, and they'll opt to live with either scenario. If people misread you or misunderstand you, there's not a whole lot you can do about that. You can only do what you can do. 

KimStebbins 3 Like

 @TheJackB  I just subscribed to your newsletter and the the auto response was a well-written 'thank you'  politely INVITING me to become a Facebook fan, etc. I took no offense whatsoever, and believe me,  I do  take a little offense when I get responses which demand, "FOLLOW ME" or "LIKE ME."  


Honestly, if you are using social media for business, marketing  or promotion (which a huge number of people are doing these days!), it's rather silly to pretend t that you don't care if you have fans.


I think Margie's point has to do with being truly sincere in one's giving--then the "getting" becomes a natural by-product. If one is not genuine, the audience will sense it. (Tell me if I got it wrong-- I am new to this!)


I think you were perfectly ok to so kindly invite me into your social media circle!

Martina McGowan
Martina McGowan

Loving the series, Margie. Does that mean I can't retweet it? :)


Yes, always keep expectations reasonable. If you are always "helping" one or two people, be honest with yourself about your own motives. Are you doing it because you just love their writing ( :)), or are you hoping they will help you in return, or for some other reason?


Know who you are and why you are doing what you do.


And by all means reach out to some newbies. Everyone was at one time...and some of us still are. There is a lot to be learned from new people coming into the community and a lot you can help them with. Plus, it is the right thing to do.



margieclayman moderator 1 Like

 @Martina McGowan Thanks Martina. No, you are not allowed to retweet it. I've decided i now only want retweets from people who dislike my writing. That'll fool *everybody*!!


"Give to get" is kind of like the whole "give to charities" thing. You might do it for the tax write-off. You might do it because it raises your self esteem or gives you something to brag about. But hopefully you do it because you really want to and you aren't expecting anything in return. Hopefully. It's quite complex, isn't  it? 

KimStebbins 1 Like

What a beautifully written analogy! Because I have not previously been involved with social media for business or promotional reasons, it took me a while to figure out that there is quite a bit of "giving to get" going on. When I first began researching social media marketing (for a new company I am working for), I was astounded by the number of articles, e-books and blog post on how to get more followers, fans, link-love, etc. The more I read, the more overwhelmed I felt.

Thank you for sharing are wonderful history lesson that is so very timely!



margieclayman moderator

 @KimStebbins Hi Kim!


If you are here for business, you can't get too carried away on the "give to get" thing. That's the trick. The Medicis did nice things for people, but they were bankers and politicians. Ultimately, their doing nice things was to further their family business(es). They just had to frame it so that it wasn't so *obvious* that that is what they were doing. It's a tough line to walk, without question.


If you ever have any questions, just let me know! 


 @margieclayman indeed, the question of whether true altruism exists has been debated for centuries! Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.:)


Yep, that's my model; pissin' people off every day..........


You are so smart; that's why I like hanging around here. What a great analogy/comparison and it's so true. When I first jumped in I tried to reciprocate with everybody (and I still do as much as possible), but quickly realized I would probably have to give up my day job if I wanted to maintain that pace. I like the 'engagement' part and also like helping others as much as I can.


The moral of the story is, people understand you can't be all things to all people; the key is, just be sincere, do what you can and don't be a douchebag and people will still 'like' you. 


That's my case you were wondering...........

margieclayman moderator

 @bdorman264 I knew it! Now I finally have written proof. You're a stalker and a pisser-offer. Boy oh boy did I have you down! :)


Sadly, even if you say "I'm doing the best I can," there are some people out there who will still give you a hard time. Hopefully that's when your friends butt in and say, "Hey, give them a break!" People are great at finding ways to bring other people down, but generally speaking, if you try to keep realistic expectations and don't maliciously mislead people you should be pretty okay.