Who are your social media friends, really?

How many “friends” on Facebook do you have? Twitter? Foursquare? LinkedIn? If you’re like me probably “lots” is a safe answer, but there’s a problem with the term “friends” or “connections” because we use these tools to define our personal, professional, and informational networks many of the people on these lists aren’t really friends at all. I’d venture to say that, for Twitter especially, the majority are less than even acquaintances. My friend (and I mean that in the sociological way) Chris Brogan probes into this sticky problem as he culls his “friends” list on Facebook:

Our friend behavior matches what software developers have designed. It’s not exactly written by sociologists. In some ways, the software forces us to behave in certain ways. In others, it opens up new ways to think and build relationships. It’s a mix of benefit and drawback (like all innovation, I suspect).

[From The Problems With Friends Lists]

I’m often tempted to go through Facebook and “unfriend” a lot of people. I think there are probably close to a hundred people on that list that I might not have talked with in over a year or even at all. Having lots of “friends” or connections on social media/networking sites is supposed to be a badge of power, honor, and influence, but at the moment I’m wondering if this practice is diluting our real friendships.

I have a private Twitter list (now thankfully synced and managed through TweetDeck) that I call “Friends” and another called “Colleagues”, these are my two most important lists, even more than my public News list because these are the people with whom I interact with both professionally and personally. I’ve found myself lately looking at my Friends list and asking…Is this person a “friend” or “colleague”. This isn’t a slight, it’s just a fact that early on my definition of friend and colleague (I used to call the column “Folks”) was pretty broad, so now I’m reining things in. I’m moving people around into different bins in an effort to better match the social media definition with a sociological one.

It’s that connection that you need to keep your friends closer and enemies on Google Alerts.

This is just a private compartmentalization though, I’m not “unfollowing” them on Twitter, I’m just shifting them around. Yes, there are a lot (the majority in fact) of people who aren’t in either of those two columns, which isn’t surprising is it when my current following list is over 5000. What about something far more (semi)public like Facebook? There, as Chris says, the idea of “unfriending” someone can have huge sociological overtones to it (I’m so unfriending you on Facebook now…), but frankly I don’t think it should in most cases. Maybe it isn’t a bad thing to go through an be able to say “do I know this person?”. Mark Evans’ post today on social media and the loss of privacy which I have to agree with and the realization of that made me look at Foursquare very differently recently. A number of people, including 6S Marketing’s Chris Breikss pointed out that Foursquare is so personal that maybe a little caution in accepting friend requests might be in order. Do you really want that person to know where you are? I know that I can’t really use Twitter or any social network as a soap box or unfiltered dumping ground of the stuff that rattles around in my skull. It’s public anyone can read it. So and while I might really want to say something, chances are that I won’t.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, I can’t pull it back. I can’t make my tweets private and maintain credibility in social media. Not only that when I want to say something in public I wouldn’t be able to. It’s the crushing reality that now more than ever, knowing who your real friends are is extremely important. It’s that connection that you need to keep your friends closer and enemies on Google Alerts. There are people who you want to share a lot with, and others you don’t. And while this has always been the case, I think at present with our world-wide culture of over-sharing, we might need to reflect and pull back.

Ask yourself: Who is most important to you in your life? Who do you want to hear from and be heard by? Who is a friend, and who is a mouse clicked connection? Who do you really know? Any maybe most importantly…

Who really knows you?

Comments

  1. Cecily Walker says

    I’ve been doing this for years, it seems. I’m a little more open about who I connect with on Twitter, because it feels like a giant watercooler conversation, but I keep very tight reins on Facebook connections, and even tighter ones on LinkedIn.

    I take the word ‘friend’ very seriously. Sometimes I think more seriously than most. But because I take it so seriously, I’m more reluctant to place weight on connections that only exist in the social media sphere. There was a time (say, circa 2001) when I was quicker to call online friends my ‘real’ friends, but as these circles have expanded and become more diluted, I’m more careful about how I dole out the “F” word.

    • says

      Interesting how this has all changed over the years, isn’t it? Sure a few years ago I think things were a lot more open, maybe it’s that most of this has become more mainstream?

  2. says

    I’ve been doing this for years, it seems. I’m a little more open about who I connect with on Twitter, because it feels like a giant watercooler conversation, but I keep very tight reins on Facebook connections, and even tighter ones on LinkedIn.

    I take the word ‘friend’ very seriously. Sometimes I think more seriously than most. But because I take it so seriously, I’m more reluctant to place weight on connections that only exist in the social media sphere. There was a time (say, circa 2001) when I was quicker to call online friends my ‘real’ friends, but as these circles have expanded and become more diluted, I’m more careful about how I dole out the “F” word.

    • says

      Interesting how this has all changed over the years, isn’t it? Sure a few years ago I think things were a lot more open, maybe it’s that most of this has become more mainstream?

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