For those of you that don’t know, I work in the social value arm of a top-50 business school. A lot of my programmatic push the last six months has been in the area of social media. A lot of “what is the value of KickStarter/Kiva/DoSomething and other comparable models,” where is the intersection of social media with (a) philanthropy and (b) social enterprise, etcetera. Co-managing a blog while learning about appropriate use of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn strategy has given me an experiential perspective from which I try to strategically examine my own habits in these media. This learning had a direct correlation to my decision to cut 25% of my Facebook friends, and I want to tell you why I would do such a crazy (but maybe not so crazy?) thing. It boils down to the current state of the landscape and an objective consideration of purpose when it comes to online presence across these different conduits.
I have a number of colleagues that have 1,000+ friends. You meet someone at a party, at a conference, at a bar, at a ballgame, a friend of a friend, a relative, etcetera, etcetra- bam, they are in your Facebook. The platform gives you the ability to manage your circles, drop different connections in different circles, different privacies, etcetera. Here is the problem with this capacity- the FB changes the controls and tools so often that it is actually not worth my time to figure out how to work the new privacy settings. The circles phenomenon is certainly sweeping across the tech sphere, and I get some amusement out of that Verizon commercial where one of the circles is ex-girlfriends. But do I want to be a person that actively and selectively self-censors for different audiences and makes that an everyday facet of my online presence? To me, that’s a glaring no. As an individual with an online presence, I don’t have the time or desire to make social media management part of my daily routine. I want to put something online when I want to. I’d love to see the data on individuals that actively adopt these sorts of new tools for the technologies, but for me, that’s part 1. Facebook has always been about an online community of friends, not an online community of everyone I’ve ever met or known. There are other tools for which individuals like that fit.
For example, my professional network on LinkedIn has been blossoming as I traipse the country and DC/Baltimore metropolitan region talking sustainability, green supply chain, B-corps, and other pieces of jargon in my world. People I meet there land in my LinkedIn. Simultaneously, a number of college and grad school friends that I never actually hung out with have reached out to me. Do we have similar interests? Looks like it- accept. A professional social media platform is the place for those people. Similarly, did you come to a party at my house during b-school where you were really annoying and I didn’t really like you, but I’d like to maintain a connection with you in the case we cross paths again or can cooperate professionally in the future? You land in LinkedIn, but you probably got cut.
Twitter is a whole different beast. To go into how to appropriately (in my opinion) manage your Twitter from a C-to-C, B-to-C, or B-to-B perspective would entail an entire article (thesis, really) that I don’t want to launch into right now. However, I would say that Twitter’s value is less on friendships and more on information. Twitter is a platform from which you selectively build a running faucet of information that is interesting to you. That’s not only friends who say relevant things that you find interesting, but also businesses, magazines, outlets of all sorts. Its value is in its individualism, wherein no single member of Twitter has the same stories flying through their page/TweetDeck/HootSuite. Maybe that kinda friend of yours is someone you don’t want privy to your New Year’s Eve pictures, but you still appreciate their one-offs enough to peruse them every now and then. Or people that wouldn’t even care about your New Year’s Eve pictures that fit in the same category. Chad OchoCinco is probably the most amusing person of my 123 people I follow. He says random stuff, its usually funny, and it is constant. I get different utility out of that than I do out of HuffingtonPost, but that serves a different value in my feed. And of regular LTDers, I have to say I appreciate @jimnobu ‘s uncensored barrage of witty things on his mind on a pretty regular basis. Those are three pretty disparate accounts, but they’re appealing, so I keep them.
So to close, where does Facebook land in this? I thought cutting 25% (approximately 225 people) was going to be difficult, particularly since I had done the same thing at the end of 2010. It was actually very, very easy. I don’t mind accepting or extending that friendship to someone I meet over the course of a year in some situation (at a wedding, on a tubing trip, on a five borough tour of NYC,) but if there’s no follow-up or continuing friendship, I’m ok with the delete. If we’re meant to be friends, we will have some more lasting and meaningful conversation at some point, we’ll get back on-board, and hopefully it will last. Similarly, some people from my past that I just plain don’t like anymore, don’t see anymore, or people I wouldn’t be psyched to see on a random street- out. The constantly evolving nature of social relationships is pushed by the presence of social media in our everyday lives, but it doesn’t mean we should forget what it actually means to have friends. And more so, with whom we want to share our random thoughts/links/blogs. In
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell has a chapter about the number of individuals that one can maintain stable social relationships with (also known as Dunbar’s number) and estimates it to be right around 150. I’ve got much more than that on Facebook, but the annual 25% cut leaves me with a feeling that at least it is more likely that a higher percentage of my 662 are people I either actively include in that number or people I feel have the potential to eventually become part of that number. It’s a bit dated, but in an October 2010 New Yorker article Gladwell argues against social media as the supposed harbinger of a new age of friends and activism and I fully agree. Social media is something, but let’s be serious- you don’t have 1,000 friends. Whether or not you do anything about it is contingent on what you want to do with your tools and how you want to use social media as it relates to your personal relationships with the living, breathing people around you. Or I guess if you actually want to figure out how to use the privacy settings or whether your Facebook is a personal space as opposed to a megaphone for your public image. I’d invite some of the people in the LTD network with some social media savvy to weigh in on this piece, but that’s where I land.
I guess as a writer and activist, I see some utility in having a few hundred “friends” who I barely know personally. Every so often they’ll share or repost my writings or links, as my thin connection to them is usually ideological.
How you handle Fb probably turns on how you use LinkedIn and Twitter. I hardly use the former at all, and I mostly use the latter when I’m trying to get a handle on breaking news. Thus, Fb becomes a source of information from people who may not be my real friends. Plus, the Unsubscribe option has been particularly helpful for annoying people who post too much.