Here’s a truism that Facebook PR is not sure how to readily admit. There really aren’t 350 million members on Facebook. Take my husband’s grandfather as an example. He’s an 89-year-old guy who doesn’t really have his passwords all in the same place, nor does he have an acute sense of hearing to realize that when his grandchildren say “hey grandpa, I’m making a Facebook account for you!” he should respond with “Oh, I already have one.” Consequently, the guy has three Facebook profiles, all of which were created for him by three different members of his family.
Got any family members who boast more than one Facebook profile? You’re likely not alone. Now consider your industry. I have several friends who have both a personal profile and a business profile. These are users who like Facebook but find it rather difficult to merge the personal and professional into one cohesive online identity. I’m sure the internet marketing industry isn’t alone in this regard.
Let’s now consider the hundreds of profiles that you’ve seen that don’t identify a person at all. Surely you have been befriended by those people representing “WWW [yourdomainhere] COM” or “Green Seo.” These are individuals posing as entities who assume personal profiles. You know, Facebook actually prohibits these types of accounts in their Terms of Service, but Facebook’s staff doesn’t actually act upon these infractions, apparently. With over “350 million members” on Facebook, it’s too difficult to isolate all of the rule breakers.
These examples above illustrate a typical usability question faced by Facebook users (well, except for Grandpa). Despite the fact that Facebook has the most customizable privacy settings of all social networks (though we could argue with their effectiveness in a whole other post), people don’t like maintaining a “business” identity on the same profile as their “personal” (fun?) identity. As a result, relationship-building becomes a challenge.
The Facebook Friending Dilemma
One of the questions I get asked very often is how employees are supposed to cope with incoming friend requests from their clients, bosses, and individuals they have a working relationship with through their place of employ. While there’s no clearly defined rule (it’s a question of personal preference), I usually urge the person not to be resentful or offended if the relationship gets ported over to a professional network or other public space (such as a Facebook Fan page).
I actually practice what I preach.
See, I’m one of those Facebook users who have been on the service since February 2004, which is quite a long time considering Facebook was open to about three schools at the time that I signed up. Back then, my Facebook friends were mostly connected to me via my neighborhood through religious affiliations or though college or primary school. There were no business colleagues on my friends list.
In due time, that started to change as I built face-to-face relationships with co-workers and then started building friendships in the industry. It helped that Facebook became an open network that invited everyone in. It was both exciting because I could know more about my business partners but scary because I would have to start ignoring Facebook friend requests in order to be true to my reasons for being there: to build strong interpersonal relationships with people who I actually know and who really matter.
How I Use Facebook
Facebook, to me, is about maintaining real relationships. With every single individual I am connected to, I want to feel comfortable responding to a status message or a photo update. And if you’re my Facebook friend, you should feel comfortable doing the same. However, many people connect and forget. That’s not how I want to use the network, and that’s why I won’t accept your friend request.
A few weeks ago, jwz posted a great piece on how to access Facebook via a feed reader. To keep on top of friends’ happenings on the network, I subscribed to the relevant updates. I now have status updates in my feed, and finally, I can see both happy and sad news. It has helped strengthen that friendship bond; I can now easily keep in touch with friends and those who are serious about using the network to keep their peers in the know about what is happening to them every day.
I posted about how I network on Facebook (among other networks), over two years ago, but I have over 700 pending Facebook friend requests from people I do not know. Many of these incoming friend requests (with the exception of possibly 0.05% of the requests) have no introduction, which I personally find a social media etiquette misstep — especially when I have no idea who you are. For the others who took the effort to connect, I am thankful that you thought of me, but if I don’t know you, I hope to get to know you in the future. We’re just not there yet.
Much has changed in the last 2 years. I’m now constantly neck-deep in social media projects, am working with amazing people, and I’m passionate about the people I work with and the work I do. Facebook has become more open than ever and everyone has decided to join. In fact, I noticed substantial changes in my friendships on Facebook, so I decided to update the Facebook charts I prepared in 2007 to provide an updated look of my friendship breakdown for January 2010.
As I prepared these charts, I unfriended a handful (52) of Facebook friends, especially some who befriended me when I was more accepting of Facebook relationships (before it was saturated with people I didn’t know). Why? We never got to know each other, and nothing happened after that initial friend request. Facebook has facilities that help foster real friendships, and when these facilities are ignored in the context of the friendship, the relationship does not feel genuine. If you befriended me in the last 2-3 years and have done absolutely nothing to maintain that friendship, you were axed. It’s not you and it’s not me; it’s us. There was nothing between us and the relationship dissolved.
Today, my 1,508 Facebook connections are broken into the following categories:
- Extra-curricular Programs refer to friends I met on vacation, through summer programs, or though other related activities.
- Neighbor typically refers to those living nearby but may also be affiliated through religious organizations.
- Industry and social media connections are further broken into additional categories, as seen in the charts below.
Consider the difference between my friendship circle in 2007 (graph featured below).
My industry (internet marketing/blogging) connections (who are 99.7% of my pending friend requests) have saturated the space, and more of my co-workers have signed up. (It might just be that I’ve been able to work with more amazing people.) I removed all my “Random” connections for reasons specified earlier. Digg is now part of social media and will be explained in the final chart.
Let’s look at the industry and social media subcategories. First, here’s the breakdown of industry colleagues that I currently have on Facebook.
As you can see in the chart above, I further broke down my Industry peers to explain the origination of these friendships.
- Some of these friends have mutual real-life friends (outside typical industry connections).
- Many of them (more than half) were individuals I met at search conferences, but other conferences (SXSW, events that Mashable was involved in in the capacity of host or media sponsor, and the first IZEAFest) also represented my Industry connections. With regards to Search Conference, I refer to Search Marketing Expo, PubCon, and Search Engine Strategies, but I also met a few people at Affiliate Summit.
- Some friendships originated through work-related communications that lasted a long period of time, so a relationship developed, was enhanced, and was solidified with the acceptance of a friend request.
- Other industry connections that have simply flourished since the very “early days” of social media. I may have met these individuals by chance (long-standing relationship) or through the blogosphere or forums.
In nearly all of these cases, I have met my friends face-to-face.
The chart above illustrates the breakdown of the “social media” friends. These are friends who have no direct ties to the industry, but in using social networks, we’ve formed close bonds and friendships.
- Digg is by far the largest; as a former “top user” of the service, I built strong relationships with employees and users of the social news site.
- There were other typical social networks in this grouping as well, including Flickr, FriendFeed, Kirtsy, Mixx, Plurk, StumbleUpon, Tip’d, and Twitter.
- I also consider bloggers who have forged real-life relationships with me to have connected via social media. This is different from forums/blogosphere of the previous chart because they are not connected to me in the search marketing or social media capacity.
- Both “IRC” and “Forums” that I reference relate in this chart to the pre-social media days. And yes, IRC does refer to Internet Relay Chat.
- In the early 90s, I was involved with AOL both as remote staff and as a participant, so I still maintain friendships that originated from these old hubs.
- (In case you’re wondering who Craigslist is, he’s a guy I sold an elliptical trainer to a few years ago. It turns out that we have several mutual real-life friends.)
These friendships are a mix of people I’ve met face-to-face but also consist of individuals I have just communicated with for such a long time that we’ll easily hit it off when we actually meet in person. There are only a small number of individuals I have not met in person on this list.
As you can see by the breakdown, Facebook is about real relationships, and when I look at your name, I want be able to justify that friendship. Facebook is an extension of the real world in the virtual space.
Evaluate Your Connections
Knowing who someone is when seeing their profile without having to look at their place of employment or common friends is important. If you have Facebook friends that you can’t place from a hole in the wall, it might be a good idea to purge. It’s totally up to you.
When you connect with someone on Facebook, ask yourself, What do these online connections signify? Are you establishing a friendship so that you will do something with this individual in the future, or are you simply establishing a friendship just because you can?
Why LinkedIn Makes More Sense than Facebook
If the prospect of friendship makes you feel antsy, especially from individuals you are not comfortable letting in, it’s not awkward or rude to suggest that the online relationship be established elsewhere. LinkedIn is the likely choice because it is a “set it and forget it” social network. There’s not much you can do with the connection once it’s confirmed. On LinkedIn, once you’re connected, that’s usually it. Someone might request a recommendation of you or contact you via messaging facilities, but you can’t do much to
deface update your colleague’s profile or build upon that relationship in the confines of the social network.
On Facebook, however, there are hundreds of opportunities to upload pictures, comment on statuses, tag people in notes — and yet, among business professionals (outside of
overt “no-no” marketing tactics spam), that kind of activity is typically ignored. Many business people just don’t do anything with Facebook with their business colleagues. That’s why I consider Facebook a personal network for real friends. Knowing someone online (or offline) doesn’t grant you an “in” to their personal space.
If You Insist Upon Using Facebook
Let’s face it. Facebook has its pros. (LinkedIn does too, and it’s a terrific professional network.) I’ve decided to create a public Facebook page to be updated regularly that broadcasts what business colleagues are often looking at me for anyway: social media news. The public page is one of two Facebook pages (the latter being for my book) that I plan to maintain to share fun social media information and tidbits. The profiles will both feature different stories — and they won’t be about me.
For a little bit of history, I created a fan page for myself when Facebook first launched its Fan pages. It was an experiment in personal branding and a way to have fun to connect with people I otherwise may never know. The page mostly was stagnant for awhile, but after Facebook’s page redesigned that made it look like I was talking to myself, I decided to kick it up a notch. Neil Patel provided several compelling reasons as to why I should. I recently invited some actual Facebook friends who I thought would find the information therein interesting — I hope you saw it as a way to connect in the professional sense (and nothing else — thank you Curtis)
I must emphasize that my Facebook page is not about me, but it addresses this age-old debate about how to — within Facebook’s Terms of Service — handle the personal and the professional. Since most people who want to connect with me on Facebook know me in a more professional capacity, I will be using my Facebook page to engage them professionally. (As it is, my personal page is mostly about my kid anyway. Would you really comment on those updates? Sure, some of you might…)
If I don’t connect with you right now, don’t take it personally. One day, I hope to meet every single person who added me as a Facebook friend in the last few years (and those who continue to do so) face to face. I want to put a face to a name and build a relationship that will last. Those are my goals for my current set of friends and I hold everyone to the same expectations. All friend requests will remain open indefinitely, because I’m hoping one day to get to seal the deal and make the friendship a reality.