When you look at my online presence via social media, you might think I have a staggering number of friends. The truth is that while I’m blessed to be able to call a lot of people friends, there’s no way that I can call thousands of people friends. Oh, sure, according to Facebook I have more than 800 “friends” and on Twitter I have more than 4,000 “followers” and on LinkedIn I have more than 500 “connections.” But how many are friends, how many people would really follow me anywhere and how many feel truly connected to me? I’d be lucky if I could say 1 percent.
The point is that we often get caught up in thinking that people we are linked to online are the same as those we have interacted with regularly in real life. News flash: they’re not. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t connect as much as possible, but you should consider how you do that and what’s in it for both of you. And it’s why you might consider different criteria for connecting on various social sites as well as how you interact with folks on those sites.
I’m not going to suggest there is any right way to do that, but I often am asked how I handle requests for friendship, etc. online, so I thought I’d share my thoughts in this post and maybe people would find that useful.
I’m primarily active on four main social networking outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Here’s how I handle my connections and what they are likely to see if they follow me or become a “friend.”
Facebook: I have a rather open criteria for becoming friends with people on Facebook. If a request comes in, I will generally accept it, but I categorize the people on there so it’s easier for me to keep track of my truly close companions and to protect my privacy from those whom I consider just a networking connection. My friend list is broken into four sublists: A list, B list, Networking and Organizations. The A-listers are those people whom I have met in person, share some private connection with and am truly interested in keeping up with regularly. The B-listers are folks who might be friends of friends; the folks I’ve met at an event or through work and believe I should try to develop a relationship with. The Networking list is for people I’ve never met or whom I’ve met but our connection is purely work related and, therefore, with whom I’m more comfortable at arm’s length. Organizations is the list for companies and organizations that have reached out to me. My Networking and Organizations “friends” do not have full access to all of my Facebook information because I’ve not only learned how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, I actually use them.
My Facebook status updates are everything from quotes that I like from famous people to my own statements and observations on life. They are often personal and reflect my sense of humor more than my updates on other sites. I update at least once per day, and sometimes two or three depending on what’s happening that day.
Twitter: Twitter is a bit of a free-for-all, and my connections prove that. As of right now, I have 4,339 followers and I am following 3,876 people, companies and organizations. I obviously don’t follow spammers who start tracking my tweets, and there are times when someone’s Twitter feed just doesn’t contain anything I’m interested in. This includes people who aren’t necessarily spammers but whose feed consists of a constant stream of ideas on how I can make money or be more successful if I follow a link to their website. I also don’t follow or will unfollow people who do nothing but post quotes or annoy me in some way. (There are two quick ways to get unfollowed by me. First, you can abuse the direct message feature by trying to sell me something. Second, you can get on Twitter once per day and push out 20 tweets in 15 minutes as you play catch up on a service that calls for live interaction, not procrastinated responses best reserved for e-mail.)
My Twitter feed really is a hodgepodge of news and blog links, personal commentary, interactions with friends and colleagues, political debates, jokes, puns and snarky reactions to life’s many challenges. And don’t forget, if you are reading my tweets, that means you chose to follow me and be subjected to my sense of humor and my stubborn quest for an honest and nonpolitically correct debate on the issues of the day. If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it. I promise I won’t be offended. Honestly, there’s really no way for me to even notice you’re not there anymore, so I’ll just bid you adieu now. I update a lot on Twitter, every day. Sometimes it’s only a handful of tweets, some days you’ll see a dozen from me. It all depends on the ebb and flow of life that day.
LinkedIn: Because of many training sessions with people who know more about LinkedIn than I do as well as my own trial runs, I have locked down LinkedIn more than the previous two services. It really is the business Rolodex of social media and I think it’s best if we keep it that way. I will connect with you on LinkedIn if we’ve met or if we have some reason to be connected — a shared cause, a common goal, perhaps a mutual friend or colleague who thinks we should know each other. If you try to connect with me on LinkedIn, please don’t use the boilerplate language about wanting to become connected. If you want to connect with me, tell me why. Show me why you belong in my Rolodex. And please make sure your profile is complete so I can learn as much about you as you’ll learn about me. An incomplete profile is an easy way to get ignored, not just by me, but by hundreds of others who otherwise might be interested in getting to know you better.
Because I consider LinkedIn to be the more professional or business world service than other social outlets, my status updates tend to reflect that. I usually reserve the updates for news links, blog links or interesting observations that I believe business connections would enjoy or from which they would benefit. I try to keep my snarkiness as nonexistent as I can, which is not easy for me. I also tend to leave updates on my page for longer than Facebook or Twitter. Because of this, I also tend to post updates that are a bit more timeless or at least have a shelf life of several days before they become too stale to matter.
Foursquare: To me, Foursquare is the most like electronic stalking and so I’m most protective of my presence on this service. My friend list is very small compared to the rest of my social networking outlets. You have to be someone I’ve actually met and whom I feel comfortable sharing most of my whereabouts with.
I don’t check in everywhere I go, reserving these mostly for places where I know I’ll be for a while. I don’t check in during errands that are a quick run in and out, unless it’s a coffee shop, since I figure they’ll all catch on eventually and start offering deals for frequent check-ins. If it’s a business I’m frequenting for an errand, I won’t always check in, but I try to do so if it’s a local business that I’m trying to promote because I believe they are a worthwhile place for my friends to give their business to. Any place where I’ll be for a while and think there’s a chance friends might be nearby at some point always gets a check-in. After all, Foursquare isn’t just about broadcasting your whereabouts, it’s about increasing the chances of bumping into people in real life so you can continue building your friendship in the best way possible: face to face.
As I said earlier, these are my methods and you don’t have to agree with them. The best social media counseling I can ever give is to tell people to find what they are comfortable with and make it work for them — whether that’s which social networking sites to be on or how best to conduct themselves there. If you can justify what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, I’ll support you. After all, what are “friends” for? 🙂
(Photo courtesy of Funny Animal Pictures.)