It’s time to redefine the redefining of friends

golden retriever puppiesNearly four years ago, in February of 2011, I wrote a blog post about social networking and redefining the word “friend.” Since then, that post has consistently been near the top of my stats page for number of views. I just read it again and while the basic premise is still sound, some of what I talk about doing there has changed for me. The staying power of that post seems to show how much people are still struggling with social networking vs. interacting with people in real life. So I thought it was time to update the post with how I handle accounts now.

As I said back then, you don’t have to follow my lead. I don’t believe in social media rules but rather best practices. There are some people who are better at it than others, not because they are gurus or follow a strict code, but more because they have found a way to exist online that works for them and the people with whom they interact.

In 2011, my four main social networks were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. In four years, how I handle my interactions on those accounts has changed a bit, and I no longer use Foursquare after their disastrous break up into Foursquare and Swarm. That move by the developers led me and many others to abandon them as quickly as they had abandoned the core function and attraction of their original app.

Instead, I find myself spending more time on a network that didn’t even exist in early 2011: Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but some things have changed, and I’ll go into those after I talk about G+.

Google HQGoogle Plus (+AriAdler)

Anyone who interacts with me regularly knows I’m a big fan of Google products. I like they way they are integrated in an effort to make my life simpler through interconnected apps. Some folks like to malign Google Plus as “the Facebook killer that failed.” But here’s the problem with that statement: G+ was never intended to kill Facebook. It is a very different network. I’m on there multiple times every day, either sharing information in my own posts, sharing what others have posted, or visiting one of the many communities I have joined that bring together aficionados of just about anything you can be interested in talking about. I use G+ as the main repository for photos that I shoot, which is now done entirely via my Android phone or my Google Glass (and backed up automatically). And I will follow anyone who seems interesting and doesn’t seem to be a spammer. Their system of Circles that allows me to categorize people and decide who receives all or just some of the posts I share is easier for me to use than Facebook’s system, but that may be a personal preference. Circles also are integrated with Google Contacts and the network is integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google apps. It’s a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the universe while traveling aboard the Starship Google.

I find I interact with people who have shared interests more than anyone else. Most of my family and friends aren’t using G+ because many of them didn’t see the need to check it out once they settled in on Facebook. I don’t think many of them know what they’re missing, but I’m not one to judge. You should find the network you like, you understand and can work within well. Then enjoy yourself and don’t worry about what others are doing or telling you to do.

— Followers in 2011: 0 —

— Followers today: 1,330 (plus 1.1 million views of my profile pages) — Following today: 3,513

facebook hqFacebook

Back in 2011, I was much more open about becoming “friends” with people. I used to accept invitations from just about everyone and then kept them sorted by lists. I don’t do any of that anymore. Instead, I’m more cautious about who I allow to become a “friend.” I purged a lot of people from my account. I still have “friends” who aren’t friends and so I’m always aware of what I’m saying and sharing, as everyone should be on every Internet-connected system.

I find that I spend more time interacting with family on Facebook than any other social network, with coworkers and people I went to high school with a close second and third. As I mentioned earlier, many of them were on Facebook first and haven’t found a compelling reason to keep up two different types of accounts.

I do find Facebook’s systems frustrating and have honestly spent most of my time on there only because of work needs, then while I’m there I take up shared conversations with friends and family. I visit it, generally, only twice a day but could easily abandon Facebook faster than any other network I use. For some reason, I find Facebook to be a bigger useless time-suck than Google Plus. That’s not to say G+ won’t have you spending a lot of time online that you should be spending doing other things, but when I’m done that time spent just feels more useful on Google+ than on Facebook. Tip: If you haven’t figured out how to turn off auto-play videos on Facebook, go do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to get back. It will change your life.

— Friends in 2011: 800 —

— Friends today: 904, but different people make up that list now. — 

twitter hqTwitter (@aribadler)

Things haven’t changed a lot in terms of how I use Twitter. I have a lot more followers than I did in 2011 and am following a lot more accounts. Back then I noted it was a free-for-all, a “hodgepodge,” even. That remains true today. It’s an eclectic group that I interact with on Twitter, and I tend to interact with brands and companies more there than anywhere else online. I am on there multiple times per day and it has become the number one place that I schedule posts with news or interesting links via my Hootsuite account. (Google Plus’ API doesn’t allow scheduling things through Hootsuite for personal pages yet, but there are times when I’ll share things on Twitter and won’t share them anywhere else even when I can. I’m not sure the API change will alter that pattern.)

One thing that has changed significantly is how much Twitter has affected my professional life. Many journalists use Twitter now to break news or report on events. I have interacted with more journalists about and for news stories on Twitter in the past year than I probably did in the previous three. That type of interaction is expanding exponentially and I suspect it will continue to for a while.

— Followers in 2011: 4,339 — Following in 2011: 3,876 —

— Followers today: 7,502 — Following today: 8,220 — 

linkedin hqLinkedIn (Ari B. Adler)

I used to think of LinkedIn as “the Rolodex of social networking,” and I think it still is to some extent. I have more business-related and professional interactions on LinkedIn than anywhere else, and what I share there via posts reflects that. I’m on it a few times each week as notifications come in from people who want to connect with me. I don’t use it to its full potential, I’m sure, but it’s just not something I find compelling enough to spend time on. I find its interface clunky and counter-intuitive. Still, the connections you might have on LinkedIn could prove invaluable for a career some day, so I still recommend you check it out if you haven’t. Just remember that sometimes people want to connect with you not because of who you are but because of whom you know. Be careful not to be used as nothing more than a connection to someone else. Even heeding my warning, of course, I still tend to be pretty loose with my requirements for connecting. If I can find a shred of a reason to accept your connection request, I’ll do it.

— Connections in 2011: 500 — Connections today: 1,825 —

I’d be interested in hearing how your use of social media has changed over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that I was jumping on Twitter to figure out what the heck it was all about, because a younger professional in my office was making waves with it and I wasn’t about to get swamped and left behind. Now, it has become so much more routine to be on social media. And yet, years later, it’s still one of the most misunderstood, misused and undervalued opportunities for spreading a message than anything I’ve seen in my many years as a communications professional. I’m still learning and plan to do so for years to come. I would urge you to do the same, “friend.”

 kitten best friends

A lowered flag, a morning salute

I went into work early this morning, thinking about all the things I needed to get done today. I stopped on my way out the door to raise the U.S. flag at my house, waited for a moment of silence, and then lowered it in honor of Heath M. Robinson. I was feeling rushed, trying to get the kids to school and was already tired when I got to work. So I decided to grab a cup of coffee at the closest Biggby. While there, I became frustrated that the cellular networks weren’t working properly and I couldn’t check in on Foursquare.

Then, on my way back to the office, I saw this majestic site:

It’s the Michigan State Capitol, with its flags lowered in honor of Heath M. Robinson and the sunrise glinting off its iconic dome. I paused, thinking what a beautiful view it was for me to witness, all alone on a chilly November morning, so I snapped a picture. Then, because I can’t stand cold weather, I hustled inside to get more of my To Do list marked off.

But then it hit me. I should be happy to be overwhelmed by a To Do list. I should be grateful that I can have such a simple life that something as silly as a failed Foursquare check-in can frustrate me. I should embrace the feeling of cold air entering my lungs. And I should value even more the hugs and kisses I got from my kids this morning as I dropped them off at school.

If you’re reading this post, you should value such things in your life, too. Because Heath M. Robinson and too many of his colleagues can no longer do any of those things. I don’t know Heath M. Robinson, and I never will. He was a Navy SEAL from Petoskey and he was killed in action in Afghanistan on Aug. 6. He was 34 years old. Today, he’s a symbol of bravery, strength, and fortitude. His memory should serve to remind all of us of those who have served and are still serving.

So I’m pushing all of my troubles aside this morning and tipping my coffee cup to that lowered flag atop the Capitol. Won’t you join me?

Thank you, Senior Chief Petty Officer Robinson. Rest in peace.

Successful networking means redefining “friend”

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.)

Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the untapped potential of Foursquare:

Published: 4/26/2010

Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?
By Ari B. Adler

Function must supersede frivolity and deliver pertinent information when the consumer wants it

There’s a love-hate relationship going on with Foursquare the likes of which we haven’t seen since Crocs tried to make brightly colored shoes with holes in them a major fashion statement.

The mobile check-in started as a game and quickly turned into a way to keep up with friends and their favorite hangouts. For some, that’s enough to keep them coming back. Others try it and lose interest.

Still, it’s the folks thinking not about what Foursquare can do, but what Foursquare could be doing that will probably continue to drive the company’s success.

“It took me a while to figure out what the thing is about—not what everybody uses it for, but what function does it play?” said Ike Pigott, a communication consultant and blogger from Birmingham, Ala.

Pigott noted how Twitter expanded the world so people can know what any of the people they follow are doing. The problem with Twitter, Pigott said, is the information, “falls off the radar due to sheer volume.”

Transcending time

“If I go to a sandwich shop in an unfamiliar town and have a life-changing sandwich and tweet about it, [and] if you’re there while traveling for a conference four months later, that won’t mean anything to you,” Pigott said. “What Foursquare does at its core is connect everyone over time instead of just space.”

According to Pigott’s theory, Twitter is about the here and now, whereas Foursquare is more about the here when you need it.

“I may not see your noisy tweet from four months ago, but with Foursquare, I’ll see it when I’m in the exact place where that information is relevant to me,” Pigott said.

It’s that type of relevance to travelers that prompted The History Channel to engage Foursquare for its campaign to bring visitors more information when they check in at historical sites.

Foursquare’s real strength, therefore, may be its ability to connect people with relevant information.

“One of the things that has intrigued me about Foursquare is its potential in event planning and attendance,” said Ryan Knott, manager of communications for the Michigan Osteopathic Association. “An event like Lansing’s ‘Be a Tourist in Your Own Town’ could use Foursquare to track people’s movements and special prizes could be given out to those with the most check-ins. I also was impressed with Foursquare’s partnership withIgnite Week. When I checked in at Ignite Lansing 3.0, I was given the Ignite Badge. Not a huge deal, but it was a nice way to bond with other attendees around Lansing and around the world.”

Conference call

Knott said he thinks this kind of Foursquare connection could expand to bring more life to industry conferences, as well.

“I could see using Foursquare for competitions at our annual convention—our member physicians could receive additional raffle tickets or something for checking into specific rooms or events,” Knott said. “Unfortunately, our members aren’t quite wired into Foursquare yet, but with some prodding, we might be able to get them there.”

It may not take much prodding if folks start to see the value of the giant database of useful information people are building via Foursquare, even without realizing it. Connecting with people is important, but connecting with and getting information from your “friends,” is even more important.

“Five years ago, what you asked Google or Ask.com, we now go to Facebook for, because our friends give us more relevant information that means something to us,” Pigott said. “In three years, people won’t be fighting it out to be mayor of Starbucks. If Foursquare is done right, it eliminates the noise, because it only delivers the information when it’s relevant to me at the moment I can act on it.”

Time management more challenging as new networks grow

Here’s an article I wrote for Ragan Communications about time management and the risk of social networking interrupting our ability to enjoy where we’re at and finish what we’re trying to do. I think social media is awesome, but even I admit there are times we need to evaluate how much we’re doing these days.

Published: 2/16/2010

Time management more challenging as new networks grow
By Ari B. Adler

By the time you’ve tweeted and checked in and updated your status, have you missed out on a slice of real life?

Remember “Where’s Waldo?” That lost-again-found-again character that rocketed to fame in the United States in the 1990s probably wouldn’t have found nearly as much success if he were introduced today. That’s because the answer would be too simple—finding Waldo would just require following him via myriad social networking services such as Twitter,FacebookFoursquare or the new Google Buzz.

If you want to know where people are, just start watching their online posts. They tweet about what they’re doing. They provide a Facebook status update about their plans for the day. They “check in” with Foursquare, alerting the world where they are at any given moment. And, with the new Buzz, they have the ability to drop all of it into your Gmail inbox.

The explosion of online tracking has many users wondering whether they could juggle all the social media tools, and many others wondering why they’d want to.

“For better and worse, we’ve raised our tolerance for how much we can multitask and fit into our days, so we’re better at being able to fit it all in with only some falling to the wayside,” says Andrew Schreck, a director at John Bailey & Associates Public Relations, in Troy, Mich. “There will be a breaking point where we can not, or do not want to, add any more technology and maybe slide back to a bit simpler lifestyle. I’ve seen this with Facebook, where friends are dropping out or paring back on followers because it is occupying too much of their time.”

The concept of time management has never been more in flux than it is lately with all of the different ways people can spend their time, both online and off. Despite fears to the contrary, online social networking has not made society less social. In some instances, the number of social activities people are invited to in real life are increasing.

“I can’t imagine the Foursquare-style check-ins continuing into the future, but I see solutions like Google Latitude taking hold, where your friends and any other applications you authorize could know where you are, without a specific application,” says Charles Hoffmeyer, operations analyst for the Michigan State Police. “Twitter, Facebook and Buzz fall into a different category. The social applications that support conversations with friends and strangers will thrive and will help us interact more effectively in the physical world.”

Automating the process would help the concept grow more rapidly, says Shannon Paul, social media manager for PEAK6 Online, in Seattle, Wash.

“While it’s still novel, location-based technology has far to go. Check-ins at exact locations still need to be performed manually, but I think many will eventually opt into having their location status update automatically during stretches of time,” Paul said.

Knowing when to say when

Automating the processes might raise some eyebrows over privacy, but the folks who are checking in manually have already given up a fair amount.

As more and more services start to crop up, those services heighten the burden of trying to find time for them all.

“Because of all the latest and greatest platforms that pop up on a pretty regular basis, those that try to use all will spend a pretty hefty chunk of time talking about doing rather than doing, and connecting rather than interacting,” says Kasey Anderson, a creative services specialist with Citizens Bank in Flint, Mich. “While this will impact enjoyment, I don’t think it’s a mainstream issue. Most of us know when to say when.”

Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are we all going to be so busy checking in with one another about where we are and what we’re doing that we won’t actually have any time to enjoy where we are or finish what we’re doing?

“I think that’s certainly going to be a concern for some people, but I see distraction as a human problem rather than a technology problem,” Paul says. “Some people have trouble staying in the moment and focusing on a task whether or not there’s technology involved.”

Daniel J. Hogan, an author, podcaster, and media production specialist in Lansing, Mich., agrees with that statement—and so, apparently, would his parents.

“I’ve caught myself checking Twitter updates on my phone when I should be enjoying what I’m actually doing,” Hogan says. “It comes back to self-control, and I’m more aware of it—especially when I’m around my parents, as my mom will point out that I’m ‘being rude.’ ”

The rudeness concept isn’t reserved for the older generations who just don’t understand some people’s need for constant connectivity.

Angela Minicuci, a recent graduate from Michigan State University, says that although she’s been guilty of being distracted by technology, she is trying to get better about it.

“One thing I try to do—and something everyone should remember—is to live in the moment and enjoy the company we have,” Minicuci said. “I think social interactions are less enjoyable when we’re distracted, and while a check-in or update can be fun, we should make our friendsour priorities, not our followers.”

So, is the flashy technology creating some new threat for society, or is this just an old story being retold with new characters?

According to Ryan Knott, manager of communications at the Michigan Osteopathic Association, in Okemos, Mich., society has been here before.

Since the invention of the telegraph and telephone, Knott says, our lives have become less about where we are and more about what has our attention.

“When I’m checking Twitter while at a restaurant or party, it’s not that I’m not taking the time to enjoy where I am and who I’m with,” he says. “But where I am now means more than just where my physical body currently resides. I’m no longer simply engaged in conversations in the space 3 feet around me, but all around the world. Whether you think that’s good or bad will depend largely on what you value.”