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Redefining Friends vs Followers




If you search the word “friend” in Google images, you’ll get lots of cute cartoons hugging each other but you also get Facebook logos. Facebook has become so synonymous with the word friend that Webster may have to change the definition in the dictionary.

Think about it. How many people on your Facebook are actually your friends? Friends in the offline sense of the word? Probably not that many. In my case, I’ve had human-to-human contact with less than half the people on my list. Another quarter are people I know virtually well and the others are folks who have popped on for a variety of odd reasons. I don’t think I’m typical. I think the typical user has an even lower human contact ratio because Facebook has become a competition. He who dies with the most friends wins.

I started thinking about all of this after reading Augie Ray’s blog post, “Facebook is For Real Friends.” Here’s the line that hooked me:

“There’s an alarming and irritating trend on Twitter as of late. Some people are sending automatic Direct Messages to every new follower asking them to connect on Facebook. First of all, auto DMs are annoying (and I almost always unfollow a person for sending one).  Second, I just followed you on Twitter—why is this not sufficient?”

On a personal level, I’ve stopped following several people because I was getting duplicates of everything through Twitter and Facebook. But then you have to look at the business end. If you read this blog regularly, you probably use social media sites for marketing or branding. In that case, it makes sense to make contact with the largest pool of people possible, right?

Ray’s point is that Facebook shouldn’t be about networking. It should be a communication tool for people you really care about, “real” friends and family. Twitter, on the other hand, is about followers – followers aren’t friends and that’s okay.

Think about a popular actress who has lots of fans following her on Twitter, but keeps her Facebook locked down to only people she actually knows. That way, when she shares photos from that wild party, they won’t end up on TMZ. (Maybe.)

You don’t have to be a celeb to get in trouble mixing business with pleasure, and isn’t that what we’re all doing with social media? Twitter’s a little easier because you can have an account dedicated to your work persona and your leisure persona, but Facebook frowns on multiple accounts and the mechanism makes it much harder to pull off.

All of this becomes even more of a question now that Facebook has launched Friendship Pages, which is an archive of the communication between any two friends. The hitch? Any third friend who has access to both parties can see the Friendship Page.

To try this out, go to the profile of one of your friends and click on the “You and (name)” link under the photo. If you have a third friend in common, on the right sidebar you’ll see the option to look at the Friendship Page common to the two of them. I have my brother and his wife in common so I can see a page that lists photos they’re both in, events they went to and communication between them. Very voyeuristic.

The point of all this is to make you think about how you present yourself on Facebook and Twitter. Between the growing privacy issues and the personal nature of Facebook, you might want to think about keeping your “friends” and your “followers” in two separate social media pockets.

  • http://www.geolocalseo.com/ Stever

    I do keep my friends and followers separate. Being that I’m not a very social person in real life I’ve totally opted out of Facebook. That’s correct, a web geek without a Facebook account. My real friends and family I’m in contact enough either in person, on the phone or by email. That is sufficient.

    I use twitter for purely professional use and 99.99% of who I follow are colleagues in various aspects of internet marketing, primarily local seo. Thankfully twitter makes that easy, both in its processes and in the fact that it does not have as much uptake by all the average Joe’s, unlike FB.

  • http://www.summerhills.com Bangalow Accommodation

    We are new to Social Media for our business and still learning the ropes but what I love about this blog which keeps me coming back, is that the posts are so insightful and intelligent, the advice is clear, and I always come away with food for thought. This post is no exception. I love the fact that you nail the irritation with auto DM’s, I am new to Twitter and I find ato DM’s irritating too. So far I have found quite a distinction between friends and followers, FB versus Twitter, and I too wondered why poeple in Twitter want me to FB them. I have to date only FBooked 2 twitter followers, so that’s saying something. Overall I agree, that FB is for real friends I knew prior offline and twitter is for co-community and similar interest groups, but at the end of the day, I don’t know the twitter community in real life. This is very differnt to FB where I know all my FB friends. This is quite a different set of people. And I agree, they should be kept separate.

  • http://www.peerindex.net Azeem Azhar

    It’s definitely worth thinking about which channel is more important for you.

    We definitely see Facebook as more for family / friend activities; LinkedIn strongly business focussed; and Twitter for ‘business casual’.

    • Cynthia

      This is actually a perfect breakdown of the three systems. Business casual completely describes my Twitter interactions, where as Linkedin is best, I believe, for b2b communication and business networking as opposed to trolling for customers.

  • http://merchantstand.com Bob Williams

    I echo Azeem’s comments. Most of the people in my circle of influence do honor the friend, business, business casual breakdown. The information for LinkedIn and Twitter overlaps more than twitter/Facebook or LinkedInFacebook.

    It’s a basic marketing principal. Know your audience.

    • Cynthia

      But I think the allure of social media has caused many people to pass on “know your audience” in favor of “more is better.”

      They don’t care if the 1,000 people that follow them on Twitter are interested in their product, but they’re a captive audience so they pitch away.