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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.