This blog post stems from one posted by Will Reichard on the 150 friend rule and it is one that I have been meaning to write for some time now. It doesn't begin to convey all the thoughts swimming around in my poor little head for the last few months but here goes...
The movement into an online social world has led many of us to question the meaning of relationships we have engaged in here. I would believe that our online relationships are, in many ways, quite similar to our IRL (in real life) relationships. It may just be that they are easier to categorize in a tangible way here, using lists and groups. IRL, we don't typically do this. Exceptions to this generalization are people who network for a living and see that as fundamental to their careers. A good example of this would be a realtor's Rolodex. I could be wrong but I suspect that the best realtors sell more houses by word of mouth and other personal networking than through advertising or cold calling. From a customer perspective, I'm much more likely to engage a realtor with I'm otherwise familiar (though hiring a close friend would not be my preference - more on that another time). FYI, I'm am not a realtor - it was just the best example I could muster.
My point here is that a good business person should commit to somewhere in memory everyone they meet and interact with because even if that person can't help you or do with business with you, he might know someone else who needs what you have or has something you need. You don't need to be a realtor or a marketer or selling anything for this to be important. When I was in reference publishing, I kept a Rolodex for data sources and publishers and even people I met on planes if we conversed a long time and exchanged cards. Now that I'm in IT, I do the same thing. When I first started 13 years ago, I still used a Rolodex or e-mail address books to keep in touch with colleagues and I still collected the business cards from fellow travelers. To tell you how well that has worked, I was stranded overnight in Houston back in the late 90s on my way back from Costa Rica and made quick friends with another IT person who was from CR and stuck too. We e-mailed back and forth, perhaps once a year exchanging family pictures, etc. and just reconnected on Facebook two weeks ago.
Are most of these people in my Rolodex or social media friends? No. In fact, it grates on me somewhat how diluted the term has become and I nearly always put a social media prefix on the term "friend" to clarify. For instance, I will say Twitter Friend or Facebook friend if that's the only way I know the person. Interestingly, if I originally met the person online but have either gone out with or done work with the person IRL, I tend to drop the prefix. There is also a small number of Twitter friends with whom I have shared my full name and we have interacted through Facebook or e-mail - to varying degrees of privacy settings, depending on how close I deem us to be or if I anticipate an IRL encounter sometime in the future.
So, how many of these people are "friends" with no prefix? Well, I think I'm going to try and come up with a number, since I still "only" have around 1400 Twitter followers (follower numbers are yet another blog post topic). Here's what I plan to do. Perhaps you will do the same. Using Tweetdeck, I will create groups for buckets of follower/friends in both Twitter and Facebook. I'm using Tweetdeck because Hootsuite said a while back that they might delete groups and I don't want to lose the categories. I'm sure there are other tools you could use. The other reason for using groups is I don't want to publicize who's in which bucket.
The groups will be something like:
- IRL Friends - people who I know from work, school, church and actually socialize with (or used to)
- IRL Acquaintances - people who I've met and essentially exchanged cards with and then connected on Twitter or FB. This would also include people with whom I did projects and don't know really well. These could be on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In but I would not consider them friends, so much as contacts.
- Friends I've Made Online - we've never met but we've either gone beyond the Shared Causes or are friends of my IRL friends and decided to connect via e-mail or Facebook and I would consider them friends.
- Online Friends With Shared Causes/Interests - we are in solidarity for one or more social causes but don't exchange personal information. I remember their personas but may or may not know their real names (depending on Twitter handle). I try to keep an eye on their statuses and try hard to go back and check if they've been lost in the sea of my newsfeed. I will further split Online Friends With Shared Causes into
- Regular Contact Now
- Neglected - these are people with whom I used to interact on a regular basis but somehow fell by the wayside. The sad thing about this is that these Tweeters are the ones who showed me that the things I care about can be addressed on Twitter and showed me the ropes from a social justice social media perspective.
- Twitter Contacts - I would describe this group as the people who are in my follow list that I readily recognize and know why I follow them but we don't really interact much. I might even put them in my Follow Friday mentions if they tend to have what I consider good tweets but I wouldn't put them in the Online "Friends" category.
- Why, exactly did I follow you? - this last category is a bit embarrassing but anyone with lots of Twitter followers has these. I don't plan to unfollow these tweeters, as some might suggest. That's what lists and filters are for. Also, note that if I follow someone but don't list them that does not mean the follow is in this bucket. There are very cool people I follow who don't fit in any of my 20 allowed lists and my Cool Tweeps list is so big, as to be unwieldy.
So, gentle readers, am I missing categories? Are yours different? Is this exercise offensive to any of you - should I not put "friends" into buckets at all?