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Summary:

The way people talk, we’d be forgiven for thinking that social networking is one big popularity contest. Get as many contacts as possible, regardless of whether we’ve ever met, or heard of them before. Is that really the point of social networking?

The way people talk, we’d be forgiven for thinking that social networking is one big popularity contest. The idea often seems to be to amass as many contacts as possible, regardless of whether we’ve ever met, or even heard of them before.

What’s that? Is that really the point of social networking?

Not for everyone. A study from earlier this year highlighted the importance of contact hubs — well-connected, influential individuals — over contact volume on social networking sites. And even though the pundits might advocate “authenticity” and “holistic personal branding”, many of us still simply want to use particular social network tools for specific purposes or agendas. Most of the web workers I know are selective about the people they connect with via social networks, and take different approaches to accepting contacts on different networks.

Let’s look a little more closely at the factors that can influence whether you accept a connection on any given social network.

Security

Each social network reveals something different about us as users. It’s not just a question of the information we post; it’s also a question of the network’s expectation of exposure, as evinced by their profile forms and service culture. Compare the type — and level — of detail invited by Facebook with the limited profile possibilities available at Twitter, and you’ll see what I mean.

Default security restrictions can have a big influence on who we’re willing to accept as a contact.

Self-Expression

The opportunities for self-expression, and the ways in which you want to express yourself on different social networks will likely influence the people you accept as contacts on each. I don’t accept business contacts on certain networks that I treat as strictly personal social networking opportunities.

Audience Expectation

The flip side of self-expression is your audience’s expectation of the information you’ll publish on a given network — or through a given account. A number of people I follow on Twitter have secondary, topic-specific Twitter accounts that attract a different following than their primary accounts. You may prefer to accept followers who have certain expectations of you on particular networks.

Your Social Strategy

Your social strategy — whether it’s formalized in a written document or based purely on gut instinct — will also affect who you accept as a follower or friend, and who you won’t. You probably wouldn’t accept as a contact a person you didn’t like, but you may well accept  a person you don’t know — depending on the network.

It’s true: for many of us, social networks are tools, and different rules apply than in the real world. So what’s your contact management strategy?

Defining Your Contact Management Strategy

What’s your social network contact management strategy?

This week I found myself pondering this question as a bunch of updates appeared in my feed from one social network for which I had no strong policy: LinkedIn.

Don’t get me wrong: the updates were inoffensive enough. But the thing was, I just didn’t care for them. I didn’t care about this person, primarily because I didn’t know them. It seemed that my contact strategy for this social network needed refining.

I spoke to a couple of friends about their experiences — and approaches to contact management — on LinkedIn. They both cited as their deciding factor  in accepting a contact whether or not they knew that person. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t accept their contact.

This raises important questions about the potential for social networks to expose us to new people and information. But it also reflects the security settings, and the nature of LinkedIn. It’s a professional network, so it’s conceivable that you’d want to accept contacts from people you hadn’t met, and I’d had good experiences doing just that. But , LinkedIn also contains a fair amount of my personal information.

For the moment, I was just uninterested in personal updates, but this raised the larger question: Should I be accepting as contacts people I didn’t know? I started taking a closer look at the information I’d published to the site. I also tried to identify specifically what I wanted to get out of this social network.

Balancing these two considerations — exposure and objectives — is important if we’re to arrive at an acceptable, satisfying contact management strategy.

In fact, those two points reflect the tug-of-war that each social network — online and offline — faces. In any human relationship we have to give in order to receive. The question is: how much do you want to give, and from whom do you want to receive?

How do you work out who to accept — and decline — as contacts in your social networking efforts?

Image by stock.xchng user stu360.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

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  2. Georgina-
    I really like this article. There’s so many social networks out there and it seems like everyone just wants to have as many contacts as possible all over the place. That’s not really that effective though. I never accept anyone I don’t know, and I definitely cater my profiles to the type of network it is- for example, my facebook and linkedin Profiles are different. I do think it’s important for companies to keep in touch with their customers via social network though!

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