Like anyone using social networks for my work, I struggle with the friend feature. There are a number of theories of how and why to friend other people and when to accept friend requests. Clearly, having more “friends” on your social networks has its benefits, but if friending is done randomly, how much value are those very random “friends” for your business goals?
Some of the reasons you might want to friend someone for your work are:
- facilitating business networking
- connecting to a potential strategic partner or virtual team member
- looking for a job opportunity
- building an audience for the content you publish
- cultivating potential customers and clients
To Follow or Not To Follow
Accepting friend offers often seems to be much less strategic. On Twitter, for example, I personally don’t follow every single person who follows me. I do go to each Twitter page for every person who does follow me and peruse a few pages of their tweets. I can tell pretty quickly if they are using Twitter in a way that is valuable or meaningful and worth following. I follow less people because I really want to pay attention to the people I do follow.
Some people automatically follow every single person who follows them. To me, the peril of doing this is that some people who follow you are either doing it randomly or are spam-following so you end up following a lot of flotsam and jetsam and unless you have time to weed out the noise, you end up with an untenable Twitter account. But then again, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.
If you are following everyone you can in the hopes of building up your “captive” audience, I think that comes with the risk of having a lot of people following you back who really aren’t interested in what you are doing or what you have to say. I think when you look at someone with 9000 followers on Twitter, it looks impressive, but when they are following 8700 people in return, you begin to wonder how many of those people following them are really paying attention.
That said, there is the theory that if you don’t follow someone back on Twitter, it is an insult. Some people actually send messages to say “I’m no longer going to follow you because you never followed me.” I’m stunned by that attitude but only because when I go out to follow someone, my intention is purely that I see value in what they are doing online and would like to pay attention. If they follow me back, that’s gravy. If they are one of the biggies – the Guy Kawasakis, Chris Brograns, CC Chapmans of the world – then that is icing on the cake (although some of them have their account set up to auto-follow all followers). But if they don’t follow me, I think either they are just being discriminating with who they follow or they are too busy to keep up with all the follows.
Having more followers who are paying attention can be a real boon to business. Just this week, I was making a presentation at a conference and during the break, brought up my blog to show in the second half of my presentation. Suddenly, music began playing on a loop in the background. I couldn’t figure out where in the world it was coming from because I definitely had not intentionally placed a music player on my blog.
I quickly Twittered a plea for help and half a dozen people immediately came to my rescue, literally checking my blog code line by line to help me figure out where the offending music player was located so I could delete it. It turns out the music was playing out of a Slide.com gallery I had posted a few weeks back. I quickly deleted the slideshow and voila! The music was gone, and I was able to demo my Utterli audio podcast from my blog page.
Believe it or not, I was a Facebook resistor. You can go back into my Twitter tweet archive and see how strongly I resisted joining Facebook or using it when I joined. When I finally gave in, I was still stymied by how it worked and why everyone seemed obsessed with it. Then I began getting friend invites from friends from high school and college as well as former work colleagues and people who used to work for me at my Internet company back in the 90s. Real connections were being made.
Then I began to get random friend requests from people who I didn’t know. But Facebook has that handy feature to show you what friends you have in common. To this day, I still will not accept totally random friend requests on Facebook unless
a. we have some real friends in common, or
b. their profile is really interesting to me in some way.
Interesting, of course, is subjective. For me, as I try to keep Facebook at least 75% professional and 25% personal, interesting means they are doing interesting work, working at an interesting company or are friends with colleagues who I admire and enjoy working with.
On the flip side, if they are Second Lifers, than I accept their friend invites almost every time because I’m always looking to grow my Second Life network.
Friends Are In The Eye of the Beholder
Ultimately, each person has their own “Friend Meter” and their own “Friending Tolerance.” I am not judging whatever friending methodology anyone chooses for themselves. To me, friending needs to be the right balance of serendipity and strategy. I can’t say I’ve perfected my friending process, but I’m pretty comfortable with how and why I friend others and which friend invites I’ll accept.
How do you determine who to friend on social networks? How do you decide which friend invites to accept?