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Has social media has changed the definition of friendship?

Written By: langdon on July 27, 2009 No Comment

Has social media has changed the definition of friendship?

A few weeks ago, I asked my Aunt and Uncle why they both haven’t signed up on faceboook yet.  The short answer was – they are already connected to their friends.

Explaining the social graph and the benefits of digital word of mouth & expanding their network of friends online led to a very simple statement that really resonated;

Our definition of friendship is different from theirs.

How many friends do you have online? I’ve currently got hundreds of friends on facebook,  Linkedin, and on twitter and smaller amounts on slideshare, last.fm, friendfeed, YouTube, and flickr.  I’ve also got a few thousand followers who visit this blog every month.

Although most of my friends aren’t on all these platforms or even have as many “friends” as I do in each channel, some have many times more than me.

Can you really have 2,000 friends?

In 1992,  Robin Dunbar published an article suggesting that a person has a theoretical cognitive limit of about 150 “stable” relationship they can maintain.  This number is now referred to as the Dunbar number.

facebook recently reported that most users who have hundreds of friends in reality only really interact with between 5-10% of their facebook buddies. Women tend to interact a bit more than men (shocker!), but certainly the stats support Dunbar’s theory.

Is it time to unfriend / unfollow all but your 150 best friends in each social media channel?

The short answer is No.

Why? It’s about context.

Although my theoretical limit is 150 friends, based on my life stage, time of day, month, or year, my circle of friends change. In the Winter my circle of friends are primarily ski industry friends while in the summer my circle consists mostly of friends from one of my Ultimate Frisbee teams or can be classified as golfing buddies.

The same thing can be said for my professional life – depending on the time of year or what I’m focusing on, I will engage & reach out to different sets of business associates and friends.

Social Media has changed the definition of friends.  Just as media consumption and interaction has fragmented with new technology, so has our relationships and how we define them.

Best friends and trusted business associates will always be there for you – but social media has allowed us to cast a wider net personally and professionally – and thereby expanding or evolving who we consider a friend.

Knowing that relationships drive business results and other relationships – why wouldn’t you leverage social media to access & engage a broader universe of people?

The key for me is managing context.

Although some of my peers are spending time trying to get everybody to be on every channel, I recommend you manage your online brand carefully.

My social media lens looks like the following:

  • Linkedin for my professional network. If you work in my industry (or related), I will almost always accept your connection request.
  • facebook for the people I already know. Although i wouldn’t necessarily invite all my facebook friends over for a dinner party, I know all of you and would stop to say hello if we bumped into each other while walking down the street, waiting in line at the ski hill etc… I’m careful on what I post to facebook – but it’s certainly the most personal channel
  • twitter for all the people i would like to get to know better. following peers, industry experts or even Lance Armstrong – because I find the tweet feed interesting.  Although I may share some personal insights, I’m very careful of what i post here both because all my tweets are searchable by strangers and because I don’t know everybody who is following me back. If you follow me – I will almost certainly follow you back – as long as you aren’t obviously a spammer, wacko or combination of both
  • All other channels – I use them more for personal media consumption and don’t have the time to engage in new / separate friendships. I use friendfeed as my social life stream aggregator – but it’s a bit overwhelming for me at times – and this is part of what I do / what I am.  I can’t imaging my super cool Uncle trying to manage a social media life stream.

What about you – has your definition of friends or friendship changed or evolved as a result of your social media consumption habits?

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