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Unfriending Friends and Friending Strangers on Facebook

Written By: Elizabeth Doherty Thomas - Jan• 06•11

This is the goofy new world we live in, folks. One where I unfriend friends and friend request people I don’t know on Facebook.

Facebook is quite the catchall for 500 million people (though a great majority of those are non-USA citizens of other countries.)  Finally, there is a place to see your old high school and college friends, get to know your religious community members in a better way, see what family and relatives are up to, and generally hang out online with people you know from any aspect of your life.  For some it’s basically a list of “who would come to my funeral.”  For others, especially famous folks, there is no boundary around who they will friend.  Most of us are in the middle somewhere.  The great thing is Facebook is locked down (if you know what you’re doing), and you’re able to manage exactly who you want to see.  This post today is NOT an attempt to convince anyone of anything, but rather to share the goofy world of social media and how the journey for some of us makes Facebook less intimate, but more interesting and rewarding.

I’ve already written about purging Facebook friends, which was an interesting experience that wasted 2 hours of my time, but removed 70 friends and businesses I was following.  I was lighter and have never regretted the experience.  Exactly 3 friends re-friend requested me, and I accepted (though one breaks a rule below so that person may be unfriended again.)  From the time I wrote that, I think I’m back up to 40 or so friends!  What gives?

What I have found great about Facebook, the way I use it, is that it allows budding professional friendships to grow in a more organic way.  There is nothing worse than a stiff email, “so great to meet you!  We should get together for coffee.”  “Yes, that sounds great, I’m busy until [insert future month].”  And then nothing happens.  Twitter solves a lot of these problems because you can sort of “hang out” online without having to necessarily personally talk to everyone all the time.  I liken it to knowing they hang out at the local coffee shop so if you’re in the mood you can chat with them on the fly.  But Twitter is still limited to 140 characters of friendship building (sometimes in 10+ direct messages, oof!)  So what do you do when you find a kindred spirit on Twitter and want to be able to contact them less awkwardly than the stiff email, but more intimately than Twitter?

Facebook!

But lest you think Facebook is just another way to annoy colleagues with your latest ebooks, coaching programs, and awesomeness, I actually have a rule about professional friends that runs counter to common sense.  The rule?  If your Friend account only talks business (and specifically, really self-promotiony stuff and little to no personal disclosure about your life), then I will unfriend you.  If I wanted your awesomeness, I’d sign up for your newsletter, blog, or otherwise hire you, buy your stuff, sign up for your business Facebook page, etc.

Organic, holistic, baby step friendships…

What I’ve found moving people from Twitter to Facebook is that it allows me to get to know them in a different way than Twitter.  I even live chat with folks, which is great fun.  And best of all, I feel in my “intimate” circle of Facebook that I have more people rowing the same professional boat as me.  So when they occasionally post something work-related, I’m happy to read it and share it with my non-work friends.  And sometimes I have struck up friendships with friends of friends, based on sharing comments to status updates or shared links.  And seriously, who wouldn’t want a dilemma they’re willing to be semi-public about and have great mental health professional friends weigh in?  Private practice is simply too isolating and doesn’t have to be.

My final rule: if I get a friend request and I have no clue who the person is, I expect a personal message on where they have heard of me or what we have in common.  I am not interested in collecting Facebook friends, but in connecting with like-minded individuals (even if it’s just ONE small similar interest.)

Remember, there is no such thing as privacy, as any celebrity, politician, or journalist will tell you, except those very conversations that happen in real life, live, on the phone, or in person.  True intimacy exists offline, not on Facebook, even if it is just your list of people who would go to your funeral.  But for all the non-intimate things in our lives, Facebook is a fantastic place to hang with your kindergarten best friend and professional colleague you’ve never met!

And the best part of Facebook?  I can decide it’s TOO MUCH and do another purge. Or decide I am more open, and blast my Facebook friend link everywhere to find more people.

How do you use Facebook and do you feel yourself moving towards expansion or contraction?

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Elizabeth Doherty Thomas

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8 Comments

  1. As of one of your friends on Facebook and Twitter, you know that I enjoy both. As a psychologist, workshop founder and writer, I do find it a challenge to be both professional and personal on Facebook. I am amazed by the wonderful personal and professional friendships that I am making on both social media sites. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get them all together in one place? No, not my funeral. How about a big party? By the way Elizabeth, are you talking about me when you say 10 DMs in a row on Twitter? LOL. Great post.

  2. sdtherapy says:

    I enjoy being connected with you on both, Elizabeth…thank you for adding me!

  3. Daria says:

    I am relatively new to twitter and have LOVED the access it has given me to connect with like minded people. Also with completely different people! And I have used facebook to continue conversations – much more than email with these twitter friends. I hadn’t noticed that before…

    I heard somewhere that Facebook is for Friends that are now strangers and Twitter is for strangers that are now friends. Seems like you’re blending the two… :)

  4. Still trying to find my legs on facebook. I keep in touch with family and friends that live far away, which is great. Other than that I enjoy getting to know other professionals and bloggers and share experiences with them about how to navigate this new world of connecting.

  5. Renee Segal says:

    Elizabeth, you have really opened my eyes to how to use social media in postive and constructive way. I have learned about twitter by “following” you, and a few others. I just jumped into the twitter world myself about a month ago. I have been tweeting almost everyday now. It seems to me that many people are so fearful of social media that they don’t see the potential benefits. After all, we are just people. And, as a therapist, I am interested in what people think and what they are doing. I am not afraid for people to know me, I want people to know who I am and what I think.
    With regards to facebook, I enjoy looking at the pictures my friends post and the comments they make. It is really like a bit of a short story everytime someone posts something. I agree with you, when people try to hard sell me something just because I “friended” them or am “following” them it is a turn off. I am using social media to engage with others.

  6. Katie Goode says:

    I have met some really wonderful people on Twitter and then built a relationship through FB. I agree though, you have to filter the hard sellers. If someone posts something work related I’m usually OK with it (I’m guilty of the same, but I try to make sure I don’t turn into one of those “look at me, look at me” people we all hide or unfriend).

  7. Linda says:

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone when I post my blog posts on my personal FB page—Ugh! For some reason, I can’t always post on my FB fanpage with my ‘biz persona’ and instead when I hit ‘post’ my personal profile shows??
    Sometimes I think I’m annoying ppl. But as you said, it’s balanced if there’s other shared info not biz-related.

    Wow-I never knew you could re-friend request someone? I definitely need to spend more time playing around with the FB settings and tutorials.

    I much prefer Twitter, and get a lot of traffic to my blog. Also, the lack of images is easier for someone like me to navigate and stay on-task ;).