A few days ago, I posted about my problem with Facebook. I outlined my complaints and then solicited reader input. So far, I have had more than 80 comments. They have been extremely helpful.
In the last several days, I have discovered several things about Facebook. First and foremost is the realization that Facebook itself is not the problem. I am. Facebook is simply a tool. It has its quirks and issues, to be sure. But the root problem is that I didn’t have a strategy for how to use it.
Until now, my “friend policy” (if you could call it that), was to simply accept any and all comers. I figured, the more friends the better. The problem is that this resulted in a huge amount of noise, not to mention added workload. I grew weary of all the friend requests, invites, and notifications.
It also made me think long and hard about my vocabulary. Like many people, I had begun to use the term “friend” in a very loose way. The first thing I did in re-thinking my strategy was to tighten up my definitions of key terms:
- Family: These are the people who are related by blood or by marriage. I have occasionally been too loose with term, too. I have used it to refer to close personal friends or even the “Thomas Nelson family.” But I don’t think this is accurate or helpful. It creates the illusion of something that is not true. From now on, I am going to use this word as it was intended.
- Friends: These are the people I know in real life. They are people I have met face-to-face, enjoy being around, and interact with in real life. (These three elements are key.) Frankly, a few of these relationships started off online through Twitter. Over time, they grew and developed. Regardless, I have a few deep and significant friendships. But if I am honest, I don’t have many. I only have so much time available.
- Acquaintances: These are people I have met online or off. I may know their name or even their face. We may even have been friends at some point in the past, but we don’t have an ongoing relationship. We only know one another at a superficial level, and that’s just fine. We just have to be clear that these are not our “friends.”
- Fans: These are the people who know my public persona or my work. This is also where people get confused because the relationship is not mutual. For example, I am a fan of Chris Brogan. We have even met once. I know lots of stuff about him, because of his blog and Twitter posts. This creates the illusion of intimacy. If I am not careful, however, I could fool myself into thinking I have a relationship with Chris. I don’t. I’m just one of his many fans.
So with those definitions in mind, I set out to re-think my approach to Facebook. Basically, it’s pretty simple. I have decided that I will only use my Facebook profile for family and close friends. I don’t want an inbox that is flooded with sales pitches and invitations to things I don’t care about.
However, realizing that more people are on Facebook than Twitter and that at least five percent of my blog traffic comes from Facebook, I decided to create a fan page for everyone else who wants to connect with me.
For the record, I dislike the term “fan page.” It makes me very uncomfortable. Instead, I wish Facebook would use the term “public pages” for fan pages and “private pages” for profiles. I think that better represents the distinction between the two.
Regardless, my Twitter feed will show up in both places. (Or it least it will when I get that working!) However, the interaction on my fan page is more limited, which is what I need in order to preserve my sanity. My “fans” can write on my wall and I will reply back as I am able—just like I do with Twitter direct messages and replies.
Once I set up the fan page, Facebook tech support was kind enough to move all of my “friends” over to the fan page. I then proceeded to “unfriend” everyone on my profile page who wasn’t a family member or a close, real-life friend. I went from over 2,200 friends on Facebook to less than 100.
Frankly, this was a slow and tedious process. I had to unfriend people one-at-a-time. Facebook doesn’t currently provide a way to unfriend people en masse. I did this for a few hours each evening and powered through it. If I had to do again, I probably would have just deleted my account and started over. It would have been easier.
Here are some of the key learnings I took away:
- You have to understand the difference between friends, acquaintances, and fans.
- If I try to be everyone’s friend, I will be no one’s friend. I must be deliberate and selective.
- I will probably offend some of the people I unfriended. That’s okay. My sanity and real friends are more important than meeting the expectations of fans and acquaintances.
- I need to be very careful who I accept as a friend on my profile going forward. Just based on mouse clicks, it’s three times as much work to unfriend someone as friend them.
I found that I got more aggressive as I culled my list. After my first pass, I had 400 “friends.” I went back through and had 250. On my third pass, I had 95. And, frankly, that’s probably too many. But at least it is a start.
In this crazy world of social media, I think we need to remain thoughtful and flexible about how we connect online. What works today, may not work tomorrow. What works with 100 followers many not work with 10,000 followers. I doubt this is the last time I will re-think my online strategy.
One final note: I am still not able to update my fan page automatically with my Twitter feed. I have tried the Facebook app, “Selective Twitter Status” and PeopleBrowsr. Both are showing promise. I am working toward a solution. But neither one of them have it nailed yet.