As I was telling my friend Todd Defren on Twitter today, I have some serious reservations about the whole tilt toward measuring “friends” on social networking sites. Katie Paine was one of the first to mention the idea a few months ago and it troubled me then, so much so that a post about it has been brewing in my head for awhile.
I am not sure this post will put an end to my thoughts on this, but Edelman's new Social Media Index published by David Brain and brought to light by Steve Rubel has rattled me to attention, even on my quasi-maternity leave. David has asked for feedback, and boy has he gotten it, about his post and Steve Rubel's.
At the same time, I noticed some changes at Twitter today that shows they have collapsed their friends and followers category.
Lots of folks have noted that there's too much overlap and confusion between “friend” and “follow.” They both mean “I want this person's updates” so why do we need them both?…After careful consideration and user testing, we are no longer going to define people as your “friends.” The functionality of adding people remains, but the interaction is focused on the term “follow” instead. We've also added a “notifications” toggle which allows you to turn on updates via SMS or IM on a person-by-person basis.
I think that this is a good change, and it underscores my thoughts on this topic overall. I am not sure that measuring friends is all that useful. This thought extends to Facebook and others like MySpace and others. People ask to be your friend on these services for a number of reasons, but these are the most common:
1. They are really your friend
2. They read your blog and feel like they would like to know you better, in other words they “follow” you
3. They want to sell you something or spam your account
My concern is how can we assign influence to the designation of “friend,” especially when we don't know the motivation of said “friends”?
So, should I say yes to EVERY friend request just to drive up my social media index score? Up until now, I have been somewhat selective while trying to be open to getting to know new people.
Where I agree with David is in the fact that we have moved to a distributed model of influence. I learned this first-hand with my recent announcement of my new baby. I first Twittered the new arrival as I was in the recovery room afterwards at the demand request of Connie Reece. A few days later I blogged it and put together a Scrapblog with some pictures. Facebook conveniently picked up my blog post.
I had nine comments on the blog, 15 on the Scapblog and one on Facebook, along with quite a few more personal e-mails that came direct to me. It was great to hear from so many people that I have come to care about on a personal level, and it struck me that my online persona has spread out considerably in the past few months. On MySpace, where I didn't announce the birth, I got a few personal messages. It seems I am only using that platform for a few of my closest family and friends.
How do you measure this kind of response? I think that it better than looking at the sheer number of friends. Also, doesn't measuring and encouraging friend building just lead to more overload and ultimately a push platform rather than a social platform for interchange of ideas and information? Right now I would posit that this is the most important use of these social networks. Drowning is messages I don't care about, say on Twitter, would undermine its usefulness to me.
As for using these social media tools in a business setting, I am starting to think in terms of a content distribution model. How can a company help content creators to do what they do best – which is to create content? Also, how can they harness the power of these networks to interact more effectively (and directly) with their customers without becoming spammers? I think a central site (a blog) surrounded by a constellation of social media tools might turn out to be the most effective.
I have much more to say about this, but my baby daughter is crying for her mid-afternoon snack, and my toddler is negotiating his way out of a nap, so it will have to wait…