There has been a lot of discussion this week about the concepts of social media ‘Followers’ and ‘Friends’. Chris Brogan started the conversation with a lot of thought into the use of the word ‘friend’ in today’s social media conscious society. Aaron Mahnke followed up with a number of good points in a recent followup.
My view of social media is that it is just what it claims to be: a way of bringing people together who might not have ever known of each other. Too many people on the planet are far too worried about leveraging twitter and Facebook to their advantage by promoting their products or selling you something. In that, far too many people are trying to get as many followers as possible with no real intention of engaging them in any way.
For me, there is a distinct difference in the words Follower and Friend, regardless of the terminology that any social media app uses. Terminology app defines friend as “a person you know well and regard with affection and trust.” This is pretty spot on for how I would define a friend. The MacOS Dictionary defines a follower as “an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity.” Again, that is pretty close to how I feel.
Today my Following/Follower count is at 89/190. As I have detailed before, I monitor my counts pretty closely. I block follower requests that are from spam or marketing accounts. I only follow folks that I have found to add value to something in my life, whether it is athletes on my favorite teams, podcasts that I listen to, or my favorite authors, everyone that I follow I have chosen and they are not wasting my time. I have about 15 folks that I consider friends. Some are real life friends from pre-twitter days (the Dark Ages!), some are people that started as twitter friends and it developed to real life friends (like Jason and I), and some are still internet friends, but we have gotten to know each other outside of twitter as well. If any of those folks stopped following me, I would be upset and try to engage them as to why they unfollowed me.
Aaron hits it on the head:
I value friendships as real, meaningful relationships. When someone I have connected with through Twitter – by sharing interaction, thoughts, business opportunities or encouragement and advice – decides to unfollow me, it deserves a conversation at the very least, and ideally a plan to find new methods for maintaining that friendship outside of Twitter.
Too many people are worried about the number of followers that they have as they seem to think that makes them more important in some way. I think you are more important if you engage your followers in meaningful dialog through whatever social media outlet that you choose. Find people on twitter (or whatever social media network you favor) that will engage you and make your life better. On the flip side, if you want someone to follow you, than you need to make sure that you engage your followers as well. It takes two people to have a relationship.
Yesterday, Ben Brooks and Marco Arment both posted about one of my favorite social networks that I didn’t think of until yesterday. Ben started the conversation about the social aspects of Marco’s Instapaper project. I had never thought of it as a social network until Ben spelled it out. Marco did a follow up post explaining some of his thought process when he added the social aspect to Instapaper.
Ben shows how Instapaper’s social features are hidden from the users.
There are no follower counts. No following counts. No popularity contests. No cliques. No ego stroking.
It’s a fascinatingly private social system.
And then he gets to the heart of it:
Effectively Instapaper has found a way to keep its users engaged with the site’s main purpose, reading, while offering users ways of keeping tabs other readers. It’s like getting a peek at someone else’s bookcase, without them knowing that you peeked.
I love Instapaper as a resource of finding great writing on the web, and I never even realized that it was another social network in my arsenal because Marco hid the social aspect so well (Kudos, Marco!)
Ben again sums up my feelings as he ends his post:
Follower and friend counts play to the human ego and our curiosity, but sometimes I think it would be better to let us be curious.
Don’t worry about counts, find meaningful friends and develop a great relationship that will enhance both of your lives.