How Many Friends Do You Have -- Or Need?
How many friends do you have?
That question takes on new meaning in today's hyper-connected, social media-enabled world. It's a question I dealt with a bunch over the last couple of weeks while I was "cleaning up" my social graph (of course, by "cleaning up," I mean deleting people from my Facebook feed).
This is a very cleansing experience. First off, I had to delete people whom I really don't like. There weren't many; only four people qualified. To be honest, I'm not even sure how they got there in the first place. Must have been a momentary lapse of reason.
Second, I had to delete people whom I just don't know. In any relationship, you have to get to know each other first before you can be qualified as friends. If there's a chance you'll take over my news feed, I have to be interested in reading about you, and I have little interest in reading about total strangers.
That leaves me with a still-large number in Facebook, well over 900. Is it possible that I really have 900+ friends? Probably not. I think it's more a matter of semantics: I can't say that I have that many friends, but I can say that I'm friendly with a lot of people. My qualification for being friendly with someone is that I have to feel comfortable enough to send them a note and have something of interest to say.
All that gets me to a number that is still rather large, but more indicative of my actual network. Social media marketing dictates that my social graph is valuable because it details the strength of influence I have among a specific group of users. There have been literally millions of dollars raised and spent against trying to unlock the key to the social graph, and for many marketers there is substantial success being achieved through these models. The question that plagues me is, how much is enough? At what level does the size of someone's graph reach a point of diminishing returns and value?
You can argue that my opinions are valuable to my social graph. You can also argue that the networks of Guy Kawasaki or Ashton Kutcher -- both of whom have social graphs that are exponentially larger than mine -- also add value.
I can also argue the opposite, that there is only a small portion of my social graph where my influence is valuable, and to the rest I am simply noise. The qualification I use to separate friends from friendly is an indicator of that value. If we are friends, I am substantially more valuable than if we are just friendly. When we're just friendly, it's easier to dismiss what I have to say. In the case of Guy Kawasaki and Ashton Kutcher, they spend so much time on their social graph blasting content that I tend to feel less influenced by their posts, because they don't take the time to curate their opinions and create a perception of value. Rather they try to stay fresh and consistently followed, resulting in clutter. As a result, I have defriended and unfollowed them both. It's not a personal attack, but simply a reflection of perceived value. I was always told that you should only speak when you have something to say, otherwise you're the boy who cries wolf all the time.
So let me ask the question in a different way: how many friends do you have and how many of them do you value as friends? Does a "friendship" in the digital world actually mean as much as it does in the traditional world away from your computer?
As I said, millions of dollars are being spent to answer that very question, but I wonder if those dollars will keep up with the rate of change and potential social media fatigue that many people are beginning to experience. The exercise of cleaning your social network is a common one for most people these days -- one that affects how you use and view social media.
If your social graph begins to be trimmed, does that make what's left more valuable? Probably. What about what was deleted? Is that no longer valuable? Maybe, but maybe not. Those are still connections, though slightly less informed.
I guess these are the kinds of questions that people far smarter than me are asking right now on Macbooks and PCs all over the world. Let me know what you find out, would you? Maybe post it to my Facebook!!