The squiggly red line under the word “unfriend” is MS Word reminding me that it is a neologism, and a fairly bizarre one at that (to my ears it sounds more like a noun than a verb). But “to unfriend” is now apparently part of the English language, at least as of 2009, when it was chosen as new word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary. And now we are finding out what drives unfriending, thanks to Nielsen, which did a survey to find out what prompts people to ditch their Facebook friends.
The results are a wake-up call for marketers, especially those who rely on word-of-mouth strategies, as some 39% of survey respondents said they unfriend on Facebook because the person is trying to sell them something. That was the third most popular reason, following offensive comments at 55%, and not knowing the person well at 41%. Further down the list were “depressing comments” (23%), “lack of interaction” (20%), and “political comments” (14%).
The Nielsen study appears to be focused on Facebook relationships between individuals, rather than, say, individuals and brands; presumably, if someone becomes a fan of a brand or company, they know that entity is liable to use the relationship to try to sell them something. But the Nielsen results make it clear they don’t want sales efforts to extend into their personal relationships on Facebook, which in turn suggests that marketers should be careful about, for example, recruiting individuals for WOM marketing schemes, viral promotions, and the like. On the other hand, the success of daily deals makes it equally clear that sometimes, at least, social commerce is highly effective and even welcome.
Turning to the personal ramifications, I hope no one is surprised by the fact that posting an unending litany of depressing comments isn’t going to boost their online social capital. It’s simple psychology: most people have a finite amount of emotional energy, most of which they need to deal with their own problems. Meanwhile by constantly broadcasting what’s not going right in their lives, the depressors (as I call them) basically announce to the world that they are emotional quicksand from which there is no escape. The one thing I’ve noticed about depressors is that no amount of interaction, conversation, advice, sympathy or compassion actually seems to succeed in cheering them up; they are always just as depressed at the end of the four-hour informal therapy session as they were at the beginning.