I am especially sure of this if your friend network includes a significant number of Gen Y Facebookers, as mine does.
Not necessarily because your status updates are boring, offensive, or overshares (though of course those are possible factors too).
More likely it’s because a couple of millennials decided to clean house and dump all but their closest friends from their FB social graph. I hear this every other week, from someone who is Gen Y, yet almost never from anyone who is even just a little older.
While Gen X and Boomers understand the importance of platforms, networking, and connections, I watch as many digital natives struggle to truly grasp the significance and value of their social network. This is true even though for most of Gen Y, Facebook sets the stage for their lives—it is the key platform for entertainment, news, socializing, and soon, for education and shopping too. Still, while Gen X and Boomers work diligently to grow and stretch their reach on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, Gen Y periodically dumps dozens (hundreds?) of friends from Facebook, because they feel these folks fail to qualify as “real” enough to remain nodes on their social network.
Authenticity is key to social media communication, certainly. Facebook is a tool for the digital coterie, but it enables all kinds of distributed intimacies and networking opportunities. Adding casual acquaintances and associates, personal and professional, to ones FB friend list is business-as-usual. Yet that is viewed with suspicion if a strict metric of “realness” is applied. Discussions online and off about what constitutes a real friend, and whether Facebook connections are indicative of one’s popularity/charisma/influence or not, are ongoing and resilient.
These conversations happen among Gen X and Boomers too, as I’ve heard many times at professional conferences, as speakers and participants reject the importance of platform size, deny the possibility that large follower/friend counts could mean anything but fakeness and autofollowbacks, and dismiss anyone with more than x-number of connections as an impostor and social media douchebag.
I could not disagree more. In many cases, the size of one’s network does indicate relevance and reach. (My friend Mark W. Schaefer is a case in point—are you reading his blog? If not, you’re missing out). It’s naive to deny that network size matters when it comes to evaluating someone’s impact and influence. We may resent it, and we might question whether professional success is all about “who you know” or how many you know. Yet clearly both quantity and quality are key factors in building our networks. In the emerging trust economy, the quantity (size) and quality (value) of our network connections are related. And let’s face it, networking opens doors and leads to opportunities—something that was true long before anyone had heard of Facebook.
So rather than dump friends indiscriminately, we could think about how to partition and privatize Facebook profiles into professional and personal segments. Rather than cynically dismiss and doubt the authenticity of those whose digital Rolodex is well-developed, we could check their klout, and/or make the ask and inquire about how they choose their affiliations. Believe me, people have A LOT to say about their personal politics of platform construction on Twitter and elsewhere.
What’s needed are strategies for building platforms that are strong and useful foundations for professional development, making an impact for social good, and supporting the next generation of professionals. Having “a robust online presence” is step one in establishing yourself as a thought leader in your area of specialization, according to The Harvard Business Review. Developing platforms that you can mobilize and rely on, via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, as well as attracting communities of readers on blogs, and networks of connections on YouTube and Vimeo, takes effort, talent, and is time-consuming. There are many resources describing and prescribing how-to steps for building your networks, long before you need them.
Surely one-click unfriending is called for in various situations, and I’ve unfollowed and unfriended many online people (in fact, I do so every week, proactively shaping my platform using Manage Flitter to retain the most valuable connections, those who are active, share relevant information, and practice reciprocity). But indiscriminate deleting and dumping of digital connections may indicate a lack of understanding about the old fashioned importance of who-you-know, for professional and personal success.
For me, the mass unfriending phenomenon is a teachable moment, which is why I’ve designed a course at Queen’s University starting in January, for fourth year students who are just about to graduate, on building a strong digital platform and persona. I would love to connect with other teachers and trainers working in this area to trade strategies and resources.
Course abstract: Research seminar on mobile and social media communication strategies and politics concerning reputation management for brands, individuals, celebrities, companies, and organizations. Theoretical and practical investigation into how communications platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and You Tube are impacting communities, interpersonal relationships, real-time news flow, branding, human resources, consumer practices, public relations, and social media marketing.
In building this course I came across some excellent resources about constructing a platform, including:
5 Keys to Building Networks Over Time by Alexandra Levit
A More Sensible Approach to Facebook by Laurel Miltner
Building a Professional Network: Resources for Graduate Students from The University of Minnesota
Why I Decided to be an Open Networker on LinkedIn by Stacy Donovan Zapar