Why I don’t want to be friends on Facebook

February 16, 2011 · 9 comments

I’ve received a lot of friend requests on Facebook lately. Most are from people I’ve connected with through Twitter or other online forums, or public relations types who know me from my day job as a reporter.

But I don’t want to be friends with those people on Facebook.

It’s not because those people aren’t awesome. It’s not because I don’t find them interesting. It’s because, while I’m happy to connect with anyone and everyone through Twitter, LinkedIn and this blog, I use Facebook differently, in the way it was originally intended: to connect with family and friends, in a personal and unprofessional way.

That’s not to say I post inappropriate photos or share anything I wouldn’t want the world to know. But I’m far more personal on Facebook than I am on other social networks. Most everyone I’m friends with there is a real-life friend or, if I connected with them online, our relationship got personal through e-mail or some other form of communication that made me feel like I’m okay with them seeing photos from my family vacation or knowing that I’m going to visit my best friend for the weekend.

And yet, even though I know I want to keep Facebook personal, every time that new-friend alert pops up, I struggle with saying no. I usually view the new requests, then let them sit for a week or two, contemplating whether I should accept them even though I don’t want to. Because I genuinely want to connect with most of the people who contact me there — just not in a Facebook-y kind of way.

In some cases, it’s not just about what information I’m putting out there; it’s about what information they’re putting out. I don’t want to connect on Facebook with people who are working to grow their networks as big as possible, who will clog my feed with every blog post they ever publish. If I want to read your blog every day, I’ll subscribe. I’ll also happily fan your Facebook page, which I expect you’ll use to pimp your blog or business, because I want to support you. But if you have more than 1,500 friends, you probably don’t use Facebook the way I like to, which means we’re probably better off connecting somewhere else.

I don’t use Facebook to promote my blog (although I will create a Facebook page for my book when it’s time for that); I’ve been active on the network since before I knew what the word “platform” meant. Ironically, because I don’t inundate my friends with blog posts, when I do post a link from The Traveling Writer on Facebook — about once every two months, and only when it’s a personal development my friends would care about — I get a ton of clicks.

That’s because, while my 800 Facebook friends might not care about Lexi The Journalist or Lexi The Author, they care about me as a person. Which makes them far more valuable to me, not only personally, but also from a networking standpoint. It’s like how I tell job seekers to use their Facebook network for their job hunt. Friends who know you personally truly want you to succeed, more so than a contact on Twitter or LinkedIn, which means they’ll go out of their way to help you.

Why don’t I use Facebook’s privacy settings so I can become friends with everybody and their mother? I do. My friends are grouped according to how much of my profile I want them to see. But even that isn’t enough to satisfy me, because Facebook doesn’t allow me to filter certain status updates to certain groups. I either have to let you see all my status updates or hide them from you entirely. And what’s the point of being friends on Facebook if you can’t see my status updates? Update: Awesome website builder Jeffrey Pia has reminded me that you can make status updates visible to only certain groups of your friends. I should start using that feature more often.

So if I don’t accept your friend request, don’t be offended. It’s not you, it’s me. (Oh wait, actually, it might be you; see my more-than-1,500-friends reference). But it doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re fabulous. I’m just trying to keep some semblance of a personal life in this great, big, nothing-is-personal-with-the-Internet world.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Walker February 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

I learned from you on this post Alexis. I wasn’t sure how to use Facebook. I was uncomfortable saying yes to friend requests I didn’t know but thought that was how to promote my book. I think I need to go and unfriend several people whom I don’t know at all. Thanks for sharing.
Karen
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Alexis Grant February 16, 2011 at 9:58 am

Hey Karen! Or you could try a Facebook *page* to promote your book. After writing this post, I even thought to myself, I need to go through my list of friends and remove some people :)

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Travis May February 16, 2011 at 11:02 am

Hi Alexis,

This approach seems well-reasoned. I’ve really enjoyed your tweets recently. You post good stuff. This is the first time I’ve been to this site. Keep up the good work!

Best Wishes,

Travis

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Alexis Grant February 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Got an e-mail from a reader about how I could possibly have 800 friends if I’m only befriending people I’m close to. But the truth is, I’m not close with all of those people. That’s just where I draw the line… Gotta draw it somewhere!

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John Soares February 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Alexis, in my early days on Facebook I friended a few online marketing/business people, and they did just what you say — posted multiple times a day about their business and their blog, essentially trolling for customers.

I unfriended most of ‘em. (Note that you have the option to block posts from friends.)

I use Facebook as a way to stay in touch with friends and family, even though some of those friends are people I’ve only met online. I do occasionally mention one of my blog posts, but only when I think it will interest a substantial portion of my friends. (Posts from my local hiking blog, for instance.)
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Angie Mizzell February 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I love to hear authors building platforms talking about this… because I struggle with the very same thing. Because I used to be on TV, and because people use Facebook for lots of different reasons, I get a lot of friend requests from people I don’t know. If you’re in my personal or professional network, then I generally want to accept. But accepting strangers, even with my privacy settings, makes me uncomfortable. A lot of my blog traffic comes from Facebook, which is why I’m torn. Anyhow, I had a page once, and I deleted it because I felt like a split personality. I wish I had an easy answer. I admire your philosophy!
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Alexis Grant February 16, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Angie, you’re so right — There’s no easy answer, especially because people use the site differently. Thanks for sharing what works for you!

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Tina Marie February 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I totally agree with you, although I am beginning to meet some amazing people through my twitter and my readership of my blog is not as big as yours for now I want to keep them separate entities for now. In fact my Facebook friends don’t even know I blog or that I’m on twitter because for now there is not a lot I want my classmate(s), friends, family, ex’s, people that I’ve known my entire life to know about my life right now.
I have a rule for me friending you I have had to had a real conversation with you more then 5 times in our lives not just casual acquaintances and thanks to the size of the town I grew up in that is a huge possibility and why I really do know 360 people. I don’t have anyone in my friends list that I don’t have a memory about or remember something that they said to me, or how they have inspired me. They may be general acquaintances now, but at one point they may have been that great person who I could tell anything too, or that person that when everyone was picking on me just let me know it would be okay, and they had my back.
So I won’t try to friend you but I will keep reading your blog and following your tweets because sometimes your insights about life in general are bang on and I enjoy your tone and the subjects you write about so keep up the good work and I’ll keep reading.

Tina Marie
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KaliKross January 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm

People have such unrealistic expectations. Let’s begin with the first: the unrealistic concept that privacy exists. People, people. EVERYTHING you post on the Internet (as well as what you do in *real life) is subject to view, no matter whom your friends are (not). Given that I have no expectation of privacy in the first place, I do not post anything online that I am not comfortable w/ everyone from the CIA on down to my neighbor knowing what I’ve said/posted.

To solve the “inner circle” issue: I have two FB pages, one for my brand, nom de plume, “KaliKross” and one with my real name for my family and friends (FFs). I encourage my FF’s, the open-minded among them, to support KaliKross as well. I add anyone who doesn’t seem like a total creep to KaliKross b/c everything I post is for the public anyway. Problem solved.

Social networks require management of “you”–your image, your brand. And if you think for five seconds that strangers cannot see what you post just b/c you restrict access, you’re delusional.

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