Friends vs. Fans

I think that maybe we’ve done some serious harm to the concept of friends with all this social media stuff.

Seriously.

On Facebook, how many of your friends are really friends?

I have over 2000 followers on Twitter. How many of them know my real name without looking?

How many events do people with significant online personal brand go to where people know who they really are?

Or is brand all that really matters in friendship?

Is it more important to have presence? Or relationship?

What do we do off camera, and who really knows?

If a tree falls in the middle of the woods, and everyone sees the tree online, did it really happen?

Do you find more value in spending time with four people or forty?

What does technosailor mean to you? Aaron Brazell?

Food for thought. Questions to be answered. Have we hurt our human experience or helped?

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

22 thoughts on “Friends vs. Fans”

  1. On Facebook, I usually only add people I’ve met in person. That way, it stays valuable to me. I don’t worry if people I’ve never met get offended when I ignore their request; that’s their problem.

  2. Is it social media that has changed what “friendship” means, or is it your usage of social media that has done it to you?

    Most people don’t have thousands of twitter followers, facebook pals, etc. To the average non-geek, myspace facebook etc. are still primarily about keeping up with friends and family, maybe some old buddies from school who don’t talk as much anymore. Even on twitter only some 10% of people have following/followers greater than 100. Social media power users probably weren’t part of the initial picture for these sites, and honestly I don’t think the sites need to change since that other 90% that has smaller networks is still well served by those sites.

    Do social media power users need a better site/tool to manage their relationships? That’s probably a better question.

  3. Just as corporation become “personified” – People have become
    “corpafied” (new term.. think I’ll coin it ;)
    People are brands, and brands are people in the new social world that we live in… but wasn’t it always like this?

  4. This is an interesting question that I answered for myself regarding Twitter this past weekend.

    I went through my list and removed a lot of the noise and thinned out my list of people to those that I knew and those that I really wanted updates from. Everyone else got left by the wayside in order for me to be able to make Twitter an extremely useful service.

    Something like Twitter became something that helped the human experience. Before it wasn’t hurting it, but it wasn’t helping either.

    And while using Twitterific, it displays someone’s display name, not their Twitter ID, so I recognize your name well before I recognize “technosailor”.

  5. For me, getting to know, even in a small, brief way, people who I admire is the main reason I follow them on Twitter, FaceBook, or wherever. It was great to meet you at PodCamp NYC, because you’re not just a name on a blog to me.

    Maybe it’s more a matter of how the definition of “friend” has become blurred. I have “friends” but then I have friends. Some fall into both categories, but that part of the Venn diagram is really quite small.

  6. I was hoping to find out all this on Jonnys Par Tay on Wednesday night. By the way, do you really sail or just dream of sailing when you see nice boats like mine on Cheasapeake. Shot and beer on me at Leadbetters or Berthas

  7. Aaron, thanks for raising this comparison and asking these questions.

    There are many facets to this “friend” thing that bear consideration, and I suspect that almost every conversation that I had at PCNYC2 involved one part of it or another, mostly because I’m concerned about the distance all this social media stuff is promulgating (in the name of bringing people together).

    On one hand, a tiny subset of technologically skilled people are trying to alter the language that all of us, skilled or not, use. What *is* conversation? What *is* a friend? Why have the definitions shifted? Is my conversation as I drive home from PodCamp equal to the @lemills messages on twitter? Is the friend who lives next door equal to the avatars on a forum post?

    Some of it has to do with age. The older one gets (and I’m at the right-hand end of the curve on this), the easier it is to put glitz and “wow” in perspective. To that end, all of the new means of so-called communication are tools, they are not communities. It takes a certain amount of experience in the world to understand what a community really is, and without that experience, it’s easy to mistake the tool for the people who use it.

    Some of it has to do with personal self-esteem (which can also be a function of age). It’s one heck of a lot easier to put on a persona for the world than it is to be your real person. Twitter avatars vs. Flickr pix – need I expound further?

    The balance on the other hand is much more encouraging: At PCNYC2 I was pleased to hear many, many people talk about how happy they were to actually talk directly to people they’ve only known online. They called it “having a real conversation.”

    With that phrase, there’s still hope!
    -L.

    PS: Keeping the BS meter well tuned always helps to separate the real from the chaff. To that end, I always remember any “significant online personal brand” who looks past me when talking to scan the crowd. It’s not a smart move. I don’t forget that sort of mistake, and I bet most don’t, either.

  8. I love that you bring this up. On one hand, with as many following/followers that I have (not nearly as many as I have seen), it can get “loud” and take the “personal” out. That being said, the fact that I can follow people I admire (hello Aaron!) and shut my mouth and learn has been invaluable. Where else can a mom blogger and the founder of a corporation or tech guru have a conversation so openly without jumping through hoops or back channels? How would I even get a foot in the door without some of the new media? I certainly would not have learned the things I have and met (both IRL and online) without sites like Twitter.

    I suppose it comes down to what you want to get out of it all.

    As for your comment: If a tree falls in the middle of the woods, and everyone sees the tree online, did it really happen?

    The tree doesn’t even have to fall. All it takes is one person saying it did and–voila–the tree fell and everyone saw it. ;-)

  9. It all depends on how you use these sites, what you want to get out of them, and the level you are at.

    When I started out using social media I kept it to a close group of friends. Then I gained a readership and my circle expanded to include people that were reading me. Then it expanded to me looking to actively find people that may be interested in my content.

    I still have friends that have 30-40 friends on the few social media profiles they are on. Then I have blogger friends have an expanded circle. And finally I have friends that are total whores and look at it like a numbers game.

    It all depends on what YOU want to get out of it.

  10. Well when I met you for the first time at Cloverfield, I was in awe because you were…Aaron Brazell and now I think of you as one of the cool guys in the area who happens to rock at what he does :) I’m a friend AND fan of what you do!

  11. I think “friend” is the wrong word for social networks, and it’s a vague concept to boot. What is a “friend”. Somebody you meet regularly? Or does it have to be somebody you have a personal bond with? How deep does that bond go?

    I’ve got friends that I just hang out with for a fun afternoon. I have friends that I share my innermost thoughts with. Social networks just extended that concept to acquaintances. I think the problem comes in when you (not you personally, anybody) confuses those groups.

    Would I twitter with my closest friends? No – I want to see them in person, give them a hug. If that doesn’t work, I’ll pick up the phone,or sms them. It’s still a personal contact. They don’t get lost within a large data stream. Where am I going with this? Heck if I know – but I predict that sooner or later soc.med. tools will incorporate those priorities. Your close friends will gain a bigger space of your “river of news”, while the acquaintances events become ephemeral.

    It is no different than friends in real life – you spend more time with some, less with others.

    The current shortcoming currently is just that a friend is a friend is a friend – no matter how close you are.

  12. It is just like the real world. I’ve got a friend that coaches a baseball team and goes to church to meet people he can sale houses to.

    Not everyone coaching baseball or going to church are there for the same reason. And if he does not handle the people just right they tend to get upset.

  13. I like Jessica’s description of the individual becoming “corpafied” in the sense that many individuals are using the web as a way of self-promotion, despite the fact that the majority aren’t really selling anything. But a lot of the core concepts are there – brand awareness, reach, mutual benefit networking.

    I think a lot of folks are using social networking as a substitute for building real world relationships. Having lots of “friends” can obscure the insecurities that prevent a lot of the faces behind the avatars of achieving true quality relationships. As Linda pointed out, building a perfect persona online allows people to present themselves only in the way they want to be seen, without dealing directly with their needs of belonging/love and self-esteem (as defined by Maslow) in the 3-D world.

    Of course, as noted by some other commenters, a lot of folks do stick to their real friends or acquaintances, using social networks and tools like Twitter as just another form of communication. So it’s not the tools that are good or evil – just the way they are used.

  14. Yeah..I don’t get the ones’ who seem to follow me that would have NO reason to. I mean..I follow people that are talking about stuff that is important to me. A Mom. A Mom who blogs.
    I get the spam types..but the young pretty girls building their social networks with me? Bizarre.

    And same with FB…I try to keep it to people I actually WOULD care about what they are doing…on friendly or professional level.

  15. I have friends, and then I have contacts. My friends are just a small group of people that I know through the Internet, and we share meaningful conversation and genuinely care for each other. My contacts are people I might joke around with on Twitter or comment on their blogs or photos, but people who I haven’t really taken the time to get to know well. I don’t think that people can have a large group of genuine friends, because it takes time and effort to make and keep them!

  16. I’ve had this conversation with Patrick and others a few times. I don’t like the term “friends” in regards to making connections online. I follow a lot of people and a few follow me. Doesn’t make us friends, but I do like keeping in touch with some of them. Some of them are indeed friends though.

    Flickr did it right. You add contacts and then you can mark them as friends or family. Even AIM does it right, you have “buddies” that you can group any way you like.

    Bottom line is that these sites have take a very powerful word, “friend”, and reduced it to a near meaningless tab on a social networking site. I like making friends, but it takes a lot before I’ll actually call someone a friend and it’s a lot more than clicking add on a social networking site.

  17. What’s in a name?

    Replace ‘friend’ with ‘contact’ and you’re describing reality.

    ‘Friend’ must have sounded nicer – to the CEO of Facebook. ‘Follower’ probably did to Twitter’s head honcho.

    But you call it what you like! :)

    All success
    Dr.Mani

  18. Facebook has this thing called Pages and Groups. Would it be good to have a public profile, that’s linked to by blogs or any other websites that you participate in actively, for everyone else whom you have yet to meet personally to add you in?

    That way your Facebook profile can be one where you can have your friends there, while the Pages/Groups will have both friends and fans.

    Yet again, the site allows you to create your own friends list and add notes on how you guys met each other and such in the personal profile itself.

    What’s your take?

  19. I just logged into my Pownce account (had forever, never used) and found that they had an interesting option – you could indicate someone as a “Fan” rather than a friend (fans see public posts). I’d love to see that feature in all my social apps. As with many, I have a public face that involves communicating about business and events and a more private one that I’d prefer to share with a smaller group.

    Better yet, I want 3 categories – Inner Circle (perhaps with a limit), Friends & Fans. This more accurately reflects our real world relationships, after all…

  20. Great question… I think we’ve definitely helped our human experience with the technology available to us, but not necessarily used it wisely. If you’re going to have “friends” on social networks, I think it’s important to keep up some sort of direct communication with each if you can. Otherwise, make your profile page a “company” or “brand” page rather than so personal.

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