I have been a serious user of social networks since joining LinkedIn several years ago–the fourth person in Utah to join, as I recall. My friend Michael Tanne, now CEO of Wink.com, turned me onto it. Of my 858 connections, I think I personally know about 98% of them. I have turned down a ton of connection requests because I really did want to be part of a trusted network. But I read that you should connect to a couple recruiters and a couple of the most networked people in the world, and I did, and it has dramatically expanded the reach of my own network. I am three degrees away from 3.74 million people. I use LinkedIn all the time to make contact with people from other companies.
I tried many other business social networks early on, including Ryze, Spoke, Xing, ZeroDegrees (first caught on with entertainment execs in So Calif) and Tribe.net but nothing had the ease of use of LinkedIn, so I’ve dropped them all except Xing, which is strong in Europe. Someday I’ll beef up my usage of that site.
I’m not a fan of MySpace, but have been active in Facebook for quite some time. I have about 300 Facebook friends, but probably 90% of them are just casual acquaintances, and the reality is that less than 10% of my actual close friends use Facebook. So how useful is it to me really? I’m married and have kids, so much social life is pretty much limited to work, family, church, and my kids’ school activities. The vast majority of Facebook apps are useless to someone like me. For business I rely on LinkedIn, and for family stuff, my own family and my wife’s family still use MyFamily.com, the social network for families which I helped build in 1998.
With all of that in mind, I’ve decided to dramatically change my usage strategy of Facebook. I’ve got 130 friend requests that are pending–almost all of them from people that I’ve never met. Many of those requests are from people in different countries. I am certain that many of them think I’m the Microsoft Paul Allen so they friend me. Or maybe they are entrepreneurs or members of the same Facebook groups that I belong to, and they just want to beef up their friend network.
During last week’s Robert Scoble controversy, where he was using the new Plaxo tool (in Alpha) to mine email addresses from his Facebook friends, I learned that he has about 5,000 Facebook friends, apparently the upper limit of what Facebook allows. I read recently that one person with more than 1,000 Facebook friends uses it to get a first hand glimpse of how Facebook apps spread, and who is using what apps. I got to thinking…maybe my Facebook connections can become as valuable to me for market research as I watch what they are doing and ask them questions using My Questions or other surveying/polling tools, and I’ll get a much better sense of what my own company can do in Facebook.
I see some serious downsides.
- My newsfeed will become interesting mainly as market research, kind of my own mini zeitgeist, and not very satisfying in terms of keeping up with people that I really care about.
- Reputation comes in large part by association–you are judged by the company you keep. So anyone who knows me and then clicks on any of my “friends” may assume certain things about them, based on what they know about me, and now, that trust by association will be almost completely lost. In fact, my own reputation, may be damaged.
I am quire worried about the reputation thing. Just last week a friend of mine told me should couldn’t believe I ever worked with so-and-so, who had tried to defraud her and take credit for her idea, and there was clear guilt by association. Thankfully I told her that I had met with him a couple of times and talked about doing something together but had such serious disgreements with him that we never actually worked together.
But the upsides are interesting also. I envision getting 5,000 friends like Scoble, with most of them being international entrepreneurs and older consumers. FamilyLink.com’s products and services are primarily of interest to family historians, who tend to be older, often over 50. Canada has more Facebook users over 50 than the U.S. does, with only about 1/9th of the population.
I’ll publish my blog into Facebook and attract more comments since I’ll have more readers. I highly value reader comments, and love to get 10-20 comments per post.
When I travel internationally, I often have very few good contacts in a given country, and it is hard to have a successful first trip when you don’t already have some kind of network there. I usually use LinkedIn to make some initial contacts and to set up some meetings, but now I may have some Facebook “friends” who may be willing to give me advice about where to stay, how to get around, and who to meet with.
For the last few days I’ve gone back and forth about the value of meeting new people through Facebook vs. the risk of a damaged reputation and the possibility of friends trusting people that aren’t trustworthy.
I’ve decided to go ahead and try an experiment. I’ll accept the 130 other friend requests that I have, and actively start seeking friends in countries that I’m planning to travel to this year. I’ll try to find a way to “warn” my own friends and acquaintances that I’m using Facebook in this way, and that they can’t instantly trust people in my friends list. I’ll also start using the new Friends List feature of Facebook, so I’ll have my own way of communicating instantly with all my real friends.
I was on the fence for several days. But I finally decided to go ahead and get a zillion Facebook friends when I realized that if this experience turns out badly, I can just reboot. I can delete my Facebook account and start over from scratch.
So, tell me what you think about my decision. I’m starting right now, and if you really think this is a bad idea, post a comment and tell me so, and maybe you’ll save me from a disaster. Or if you have any advice for me, please share it.