Determining Facebook friend or foe

The Facebook Fake Friend Fallout

The other day, I removed a friend from my Facebook profile for reasons that will soon become clear to you.

He was so incensed, he wrote me a personal message accusing me of being rude and insulting. He even remarked that I'm arrogant, and snarkily added that some of his “friends” seem to feel the same way.

Now, before I give you the reason, I'd like to share with you my philosophy on Facebook friendships in general.

To me, and I think it's simply common sense, a friend is a friend. It's someone you know, someone you have a relationship with, someone you want to stay connected with, and someone you consider a real friend — not a fan, follower, or worse yet, a spammer.

And the latter of the three is the one I can't stand.

You see, I have hit my 5,000 friend limit several times on Facebook. After removing a few undesirables from time to time, new ones keep filling it up. So we've created a fan page, which has no limit. That way, anyone can join, become a fan, and connect with us.

But there's a difference between a “profile” and “page.” Between a “friend” and a “fan.” Those differences are not mine. They are Facebook's. Their policies are pretty clear.

Personal profiles are not to be used for commercial purposes.

I know. It's not only listed in their terms, but Facebook have also told me personally.

Befriending someone on Facebook can be just as problematic as following someone on Twitter. Just like Twitter said when they dumped auto-follow from their native application:

“It is unlikely that any­one can actu­ally read tweets from thou­sands of accounts which makes this activ­ity disingenuous.”

Even Seth Godin calls mass-friending as “fake networking.” This applies to Facebook as much as it does to Twitter — or to any other social media application, for that matter.

I wanted to keep my friends list clean. I could have, like some marketers out there, dumped my profile entirely, or deleted my entire friends list, and started from scratch.

But I didn't want to do that. Starting from scratch can seem just as disingenuous.

So in order to whittle my list down to the people I really do want to stay friends with, including family members, old school friends, and several marketers I have an actual relationship with, I've decided to remove friends based on the following five criteria.

If the people are not known to me (i.e., people I don't really know, have never met, or haven't some kind of personal relationship with), I remove the following:

  1. People who spam me. Specifically, people who constantly send me fan requests, group join requests, event invites, or friend suggestions, or people who post blatantly promotional or self-interested messages on my wall — and that is only if I don't know the person making the suggestion in the first place. I not only ignore their requests but also remove these people as friends the moment I get them.
  2. People who push me with their applications. I block those outright. I click on the application name, then “block application” on the left-hand side of the page. I also block the people who send them because they have a tendency to be app junkies. (No more “Mafia Wars,” “Farmville,” or “Chinese Astrology” notifications.)
  3. People with fake names or business names. I see a lot of friends whose profile names are businesses, websites, or brands. Remember, Facebook profiles are not to be used for commercial purposes. Needless to say, I don't believe “ABC Marketing, Inc.” can be single or married, male or female, a republican or a democrat, or 32 years old and a graduate of a high school in Wichita.
  4. People with fake profile pictures. My opinion is, if you can't put a real picture of a real person on your personal profile, then what are you hiding? If you have to hide behind some logo, cartoon character, or a shot of some product you sell, to me it means you're not willing to connect with the people you befriend.
  5. People whose friends are people I wish to distance myself from. In other words, in their friends lists are people I prefer not to be associated with. If any of the above criteria are not met, I then check out who their friends are. If there's anyone in that list I don't like, and if I don't know them personally, they're gone.

Above all, I'm not on Facebook to provide customer support or free advice, or to do any networking. (Sure, I do network. But it's not my primary focus.) So I also remove friends who send me a direct message in some obvious attempt to extract free advice from me.

Yes, I'm very selective with who I hang around with. But I don't spend endless hours scouring my friend list searching for anyone who meets any of the above criteria. I only apply it to friends who happen to spam me and to those who try to add me as a friend.

Incidentally, when adding friends I prefer and particularly approve those who add a small message with their friend request. They're making an effort in introducing themselves to me, and in sharing some commonality or reason why we should be friends.

Bottom line, I'm very protective of my time, my reputation, and my integrity.

Back to the “friend” who rebuked me for unfriending him. He added me as a friend, and spammed me with a request of some kind literally the next day. Now, spamming me is one thing. But spamming me within hours of adding me as a friend is another.

When people do this, it makes their friend request suspect.

Not only do I de-friend people who spam me, but I hesitate even less when the request comes in shortly after adding me as a friend. Facebook is filled with people who add “friends” for the sole purpose of pushing their offers, businesses, or opportunities.

(Sorry, but I'm not interested in your “opportunity.”)

I replied to this fellow and expressed that he should have given me a chance to explain before jumping the gun. His reply was just as perplexing when he counter-accused me of jumping to conclusions by unfriending him so quickly. (Uh, merry-go-round, anyone?)

With this situation, Seth Godin's “permission marketing” comes to mind. Specifically, don't ask me to marry you when we're still on the first date. Get to know me first.

Nevertheless, I don't have time to vet each friend request, much less every friend on my list. So following this “whittling” process seems to work for me.

It's the lesser of two evils — removing undesirables one by one is a lot less daunting than deleting my entire friends list and starting over from scratch. Plus, in the end by cleaning out my friends list allows me to stay in touch with only the people I want.

If not adding everyone who asks as a friend, if being selective when choosing my friends, and if unfriending undesirables make me arrogant, then I guess I am.

Come to think of it, this argument is very reminiscent of the whole “auto-follow fiasco” on Twitter I wrote about before. As I said on Twitter, I'd rather be seen as a snobby bastard who doesn't care than as a fake friend who pretends that he does.

Not following you back (or in this case, not befriending you) doesn't make me rude, arrogant, or discourteous. This is a blatant myth propagated by some social media gurus who are using peer pressure to justify their attempt to grow their own lists.

Ditto with people befriending others in an attempt to usurp free advice or support. I do offer support. I have staff and a helpdesk for that purpose. And I do try to help whenever I can. But there's a difference between customer service and customer support.

So if you want to become my friend, I only ask three simple things.

  1. Respect. Respect for my time, my business, my customers, and my current friends. Just as much as I respect yours. It's not just a mutual courtesy. It's simple common sense. To add me as a friend, you need to be, well, a friend. Or at least friendly.
  2. Authenticity. Be real, genuine, and sincere. Don't use a fake name or a fake picture. Sure, I understand if you want to use a picture of a leprechaun on St. Paddy's Day or a picture of your favorite NFL mascot during the Super Bowl. But not all year round. (Remember, in your profile, under “photos,” there's a folder called “profile pictures.” I can instantly see if there are any “real pictures” in there.)
  3. And finally, friendship. Be a friend or show a willingness to befriend me — not as a sales lead, a subscriber, or a babysitter, but as a friend. Talk to me. Add a message to your friend request. Or post on my wall something I'm interested in. Or comment on some of my postings. Let's converse. Engage me, not enrage me.

Ultimately, ask yourself, and be honest: would you treat a Facebook friend the same way you'd treat a real friend in the real world? If so, and if you want friends only to promote yourself, then your Facebook profile is not the place. There are better places for that.

They're called tradeshows.

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