Are Our FaceBook Friends Real?

This has been in my draft folder for a while. So maybe not recent yet still relevant.

Recently, I have seen a lot of commentary on the web and in print on the power of our “Social Peers” to influence us. In a Business Week article about the story surrounding “Social Network the Movie”, the authors proclaim that the knowledge that your friends like Coca Cola is way more influential than traditional advertising.  Maybe.

I also follow the Thought Leader Charles H. Green who, as co-author of the book The Trusted Advisor, is something of a thought leader in the arena of trust. In his blog, Trust Matters , recently he asks “is real change possible through social network? Can we develop real trust via Twitter and Facebook?”

What really struck me was the commentary to the post. Many people wholeheartedly say that you cannot develop real trust via a Facebook or Twitter account. To that, I say maybe.

What I have observed in myself is that I have about (by my count) 1500 “friends”, between Twitter, Facebook and Linked in. To the question of how many of those am I really close to, I would say maybe 5 or 6. Frankly, there are only one or two that I would trust with watching my back in a dangerous situation. But, isn’t that the case out there in the real world? How many people in your office do you trust with your back? How many in your class room? I mean, really, if any of these friends were in a dark alley with you, how many could you actually count on? (Subject for a different post but you might be surprised)

What I have experienced is that of those 1500 friends I have moved a dozen from the place where we just follow each other to where they know that I care about them and their lives. I have shared in anniversary celebrations, sent congratulations for “out of country” weddings, and supported them with their art openings. And in a reciprocal fashion they have inquired about my new business, and checked in when they haven’t seen or heard from me in a while.

But, you see, I took that big step that is required to develop trust – I took a risk. I reached out to schedule a call, I met them (in town) for a cup of coffee,  out of town over the phone. And I stay in touch with them and inquire about their well-being.

Keith Ferrazzi speaks to the value of building relationships. Just like the relationships we develop in the world (not cyberspace), we have to take them one step at a time. We share some ideas, we learn about their families or their dreams, perhaps we connect them to someone who can help them in a job search or a business transaction. Over time, we develop a relationship. Can my friend in Great Britain come pick me up at the hospital? Probably not. Does he care?  Yep.

Take good care.


  1. John,

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. Thanks too for linking to mine, and the discussion about the depth of links forged online.

    I’m with you. I don’t know if that means I’ve changed since I wrote that post back in September, or if it’s a nuance, but I too have about 1500 connections, and they form a continuum of weak-to-strong relationships.

    Obviously there are limits to the relationship you can form with someone online alone, per se, if that’s all. But the same could be said about people you first meet at a party–all is social graces and faces. But most relationships do begin that way. And of course, not everyone you meet at a party progresses further along a relationship continuum. Same thing.

    In many ways, the pen-pal of 50-75 years ago may be a good analogy. It’s amazing how strong a connection can be built, in fact, through continued interaction through even a very narrow medium; pen and paper via postal services can’t be all that much higher bandwidth than a long series of twitters or blog comments. Throw in a few pictures and links to blogs, and you have access to quite a bit of broad information about someone.

    You and I are a good case in point, John. Neither of us is on each other’s list of 5-8 people, as you put it, who would fall into the very close friend category. But as you have commented on my blog over the years, and as I read your blog, I have formed a strong sense of who you are, how you think–and that’s a pretty rich set, I think.

    There are relationships like that online, and they may not be full analog coffee-and-look-in-their-eyes-and-hear-the-tone-of-their-voice, but they carry quite a bit of their own depth nonetheless. And they are full of potential.

    How many will evolve further? That’s not the point, I think. They don’t need further evolution to justify their own existence. They are what they are, and I enjoy and treasure them.

    So–my friend–thanks for articulating the message. I find myself quite in agreement.

    Best wishes,

  2. John, This is a fascinating question. Every day I get inquiries from people that I have never met to be my friends on Facebook or on LinkedIn. In some cases they state why they want to link with me, either due to a mutual friend, they follow my blog, or we have another specific topic in common. But all too often there is nothing but a standard friend or link request and I have no idea who this person is or why they want to connect with me.

    I have been told dozens of times by Social Media experts that I should make as many contacts as I can through Social Media and how “valuable” these links are to me. But I don’t know these people. I don’t have any kind of relationship with these people, and I certainly haven’t developed any level of trust in them.

    Supposedly the value of these connections lies in who they know and how I can connect with those people as well. So if I’m looking for a connection at ABC Box company I can use LinkedIn to see that while I don’t have any connections there, my LinkedIn connection John Doe knows a Sr. Vice President there.

    That’s great news! A way in…

    Except I’ve never met John Doe, and if I called him to ask for a connection with this Sr. VP, what will I get ?

    Does John Doe know this Sr. VP as well as he knows me, which is to say, not at all? If so, how valuable is that introduction? Or suppose that he is actually good friends with this Sr. VP, and the Sr. VP says, “what do you know about this Dave Meyer guy who wants to meet me.” What is John Doe going to say? Is that really going to get me an introduction?

    Facebook to me is more about socialization and I accept most invites routinely there. But with LinkedIN it’s a business tool. When I accept a request to link there I follow it up with a face to face discussion and meeting, trying to build some type of relationship.

    Perhaps I’m in the minority, but when I look at my LinkedIN contacts and see people I don’t remember at all, I don’t feel very connected.

    Thanks for bringing this up.


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