Monday, November 30, 2009

Friends don't let friends friend randomly

Imagine this: You walk into a mall. People are everywhere, going about their business alone or in groups, in a hurry or strolling at their own pace. You are wandering along, browsing music and books, lost in your thoughts.

Out of nowhere, you feel a poke in your side. You turn around and some guy is standing there, hand extended in anticipation of a firm shake. "My name is Bob Smith, can we be friends?" he asks matter-of-factly. You stand there, looking at him in silent pause, waiting for him to say something more about himself and why he suddenly wants to be friends with you. You ask yourself, "Have I met this man before? Do we have mutual friends, and if so, what is the nature of those relationships? What made him come up to me and ask such a forward question?"

The silence is awkward. Not seeming to notice your confused trepidation, the man goes on. "Let's be friends! Then I can look at all of your photographs, listen in on your conversations, see how much time you spend online, I'll tell you what I am doing and thinking, we can play games, you can recommend me professionally, you'll trust me with your valuable reputation, and then all my friends can see you and maybe be your friends and poke you all the time, too!"

You don't know what to do. You don't want to be rude, you might know this guy from somewhere. You don't want to admit you have no earthly idea who he is, but you don't want to acquiesce and trust this person with your personal information and connections. Besides, you don't even know if you like this person or if he is of any value to you in any way. What to do, what to do?

It's an uncomfortable yet all-too familiar scenario.

As I write this right now, a friend of mine popped up on IM to ask me if some guy has friended me.  "Cos he seems to be friending almost everyone on my page! I have no idea who he is. It's creepy cos he's just randomly friending my personal connections."

I've got three friend requests sitting in my Facebook notifications right now that I have no idea what to do with, so they just sit there. Who are these people? One is a complete stranger - profile pic is of a baby, not in my network, no friends in common. One is a Realtor office in Ocala, we have 16 friends in common. The other one, well, I really don't know what it is to be honest. It might be a fan page for motorcycle riding in the area, or a magazine maybe, but it has a realtor logo on it and it's a personal page... so I'm confused despite the 14 friends in common.

I don't know who is behind any of these pages and so I will not give them my endorsement, much less my friendship. I could send a note to them asking who they are and how they know me, but then that's putting me out of my way and making me ask the awkward question.

Social networking is SOCIAL. It's not just about clicking around randomly and seeing how high you can get the numbers. It's making and strengthening relationships, being genuine like you would in the "real world" because it IS the real world. It's got to make sense for someone to be your friend, and the more sense it makes, the better (or more useful) of a friend (or potential customer) they will be to you. Have a reason for adding someone to your network and if you're not sure they will know you by your name and face, for the love of Google, please add a quick personal note.

I'm still trying to decide what to do with those requests... should I send a note back asking who they are, or just ignore or decline them like I usually do? Maybe I should have a stock note ready to send, something like... "Hi there, where do I know you from or why would I be interested in connecting with you?" ... but ironically, that might be too impersonal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Not-So-Virtual Wake

It's been a rough week. I should have blogged yesterday or the day before. I started the week moving forward under an already heavy workload, then a good friend died and it really threw me off.

Joe Juriga was a cherished friend to many - so many that I doubt his family would have known even half of them, much less have been able to personally contact everyone who loved him. Think about it - how many people are you good friends with but have never had contact with their family? With social networking what it is today, our connections are growing in number and even more so for the outgoing, genuine people like Joe. So how did we all find out?


Joe's status update gave the sad news and offered his page up for memories in celebration of his life. I immediately Skyped a friend about it. Within 30 minutes, the posts started. They went for days. On day two, a friend of his posted a MySpace link to a song called "Broken" that he wrote and recorded in memory of Joe. On day three, an article went up in Fort Lauderdale, FL saying goodbye to the leader and friend that Joe was, and the obituary went online from Birmingham NY, with a guestbook that comments can be left on.

In these few days, dozens of friends and relatives have been able to share stories, photographs, tributes, music, love, disbelief and understanding with each other - many not even knowing one another. It is an online wake, it is instant - no waiting for the funeral, no travel time, no black outfit to find, and his family has been able to see what a huge and positive impact he has had on so many people.

The "virtual" communities online are very real. We now accept telephone communication as person-to-person, as real as it gets - but we still call the online world "virtual" because there is a visual that doesn't correspond with our visual "reality." It's all in a little box, not out in the "real world."

Phooey. It's real. The voice isn't IN a phone, it's real. The phone is simply a connection device, and so is the computer. The people inputting and uploading the information are very real, and the information is their voice. That's why it's so important to be honest when it comes to social media and marketing. It's all just like stepping out your front door and joining a big world party, person-to-person.

I think it's really cool, even if a little surreal, that all of this happened instantly in an online community. It has helped me to process some very sad and shocking news much better than simply not being able to make it to the "real" wake.