Well, Google launched + a while back and like lots of people I've been tinkering with its functionality. And, I've been thinking about what it means to have a 'friend' on-line and what value all those supposed 'friendships' really offer.

I've tried to keep my different social media profiles separate. So Facebook is primarily social, Linked In is 100% business connections (people I really know), Twitter is all about sharing interesting stuff relating to what I do work-wise (absolutely hate it when people tweet mundane junk like what they fancy for lunch and unfollow them if they do it a lot).  When a business connection tries to friend me on Facebook, I tell them I'd rather connect on Linked In. Mates on Linked In? Only if they work in a similar field as a rule.

Where does that leave brands on Facebook then? Many of the travel cos I work with want to develop their Facebook presence. They see it as a great way to really engage with their customers and prospects. So they have pages which people can choose to 'like'. If you do this, the brand's wall posts show up in your news stream.

I did this with a bunch of them. And before I knew it there were so many posts from brands in my news stream they swamped the stuff from my friends. I do wonder where this will all end up. For the majority of brands hiting their 'like' button is just saying 'hey plug your products at me'. I can't see people doing this for long. I laboriously went back to every brand page I'd 'like'd on Facebook and 'unlike'd them. That was another interesting learning - it's much easier to 'like' than to 'unlike'. In fact I had to google it to find out. And try 'unliking' something using the Facebook iPhone app. I still haven't worked out how to that.

I decided to try a little experiment and set up a new Facebook account just to follow brands.

It taught me some interesting things. First you can't set up a Facebook account without connecting it to an email account. First time I did this I connected it to my gmail account which I don't use much. I was flabberghasted to see that within moments of opening up my brand new virgin Facebook account it was already recommending people to 'friend' - people I knew really well.


It was of course interrogating my gmail contacts - and there are lots of them! It was frankly a bit spooky. I deleted this Facebook account, created a brand new email account on yahoomail with no contacts, no mail, nothing, and used this to set up a new Facebook account. It was with some satisfaction that I saw an empty 'People You Might Know' box. I then started 'liking' various brands using my new account. Each time I got an annoying pop-up box that made me enter a random 'captcha' number before I could proceed - to prove I was a 'real' person. To avoid this all I had to do was give Facebook my mobile phone number so it could then validate the account by sending me a text message with a unique code. So, I did this. To be honest, using a Facebook account without doing this would be insanely frustrating.

You know what happened? Facebook now knows that two different Facebook accounts have the same mobile phone number associated with them - so it suggested to me on my new account that I might know 'Jeremy Head'. Scary. And given that the number was asked for and offered up in the context of account 'security' to me rather duplicitous.

What this really showed me is that Facebook is utterly determined to connect you to as many people as possible.

The basic premise is the more connections people have with each other, the more data there is  to mine and the more potential 'likes' and 'shares' there will be when a brand advertises something on a profile. Every time you become 'friends' with someone on Facebook it's like sticking your email address on a load of new advertiser databases.

Linked In provided some interesting insight on this subject too. Linked In has always (in my opinion) been about 'proper' contacts. If you use the free basic level service you can't connect with random people. In theory you have to say how you are connected - 'we worked together at XXXX ltd' for example.

But... there is a 'friend' option. And increasingly I get people I don't know trying to connect with me on Linked In by saying we are 'friends'. Random people from India or China in particular. I also had an amusing email exchange with someone I've never met in Devon who does similar stuff to me who wanted to connect on Linked In as we were in her opinion 'friends'. She was a bit miffed when I pointed out that we'd never met and that saying we were friends when we'd never met was basically a lie.

It occured to me that in this instance though, Linked In might have mined our mutual contacts and worked out that we have a connection twice removed in common and suggested to her that she might know me. Maybe I should have accepted the invitation? She actually seemed like a genuinely interesting person!

By doing this Linked In kind of undermines itself. There's an interesting tension here between the need to keep it business-like - make 'proper connections - and the need to get people to connect to as many people as possible to make the network more interesting and valuable to potential advertisers. From a user perspective, being left to choose my own connections seems far more appropriate. I build the right network for me.

Back to google+. Many commentators point out that it's about google getting its hands on people's connections and their 'likes' (or '+1's in google-speak) and using this to make search results more personalised and more relevant. You can see that this will be really powerful. If I'm signed into google when I search I now already see relevant pages that friends on google+ have  '+1'd being pushed up the search results.

But too many 'friends' - rather like too many brands in my personal Facebook newstream - will mean the results could be less and less useful. Someone that an algorithm (which is totally focussed on making me connect with as many people as possible) suggested should be my 'friend', thinks this hotel (or whatever else I am searching for) is amazing. Should I value that opinion any more than someone I don't know at all? I'm not sure.

So... I'm thinking more and more about the quality of my social networks rather than the size of them. Maybe I should have a clear out and disconnect from all the people that frankly I can't remember why I friended in the first place? Ultimately that network could be influencing the way search engines serve up results when I am looking for stuff, the sorts of ads I get served up and who knows what else.

Perhaps we should let our online connections be more like our offline ones. Do you want an algorithm to tell you who should be your friend?

How do you use social media for connecting with people?


18 thoughts on “Choose your friends wisely…

  1. Seriously cannot stand Facebook.

    Have yet to *get* Google+, though it does seem like a welcome change.

    And as I don't get what algorhithms actually are they can do whatever they like. If you put "sevilla" and "tapas" into google my site appears on the first page. And I did absolutely nothing (as far as I know) to make that happen.

    1. Hola
      For 'algorithm' I just mean the way Facebook interogates your 'friends' and their 'friends' and then works out who you should be 'friends' with as a result. I imagine that's probably exactly what turns you off Facebook.
      You didn't do it intentionally, but having genuinely great unique content on your website is what Google ranks you well. What we will start to see now though is if I for example +1 your homepage, people who are connected with me on Google+ who search for Seville and tapas will see your site higher up in the search results.
      Enjoy Malaga - much underrated. I love it.

    2. Hi azahar, I put "sevilla" and "tapas" into Google and you are indeed No1 on the results search page. However having 2300 links to your site including the BBC and other very popular sites may have something to with the result plus of course as Jeremy says you do have good content.
      I am still struggling trying to keep putting something interesting into Twitter, Facebook and our blog. Hence sometimes Jeremy I am reduced to saying "John is relaxing with a large coffee". What can you say on a daily basis as a seasonal cycling business?
      Most of our photos go on Facebook so no problem there.
      As for Linked In, I still haven't really explored it and refuse, like you to accept links from people I don't know. Perhaps I should accept everybody?
      I now have 43 who have me in their Google circle but don't really know how to develop this.
      So on a daily basis I spend at least an hour on Social Networking. But I find it very hard to quantify any benefit to our business.

      1. Hi John
        Great to hear from you... I guess with these different platforms it's about adopting a basic strategy and sticking to it. A good friend of mine who used to tweet and Facebook post about travel stuff mainly recently got a gig writing for a big pharmaceutical co about something completely different. Suddenly their twitter stream was full of information about medical problems. For me that just didn't work.
        So, if you quite often do tweet about enjoying a coffee - looking at the awesome views across the valley or something that ties your moment to the place you are in (a place others might want to be in when they are stuck at their desks at work) - maybe that's fine.
        But also - maybe there's something to the adage - if you don't have much to say, don't say anything too? I guess people who are into cycling holidays won't be that in need of loads of cycling info during the off season, so reduce the amount of stuff you post? Difficult to get right. Or else, maybe there's interesting stuff going on off-season in the Lot that people who like the area might be interested in. The rhythms of life there...
        And finally... I see no issue personally with quite frequently updating your FB status with the same info you just tweeted. You will definitely have some people that only follow you with one of these.

  2. hi Jeremy - Brilliant post. Love it. I hope it goes round the world.

    Twitter works, because all the power to make or break connections rests in the user's hands. I use it a lot, but I can't stand Facebook, never pursue Linked In, and haven't even tried Google+ yet. My life right now needs fewer connections and more headspace, not the other way round.

    I'm convinced most people don't want a tailored experience - and, like you and me (and azahar), HATE the idea of algorithms 'thinking' for them invisibly. Geeks love it when their computer and/or phone seems to 'know' them, because they can join the dots behind the screen, but it gives ordinary people the creeps.

    At heart it's the corporate world, again, having occupied most of the space around us, demanding to occupy the space between our ears. The result, as you showed in your post, is that the social networks end up fouling their own nest: by introducing a corporate presence to the user's timeline/stream, they ruin the sense of an individual's social space, which is why they were invented in the first place. It's counter-intuitive: 1.0 thinking in a 3.0 environment. Spammy. And creepy.

  3. Great post thanks. I am the community manager of eezeer.com and as such run most of the social networking sites and groups so this article has been of great help.

    I am always trying to find the best ways to communicate and I totally understand that there is a difference in tone and content from notwork to network (twitter and facebook for example are completely different). So your point: "before I knew it there were so many posts from brands in my news stream they swamped the stuff from my friends" really struck home for me.

    Great comment by Matthew Teller too.

  4. What both Facebook and Twitter could do with is some kind of a filter that determines how much you see in your personal stream by how many people and brands you follow. By that I mean if you're a friend collector with north of say 500 people in your bag of friends, then you're going to be able to withstand a lot more from brands pushing stuff out regularly (like myself - we post 5-10 items daily onto the TF fanpage) than someone who has 27 friends.

    On Twitter there are tools for selective blocking -- I block Foursquare and Triber for example and it keeps a lot of the guff out of the stream. All FB need do is give an option where a user can say I don't want to see any more than say two posts from any one brand in a day -- then use an algorithm using all the stuff mentioned by Jeremy to decide which two you should see.

    Google+? Dead on arrival.

  5. Great post as usual Jeremy. Some thoughts:
    #1 I get so much more out of twitter since I started only looking at tweets from curated lists of people I find interesting
    #2 Twitter on the other hand is an abysmally designed device to subscribe to content, if you aren't online when it is tweeted, you usually miss it and there is simply too much chat and noise to. It is a great discovery tool for finding new content but no good for keeping up with content from one source.
    #3 RSS is clearly dead in the water, but there still seems to be a an absence of a good way to follow content from people and brands we actually want to follow.
    #4 I do believe Facebook can work with travel brands, but purely as a way for travel companies to nudge their customers to advocate them (e.g. by sharing their travel pics or reviews of a holiday).

  6. Just a quick follow-up to Ben's point #2. You're absolutely right, Ben - and that's why I love Twitter. It's hop on & hop off. If I catch something while I'm there, great - if I don't, well, it's passed me by. Never mind. If it was that important, I'll catch it on the retweet - or maybe I won't.

    The point about Twitter is that if you take care who you follow, you end up seeing the world - and there's simply too much interesting stuff in the world to read everything. So you can't. No curation possible - what joy! You read what you catch. No RSS, no Instapaper, no ReadItLater, no bookmarks, no email reminders, nothing. You see it, or you don't (and, most of the time, if you're following the right people, you see it). Bliss.

  7. Do you think people will start to delete all of their accounts (or some, or most) from Facebook, Twitter, etc.? I'm personally getting burnt out from social media in general and wish I could delete my profiles, but as a writer who just started an e-book publishing company, well, I have to stay "connected" with people on-line. Sigh. I do know of a few of my friends who have said, "screw this!" and have completely left social media sites. They're exhausted, annoyed and want to get on with life away from the screen. I wonder how many others are doing the same?

  8. Publishing phone numbers and email addresses is something FB seems designed to do as on one of its primary functions for reasons you already outlined. I also notice in recent months more and more people commenting online on this topic and expressing much the same thought as yourself, Jeremy. Then again, the founder of FB is known to regard privacy as either an outdated concept or just nonexistent nowadays and that all personal information should be public information. Twitter also works on its own model of "six degrees of separation" to try and boost your follow/follower numbers, the funny thing with that is that it's unable to also intuit the truth that in the global village, just like in the real world, we don't all necessarily want to be connected to the guy three houses down from us. Sometimes shared interests, professions or other demographics are really not the key that opens a relationship.

  9. @jeremy - fascinating and great post, as always, and a good discussion.

    Whenever these kind of debates surface I always wonder what those who are not living and breathing the mechanics of social media actually think. You know, normal people...

    Do they *really* care about their privacy, or is it just the digerati that gets its knickers in a twist over such things, agonises whether to have multiple FB profiles, etc?

    When they like a brand on Facebook do they think they are sticking their email address on a "load of new advertiser databases"?

    Observing friends and family, it's fascinating to see that they actually do not care AT ALL. This is an issue, of course, when it comes to their privacy, but the point is that they see social networks as fun, interactive platforms, where they can share stuff pictures, links and just chat.

    Furthermore, they seem to 'like' brands because they can engage with them, ask questions, often get a response and find out stuff. Do they consider themselves part of the marketing cycle? Of course not.

    Because social media is evolving all the time, there is plenty of debate about every single nuance and development. But I wonder if it is over-thought, too much analysis.

    When I discuss social media (thankfully not often) with non-travel industry, non-webby people, there is a collective shrug about it. It's part of their lives, but that's all it is. Just another channel, another conversation funnel, another way to discover information.

    1. Hi Kevin
      Very good points. And in many ways I agree with you - for the here and now.
      But maybe not for a few years further down the line? I think the shoulder-shruggers will find a lot of this stuff bites them on the rear.
      On a more general level I think we need to be much smarter as consumers. We need to challenge the businesses that promise us goods and services and hold them to account. We usually can't be bothered.

  10. I signed up to LinkedIn, but haven't looked at it for two years. I don't even know my password there. Facebook's for friends, Twitter for people I find interesting but don't necessarily know beforehand. Google+ can prove itself first (I suspect it won't).

  11. I've been thinking pretty much along the same lines as you, Jeremy. A cull is in order - Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, the lot.

    For me, FB is for friends,but I've been far too ready to accept people's friendship requests because I don't want to hurt their feelings. Consequently my wall is largely completely irrelevant. Of course, there is the option to block status updates from certain people I'm just not interested in. On Twitter, which I see as a work tool, I originally went a bit mad following everyone who followed me and the quality/relevance of the info coming my way has suffered. I rarely use it now, albeit largely because the day job is too absorbing. As for Linked In, yes, I'm friends with far too many people I've never crossed paths with, or even worked in the same industry as (travel writing).

    Your article has confimed for me that it's time for the teenage promiscuity of my early social media years to make way for a more discerning approach, in all digital walks of life. As for Google + etc - unless work calls for it, quite simply, I can't be bothered. One thing I do use regularly is iGoogle for following blogs and websites I like, such as Travelblather. Now that's handy, and I feel like I'm in control.

    1. I think the tricky thing with social media is to work out what "style" your audience prefers...It seems as though most of the people commenting here use it sparingly, perhaps even grudgingly, whereas my younger brothers are on it all day, every day. I was at a wedding at the weekend (a wedding, I hasten to add, devoid of anyone from the travel/social media industry and involving people in their mid-thirties and up) and people were checking their iphones before the service, after the service, during the reception and on the bus on the way home. What were they checking? Email, Facebook and twitter, mainly.
      I understand Jeremy's point of view about being swamped by business messages, but these people need that swamping frequency or else they'll never see it at all! And they LOVE liking brands and finding out about sales, offers and so on...
      I seem to be one of the rare people who actually like Google + because it easily allows you to filter people (and soon brands) into circles for both following and sharing, thus avoiding many of the problems you mention.
      I do, however, have privacy concerns about all of these networks but as Kevin points out, it seems that most other people do not care AT ALL. In fact, they laugh at me if I point it out.
      Even without Google plus, though, Google is already filtering your searches. If I type “Sevilla” and “Tapas” into Google search on different browsers on my computer at the same time, it appears in a different position on each browser. Sometimes number one, sometimes number 10, sometimes lower. It depends on whether or not I’ve already visited the lovely Sevilla Tapas site on that browser or not and whether or not I’ve since cleared my cookies or emptied caches or something like that...(someone more technically minded can step in here!)
      My approach so far has been to be quite easy-going about accepting requests and to use two twitter and Facebook accounts, each for different purposes. The amount of work, help and opportunities I’ve had through social media has been absolutely amazing and so I’m more than willing to keep on with it, even in this slightly convoluted style...
      I take Matthew Teller’s approach to twitter and apply it to Facebook as well. I read what I catch :)

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