On my personal Facebook profile, I am slowly but inevitably reaching the cap for friends (3,810 of 5,000). It’s prompting me to reflect on (1) how exactly I got to this point (2) how many people are turned off by this number (3) if *I* am turned off by this number and (4) what difference the number makes, if any.
I don’t like talking about the number. I don’t tell people about the number. (This blog post is a departure for me.)
But it’s a number that occasionally comes up in real-life conversation, and I try to be as dismissive as possible about it. I feel embarrassed because I don’t think it means anything except I’ve been on Facebook a long time, and I have a well-established website, blog, and social network. Plus I speak and serve in ways that bring me into contact with many hundreds of people each year.
I don’t send out Facebook friend requests these days, but I still receive them, and I say yes to most. (A while back, I decided it would be OK to have an open friending policy on Facebook. Read my history of Facebook use here.)
I’m confident only a few hundred people are actually paying any attention to what I do on Facebook. The rest? I believe they’re looking to expand their friend count, but they mute the people they friend.
That’s what I have to do when these requests come in from people I don’t know. I don’t have time to read updates from strangers, plus I have no context for their updates.
So it’s true when people say that anyone with thousands of Facebook friends can’t possibly have quality relationships with them all.
Which maybe means I’ve become a micro-broadcaster?
Facebook has a new feature that allows people to “subscribe” to one another’s public updates. I wish this feature had been in place years ago, because if it had, I could’ve directed people to subscribe to me rather than friend me. As you can see above, right now I have nearly 100 subscribers on Facebook. I find this a far more valuable number as far as engagement on Facebook, because it’s people who actively want to be alerted, in their newsfeed, to new things I post.
Have we reached the point in social media where it’s bad form to have too many “friends”—because you can’t focus as much on quality? Does it mean you’re not being selective enough? Conversational enough? Even controversial enough? (Some would say you ought to repel as many as you attract in order to ensure you’ve got the “true” community around you.)
Bottom line, friend count on Facebook has become a meaningless piece of data to me. I don’t know what the right answer is to address this issue, but I do believe this:
- I’m probably creating secret ill-will with people who know I can’t possibly be reading their stuff on Facebook. So I become known as a disingenuous “friend.”
- To unfriend people would likely be worse than No. 1.
- While I would never post anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t post in public, I know my behavior isn’t the same as if I had a very limited friends list. (I’m not interested in potentially offending hundreds of people.) I judge this as neither good nor bad, but it’s something I’m very aware of.
Years ago, someone said that he expected before long that my Facebook posts would come with a secure way for my “friends” to input a credit card number to buy products or services.
My biggest fear is that people think I’m on Facebook to take advantage of them or monetize them. What I’m really there for is to keep the line of communication open (especially since Americans spend more time on Facebook than on any other site), and to post things of interest to people. I may not be able to read what everyone else is posting, but at the very least, I’m responsive and present to activity on my own wall.
My hope is that’s why people are friending me in the first place.
To read some of my other posts on this topic:
- Using Facebook to Amplify Your Reach and Not Annoy People
- Should You Create a Facebook Fan Page? (a little out of date due to Facebook’s new subscription feature, but strategies still solid)
What are your thoughts on Facebook friending, particularly as it pertains to your more “public” face?
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.