I struggle with having authentic relationships in the era of social media. Many people assume I am an easy networker and friend to all. It’s true that I am a lover of people, but I have little interest in surface conversations. I much prefer quality interaction, like getting to know people over coffee. More to come on that.
When I joined Facebook, I was having a great time reconnecting with friends from high school and college. However, soon after, the random friend requests started coming in from people I didn’t know or who had found me via a shared “friend.” These requests took me by surprise, as I was put off by their lack of friend qualifying process.
When Facebook launched, it seemed like it was all about how many friends you had. Early on in my usage, I established my own friend criteria. A friend had tobe someone I knew and would meet for coffee. As my friend list slowly grew, I was surprised by friends who had two or three times more Facebook friends than me. I thought, I don’t even know that many people who would meet me for coffee or vice versa.
A few years ago, I worked with a team of millennials, and each of them literally had over a thousand friends on Facebook. I would ask them, does it bother you that you don’t know all of your friends? They’d shrug their shoulders and say no, which, again, puzzled me. They looked at me like I was from outer space, and I did the same to them.
It is also strange to me when people share major life events on Facebook without also reaching out to friends directly. Recently, a friend of mine lost her mother, and I had no idea (must not have been on Facebook that day). I found out weeks later and felt awful that I had not known and been able to support her.
When it came to LinkedIn, I tried to apply a similar framework to my connections. In addition to having coffee, I also needed to be able to vouch for my connections. Quickly I learned this wasn’t a smart strategy, as LinkedIn is all about making and maintaining professional connections. However, I was still on a mission to have my connections be as authentic as possible.
On occasion I will get a connection request from a recruiter, stating why they are reaching out to me. That makes sense. Or, I will get a connection request from someone I may have met recently or already know professionally. That makes sense too. Then, I get connection requests from people I don’t know, nor have any context as to why we should be connected. The majority of these requests come without an introduction note. These do not make sense to me.
Several times I’ve asked a colleague to introduce me to someone in their LinkedIn network only to hear the response, “I don’t know XYZ.” I’m stumped, as XYZ is in their network. Why are you connected if you have no “connection”? This all messes with my authenticity principle.
I’ve tried (really, really tried) to remain true with my friends and connections. I sincerely know, can vouch for and would meet probably 90% of them for coffee. If I happen to bump into one of the other 10% who have snuck in, I feel awkward and uncomfortable. In my head, I am thinking, do they recognize me? Are they thinking, wow she looks nothing like her picture? Should I introduce myself to them? Again, I’m stumped because technically, “we’re friends.” (I wonder what they’re thinking. They asked to be my “friend.”)
Remaining authentic in the time of social madness, I mean media (wink), is hard but not completely impossible. I am going to continue using my social media framework and do my best to live authentically. And, how others manage their social media is none of my business (wink again!).