Managing Massive Social Networks While Retaining Community

Recently, there has been new commentary on the unmanageability of massive social networks, particularly on Twitter and Facebook. In October, we addressed how Twitter was the most easy social media application to build massive stranger networks.

However, many use Twitter like an IM tool to keep track of their closer friends and others they find interesting. They complain that following more than a certain number – 20, 50, 100, 500? – they can’t readily digest the conversation threads. Well, duh.

Silicon Valley Insider’s Henry Blodget’s Facebook account is clogged with friend requests. He’s given up on using Facebook to keep up with his closer circle of friends due to the massive noise emanating from friends he doesn’t know. He also knows that he doesn’t want to insult fans and well-wishers by “unfriending” everybody he doesn’t know. So he’s made the decision to “friend” everybody and relegate Facebook to being a big fan repository. His request to Facebook:

Please develop a new feature called “Personal Friends” or “Work Friends” or “Extra Special Friends” or “BFFs” or “Friends You Want To Hear Meaningless Trivia About All Day Long.”  Please give me the ability to put friends in these groups without telling them I have done so (and, more importantly, without telling the friends I haven’t put in the groups that I haven’t.  I REALLY don’t want to offend anyone).

Please develop this feature soon, so I can be friends with everyone who wants to be my friend and yet can also follow my actual friends without pissing all my other friends off.  If you do that, by the way, I’ll finally also be able to just unplug LinkedIn.

Alan Wolk states the obvious has an excellent article pointing out how the new wave of MLM and SEO spammers and even a litany of social media experts that have invaded Twitter airwaves is making it exasperating to read through the Twitter public timeline. Sure, massive networks will have trash due to the low barriers to building these networks. My advice? Ignore them, block the trash.

MY SOLUTION TO ALL THIS

First, nobody’s complaining about developing a massive following on Twitter, Facebook or Friendfeed, or they would be “blocking” any followers they don’t know. Ergo, it’s good to have followers. Simple fact: you can get your message out (provided it’s not couched in spammy language) more broadly and virally with a larger network.

Second, I don’t think it matters whether you follow 200, 1,000, or 10,000 people. It’s still difficult to follow those who are closest to you, so don’t even try to doing this on Twitter public timeline. Use Twitter tools to follow your intimate network.

Ergo, since it doesn’t matter how many you follow after a certain number, why not follow or friend them all? That was Henry Blodget’s conclusion. Henry’s suggestion about grouping friends on Facebook can already be done on Twitter using Group Settings on Tweetdeck. I find it easy to follow my closest 100 (and like Henry I won’t say who they are) there. It’s such a simple solution.

Third, if you subscribe to the second corollary that it doesn’t matter how many you follow if you’re not tracking them on the public timeline, why put off your followers/fans? They could be following you because they adore you. A simple “follow” click keeps them loyal, how does that hurt you?

Sure, we’re adults… we all know that unfriending is not personal, but it is clearly not positive for relationship building. Some folks like Perry Belcher think it’s snobbery not to follow your fans back. (Funny video link).

The Real Estate Example

Many real estate professionals use Twitter and Facebook to develop a community following. Frankly, any stranger (yes, strangers are prospects too!) who follows/friends a real estate agent may be interested in their commentary and contemplating a home purchase. Would any agent in real life tell a prospect: “I know you’re watching me and potentially looking to hire me as your agent, but frankly I don’t know you and don’t think you are interesting, so I will unfriend you. Come back to me when you tell me you are a real prospect and I can make money from you”.

Since a real estate agent can’t tell who is a prospect on Twitter, why unfriend them? Just friend them, and ignore them until they come out of the woodwork with intention. It’s not only real estate, anybody selling services should be aware of the negative connotations of unfriending a client. Henry Blodget finally figured that one out.

Related article: The Politics of Unfollowing

About Pat Kitano

Patrick Kitano works with brands in developing hyperlocal engagement solutions and is administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of The Local Network on Street Fight, and is reachable via Twitter @pkitano and email pkitano@gmail.com.

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