Noone Likes [What/Who] Appears To Be a Friend-Whore

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Warning: The following inadvertently turned into something of a rant. The point, in the end, is that it is unwise to build a virtual social net without giving people context as to why you're trying to connect with them. In the end, it turned out to be slightly tainted with distain for social network whoredom. I'll be interested to hear about your take on the subject.  

I was just taking a look at a recent entry on Beth's Blog, where she discusses basic elements of general networking and interaction. In this post, she has a great adaptation of some of Chris Brogan's general tips for personal branding from his ebook Personal Branding for the Professional and also a few from Todd Defren's Produce, Propagate, and Promote. She also includes some great tips about Twitter, Digg, and StumbleUpon.

Beth very recently caught my attention when she changed her Facebook status message to:

"Beth is appreciating the people who provide context in their friend requests here."

I appreciate the sentiment expressed in Beth's status change, as there are at least a few times a week when I am faced with turning away some anonymous Facebook friend because I don't know who they are. Even after a returned message (as also suggested in the replies to Beth's status message) of "I'm sorry, but do we know each other?"), I often don't hear a response.

These requests often come in the form of individuals, many of which I assume are conference contacts, and many more of which it appears I have something in common. I also get some from organizations that I would presumably be interested in based on some sort of Facebook search (be it demographics, interests, music tastes, or whatever). While being included as a part of an expanded network is obviously desirable to me, nothing turns me off more than the presumption that someone's profile or mission alone is enough to get me to want to be friends, albeit virtual friends, on an SN. It's like meeting someone or an organization rep at a conference who gives you their business card and just walks away without explanation.

(My girlfriend, a recruiter at a large NPO, runs into this on the reverse paradigm when she receives unexplained Facebook friend requests from people she's talked to about their potential of working with the organization. This is an equally bizzarre behavior, as the initial friend-request is inappropriate as it is, but then to do so without some sort of justification is all the more laughable.)  

I realize that for many who jump onto figuring out how the interactivity of the Internet can improve their nonprofit following, the Cliff's Notes version of how-to-do-well boils down to ammassing as many friends as possible, then using your site and other presenses online as interactive mailing lists with which you can reach out to many possible supporters. The intricate reality of this, of course, and I revisit this place almost every time I discuss this subject, is that one has to be careful about building social capital. Beth discusses how to do this, step-by-step, nearly every single day in her blog in some way. Not only is building social capital imperative, it is an intricate process that calls for interactions more complex than introducing yourself by name and profile alone.

If you happen to be doing this, it's wise to stop. Introduce yourself by way of a message and a [brief] explanation about why you're reaching out. You saw my blog mentioned on Twitter and you like X post? Awesome. You're interested in millennials too? Awesome. You noticed that I have "fighting cancer" in my interests and that's just what your organization sets out to do? Awesome. I feel connected to now, and not only am I now not-ticked off that you reached out to me, I might be compelled to help out in some way.

However, if the sans-context Facebook introduction is happening on the part of the organization, this often because:

  • There is some sense of laziness on the part of the outreach worker (who should know better than to ever reach out without establishing context).

or

  • Interns don't completely understanding the outreach mission/task at hand.

I can speak to the latter case, as I have worked at several companies in an outreach capacity where I have received complains from bloggers that received comments in their blog on behalf of our organization (posted by my interns) that weren't adding value to the overall blog's dialog, thus they sound like spam. This was because the interns, in control of some element of outreach, were basically commenting something along the lines of "Cool blog - Check out our site" or something like that, which is spam (and does fit somewhere in the same category as the unexplained friend-request). This occurs not so much on the part of a bad worker, but because the intern understands that they need to reach out to as many people as possible, but does not quite understand that it has to be done in a meaningful, resonant way. After some clarification of what our outreach plan was, any why it was that way, we were back to sailing smoothly.  

If it is happening due to laziness, there is only really one cure for that: Stop being lazy.

Reaching out without context is not helping you at all; it gives the impression that your a friend-whore, and, as you appear as the person online who just wants a lot of friends, we all laugh about you behind your back as if you're the guy who gives out business cards without any context. No one wants to have to deal with that.