‘Happy Birthday, You’re Unfriended’: Adventures in Anti-Networking

By Todd Carpenter, Social Media Manager, National Association of REALTORS®

For the last 10 months, I have been unfriending more people than I friend on Facebook. I made a decision that I would either need to make my account unrealistically vanilla, filter all the members I didn’t know into a list that only saw that vanilla-ized version of me, or leave my Facebook profile as-is and start filtering who I connect with.

Now, I have a simple test for who I friend on Facebook; I ask, “Are you my friend in real life?” Using that simple criteria, I’ve deleted about a thousand people. Some, I didn’t like. Most, I simply didn’t know. Out of that thousand, two sent me a message asking what happened. For both of them, I apologized, re-friended, and have since worked to get to know them better. They cared enough to ask what happened. That’s someone I need to be friends with. The rest, not a peep. I wonder if they even noticed.

If I don’t know you and you don’t know me, and neither of us are trying to rectify that situation, then we aren’t really friends, are we?

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that there’s a limit to the number of people with whom you can maintain stable social relationships. He put that number around 150 people. Currently, I have about 400 Facebook friends. I’ve looked through that list many times, and I’d have a really hard time deleting any more of them. But I’m not kidding myself, either: Even this truncated group represents a large number of people I don’t know very well. So, I’m trying to get to know them all better.

A couple days ago, I talked to a friend who’s of like mind on this issue. She recommended I institute a “birthday test.” Here’s what it involves: Facebook will let you know anytime any of your friends on the network is having a birthday. Knowing that, simply look at the people on that list and do one of two things — either plan to wish them a happy birthday, or delete them. If you are not close enough to someone to wish them a happy birthday, why are you connected to them? They’re just creating noise in your social stream and making it harder for you to build stronger connections. Do yourself (and them) a favor and unfriend them.

Professionals who use sphere-of-influence marketing maintain that the more people you know, the greater the chances are that someone you know will refer business to you. But I think you have to raise the bar on the definition of “people you know”. Ten deep relationships have more potential than 100 shallow ones. As I said last week, real networking is harder, but it will pay off more. You can always use a Facebook business page — assuming you have one — as a stepping-stone to friending if you want to get to know them better, but treat your Facebook friends as you would a real friend. Friendships take work. Don’t call them friends if neither person in the relationship is willing to put in that work.

Todd Carpenter

Todd Carpenter, Managing Director of the Data Analytics Group at NAR I'm a twenty year veteran of the real estate and mortgage industry, focusing on technology that fosters relationships between professionals and consumers. I am a subject matter expert in data analytics, online consumer trends, enterprise social media strategy, listing data, agent ratings, and public facing MLS portals.

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  1. It all depends on your goal. As the communications manager for a state REALTOR® association, I come at this from a different place than most. I have been in communications for years but in real estate for just a year and a half. Becoming Facebook friends with our members around the state–people, for the most part, that I have never met in person–gave me a window into the real estate world that has been invaluable.

    It has allowed me to learn about our members’ businesses, listen in on the discussions they are having and see how they are using social media. These “friends” become sources I can interview and supply ideas for blog posts or magazine articles. Bonus: If we are “friends,” I can tag them from the association’s page posts, event photos and so forth. Even bigger bonus: When we do meet in real life, we already feel a connection because we’ve interacted online.

    That said, I have about the same number of real estate “friends” right now as you do after the mass deleting. I might feel differently if my “friends” numbered in the 1000s. 🙂

  2. I did this cleansing a while back as well. I basically said to myself 1. Do I care what this person does on a regular basis and 2. Is the only reason this person “friend-ed” me is because I’m a REALTOR and now they have a “referral network” I like the idea of using the Birthday as the litmus test.

  3. I see your point Dillon. I use Twitter for that window into discussions. I follow about 3500 people. The relationships are often really shallow, but Twitter lends itself to shallower conversations. That’s not a bad thing, just different.

  4. Very nice post, Todd. I have dwindled my Facebook friends/lists down quite a bit over the last year. I instituted certain “criteria” for my FB profile, simply because I use FB on a more personal level and really don’t want the constant hassle of “lists”. For broadcast messaging and more biz-type stuff, I prefer Twitter.

  5. Interesting what the friend told you about the birthday’s as I have thought the same thing.

  6. Hey, Todd & Bob. I’ve met you both IRL, and I’ll have to see if either of you have eliminated me from the friend list. If not, I’ll be sending you both a message on my birthday!

    One q about the theory of 150 that Mr. Dunbar came up with…Was that prior to SM’s integration into daily life? I feel there’s a chance the dynamic of SM may actually increase that number significantly.

    By the way, catching up on my RE reading on NAR’s iPad ap. Awesome ap!

  7. Natalie, a few nights ago, Facebook changed their layout for personal profiles. All my friends saw this and started updating their new profiles. At that point, it occurred to me that I really have a lot to learn about the people I’m already friends with.

    Chris Brogan once theorized that while you might only be able to know 150 people, you can be one of the 150 that thousands of other people know. But I don’t see that working either. If everyone is focused on being one of the 150 and not on connecting with the 150 they know, then no one’s really listening that well. you know, sort like Twitter.

  8. Hi Todd,
    Thank you for your Post. I myself keep my Facebook in a more personal level (very close friends, family, etc..) which for me works very good.

    But recently I learned the power of Social Network… I have a young niece who is starting her career as a singer. Her production company required her to have 25,000 views of her first video within a couple of weeks. I then personally emailed all my family and very close frineds, and asked them to share her video with all their friends… I have to say that her video was seeing 7,000 times in less than a week. And she outgrew the viewing of the video in a very short time.

    I think this was pretty powerful, and sometimes it is great to see those kind of results…
    I supose we just have to use the Social Network in a more Intelligent way and we will get great result.

    Happy Holidays to everyone.

    Analou Manent
    Miami Florida

  9. Todd: Do you aim to keep your “short list” at a given number– and will new friends, as they inevitably emerge, replace inactive ones?

  10. I have to disagree with what you have said Todd – I think that the purpose of social media is to expand your sphere of influence and still maintain your good relationships. I would encourage you to use facebook lists so that you can keep track of the ppl you dont know and make sure that u minimize all that they can see

  11. Todd, I understand what you are saying about the relationship levels getting pretty low on facebook but I also think that it can be a great tool for networking that would otherwise be unattainable. In my job I cannot leave throughout the day and go and meet a bunch of new friends for networking…however on facebook I can visit and connect with people across the US. Pretty cool for networking!

  12. Todd, now I don’t feel quite as distressed by your failure to “friend” me on FB, I guess. I was trying to give you credit for a post you had written by linking when I realized we weren’t friends. I dropped you a note, DMed you on Twitter and still never heard from you. Guess I didn’t make much of an impression when we met at one of the RE Tech South conventions. Oh well, I’ll keep following you and maybe one day we will be friends….

  13. In the new age of cyber space, emails, texting, friending, tweeting, and all the other cyber-jargon one must adapt to if one wants to stay on the cusp of the emerging technologies, what tends to get lost is the significance and meaning of some esoteric terms like friends, family and connections. Many Realtors are resorting to the internet for a variety of things, including marketing and networking, among other things. However, lets not forget what the intent is of any forum that pretends to offer a clearing house of connecting with people — known and unknown. If as Max Pigman, self-claimed Technologist of Realtor fame points out in his popular presentations and workshops on the subject is on the mark, we all need more friends, and the friends of friends on all social forums, not less. As for who is or who isn’t a “friend” on the internet, let’s get real. I don’t know anyone in Australia, nor do I know anyone in Russia, and for that matter, Amsterdam is foreign to me but for my inlaws, but being a “friend” online is all about making a connection with someone who may be able to see you as what you ought to be — a resource for other things.

  14. Todd, I understand what you are saying about the relationship levels getting pretty low on facebook but I also think that it can be a great tool for networking that would otherwise be unattainable. In my job I cannot leave throughout the day and go and meet a bunch of new friends for networking…however on facebook I can visit and connect with people across the US. Pretty cool for networking!

  15. Facebook is a wonderful way to connect with people. I decide whether to friend someone or not based on if I have ever had their phone number.

  16. Great article, Todd. I have teeter-tottered with this notion.

    Currently, outside of Austin, my practice is to ‘accept’ friend requests of Realtors I haven’t met/know IRL (I don’t accept requests of vendors, etc.). I then ‘list’ these Realtors as ‘agent out of town i don’t know’ and then I ‘hide’ them from my news feed so that people with whom I have no relationship don’t take up space on my news feed.

    So, that begs the question, if I ‘list’ them and ‘hide’ them, why have them as ‘friends’ at all …this is where I tetter-totter. My reasoning has been since they ‘friended’ me, perhaps their goal is to build an online friendship, which if that is the case, I think is worthwhile for many potential reasons. Now, with that said, very few have reached out in an effort to build a new relationship online. Mostly .. just noise.

  17. I think facebook has made itself irrelevant. I don’t go on there to have fun anymore. I know my friends are in there but they are lost in the mix. I believe their terms restrict having multiple pages but it is really useless to not sort people into personal and business relationships. When they are all in one place you just can’t use it at all.

  18. The more I’m learning about social media, the more I realize just how much I don’t know. Thanks for the insight.