What is a friend? What is a stranger?
The answer to this question used to be crystal clear. Friends were people that you knew, trusted, socialised with and liked in real life. Strangers were people you hadn’t met. But then along came the internet, and along came social media, and suddenly our ability to accurately define what makes one person a friend and another a stranger became increasingly blurred.
After all, and even though you might have never met, there’s every chance you’re closer to and share more with some of the people on your Twitter network than you are to Facebook ‘friends’ you haven’t seen or engaged with since you left school. And, let’s be honest, didn’t really think all that much of back then, either. They’re strangers, and have been for 20 years. Maybe always.
Earlier today I stumbled across this cartoon from HubSpot that, even though it was first published way, way back in January, 2009 (that’s 127 years ago in internet time) provides an uncannily accurate take on the way many of us react when we’re asked to make new connections and friends with people we don’t really know on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
A little harsh, perhaps, but it did make me laugh. And over two years later, it still holds true for a lot of people. These social channels are different, and they come with different levels of privacy and security. The way we feel about connecting with new people on Twitter (public, less strict, many casual connections), Facebook (semi-public, only ‘real’ friends and family for most people) and LinkedIn (all business, mostly colleagues, clients and those we aspire to work with) is individually and psychologically quite unique.
Moreover, often new people have to prove themselves on Twitter before we let them into Facebook and especially LinkedIn. A connection there just seems a lot more serious. Even if (like many) you use LinkedIn about 1% as often as you use Twitter. Because it’s a business network and your career, it feels like you’re somehow risking more.
Apart from the mass followers, of course. They’re happy to let absolutely anyone be their friend. And that’s about the most superficial description of that term you’re ever going to get.