How To Manage Your Facebook Relationships With Friend Lists

Yesterday Facebook released an updated version of their friends page to let users more effectively manage their relationships. While some users were frustrated with the changes (as usual), the new design empowers users to more efficiently manage their many groups of friends. While most users have played with Facebook’s friend lists feature, many have still yet to master the feature. We’ve decided to create a comprehensive guide that outlines how you can take advantage of friend lists to manage relationships and how to make Facebook privacy management much easier using friend lists.

What Changes Did Facebook Make?

By today most users have seen that their friends page has changed and what’s most frustrating for many of them is that they don’t remember how the page used to be, they just know that it’s different. Thanks to Facebook’s new homepage design, many of the features provided within the previous friends page had become duplicate features. You could sort friends by those that had recently updated their profile as well as those that had posted status updates. Now that you can view all of your friends’ status updates from the homepage there isn’t a need for viewing status updates from the friends page.

The new friends page is simply a way to navigate through all of your Facebook friends. There are now 7 views within the friends page: friend recommendations, search, browse by network, browse in alphabetical order, phonebook, recent friends, and friend list filters. We’ll briefly go over these seven views and then go into more detail about friend lists.

Friend Recommendations

After you click the “Find Friends” tab on the new Facebook friends page, you will be presented with what was previously the friend recommendations page. This page is a way for finding existing friends that you haven’t already added by checking your email contact lists as well as automatically recommending friends based on your existing Facebook network.

This is simply the place that you want to visit if you want to find people you know that you aren’t already connected with.


This area is pretty straight forward. Start typing your friends’ name that you are looking for and matches for those friends will instantly start showing up in the friends area. While you can still use Facebook’s existing search box for finding friends, this is a great interface for rapidly searching through all of your connections. Facebook uses an AJAX interface so that as soon as you begin typing, your friends immediately begin getting filtered.

Browse By Network

Facebook has provided you with the ability to sort through your friends based on the networks they belong to. It could be the school they attend (high school or college), the company they work for, or simply a geographic network that they belong to. This feature is also extremely useful for determining what networks you have the highest density of friends within.

While entering a network is optional on Facebook, it’s extremely useful for sorting and searching through existing relationships or searching for new people.

Alphabetical Order

This is a basic way for sorting your friends. If you simply want to browse through your friends in alphabetical order, click on the “All Friends” tab and you’ll be able to sort everybody in order of their name. This isn’t really much of a filtering mechanism and is instead a way to just spend some time browsing your friends.

Once you’ve reached a certain number of friends, browsing by name may no longer be the most efficient method for finding specific individuals in your network.

Phone Book

The phone book view for your Facebook friends page has to be one of the most useful features on Facebook. If you want a great way for keeping up to date with all of your friends’ phone numbers, Facebook is probably the best place to do this. The phonebook view simply provides an alphabetical list of your friends with each of their phone numbers listed out.

If you are looking for a way to get your friends’ phone numbers while on the go, I highly recommend downloading one of Facebook’s mobile applications. I personally use the Facebook for Blackberry application and the Facebook iPhone application but there are many other applications for other mobile operating systems.

Recent Friends

To view your most recent Facebook friend additions, you can simply click on the “Recently Added” tab. This is a great way for viewing new connection trends within your personal network as well as verifying that you’ve accurately grouped each new connection into the proper friend list. Aside from personal trends and keeping up on friend list management, I’m not sure what else you would use this tab for aside for just having another way for browsing through all of your contacts.

Friend List Filters

This is the final and most important view of the Facebook friends area. There are two types of friend list filters: network filters and custom friend lists. Network filters are the default filters that will show up. They are any of the networks that you currently belong to. For instance, I currently live in Washington, D.C. and belong to the D.C. network. I can easily filter through all my friends that belong to that network.

Custom friend lists are the other tool that you can sort by via this view. Since this guide is focused on how to leverage friend lists, I’ll save the details on this for the next section.

What Are Friend Lists?

Aside from networks, users would have no way of filtering all of their friends if it weren’t for friend lists. Each user tends to have their own way of using the friend lists feature which was first introduced to users back in December of 2007. The purpose is to easily group your friends, set custom profile settings based on your connection, and to be able to more effectively browse the site.

With Facebook’s new homepage, users with a lot of friends can quickly become overwhelmed which is why friend lists are so important. With friend lists, you can quickly filter the activities of your various friends. Want to view what all of your friends from high school have been up to recently? Click on your custom “High School” friend list and find out instantly.

Friend List Best Practices

When friend lists were first launched, I quickly began creating lists and now I have duplicate lists and many other types of conflicts within my lists. Don’t make this mistake! If you have a lot of contacts and suddenly want to go back and order all of your friends into lists, the process can be extremely cumbersome. After stumbling around the friend lists feature, I’ve come up with a few best practices for managing your friend lists.

Use Friend Lists As “Friend Tags”
For users with only a few friends, friend lists may not be that important but as you grow your personal network (or “social graph”), having effective friend lists become extremely useful. I recommend using friend lists as tags. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of tagging, check out the social bookmark site delicious as well and the Wikipedia article on tagging.

Contrary to traditional hierarchical classification systems, tags are keywords that help describe an item for finding it again via search or browsing. While you can easily begin “tagging” your friends with countless friend lists, it’s probably not a good idea to go friend list crazy. Right now Facebook doesn’t appear to have a way to group multiple friend lists together, making it challenging to go back once you’ve created a ton of lists.

While it sounds a bit obsessive, I’d recommend writing down a few friend lists that you’d like to create ahead of time so that you don’t overdo it. Standard friend lists include: the context in which you met a person (industry conference, friend parties, random locations (e.g. plane, grocery store, etc)) and affiliation groups (fraternities, clubs, sport groups, work organizations, etc).

Have A Default Set of Privacy Related Friend Lists
In addition to grouping friends based on the context of your relationship and affiliation groups, it’s also important to have specific privacy settings. In our ten tips on Facebook privacy I give a brief outline of how friend lists can be used to manage your privacy settings more effectively.

I suggest also having a few default privacy setting “groups”. The most common would be: professional, family, social, and restricted. You can then customize your privacy settings for each group. Your social friends should probably have unrestricted access to your profile. You typically don’t mind if your close friends have your phone number or are able to view your photos.

Your professional contacts should probably have a more restricted view of your profile. For example, you may want to prevent professional contacts from accessing photos you’ve been tagged in. I explain how to do that in our Facebook privacy guide. The bottom line is that having a few key friend lists with specific privacy settings, simplifies your privacy configuration.

I’ll give one example of a new friend’s friend list configuration. Let’s say I meet a person on a plane on the way back from a conference in California. After meeting them we exchange business cards and I follow up. I proceed to add them on Facebook but it’s probably not a good idea for me to grant that person full access to all my information since I’ve only spoken with them for a couple hours. I’ll add the person to the following friend lists: Travel Contacts, California (because they are from California and I have geographic friend lists), and Professional. The “Professional” friend list is the one that has specific privacy settings that I’ve already configured.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you assign users to multiple friend lists, Facebook will default to the most restrictive privacy settings among those lists. For example: if you have one friend who’s listed in the social and professional group and the “professional” friend list is more restrictive, Facebook will default to those privacy settings when that individual views your profile.


Now that you know how to use Facebook’s friend area and have a basic understanding of Facebook friend lists, you should now be able to more effectively manage your Facebook relationships. If you think of anything that I missed in this guide, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

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