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Facebook: What are the rules?

January 12, 2009

Recently, I was at a party attended by a bunch of local parents.  One of them came up to me and after some small talk made a point of mentioning to me that Facebook was freaking him out.  It’s interesting that at parties like this I’m either talking soccer or social networking.  I guess my branding in our little provincial village is clear.  Anyhow, I asked why he was freaked out, and he told me that a bunch of people he hasn’t heard from in years, and wouldn’t want to hear from have been sending him friend invites through the site.  One was an ex-girlfriend that he broke up with, and wasn’t someone he would want as a friend now in real life, much less online.  He also was getting requests from work people, and he doesn’t want his co-workers seeing his private life (he works in HR).  Then I saw this post from one of my co-workers and I thought a blog post from me was in order. 

As a social networking site, Facebook allows you to connect with anyone you want who is on the site.  But the connect has to be mutual.  They don’t tell you who should and should not be your friend, that’s up to you.  So, my advice is for Facebook, or any social networking site, you need to have a clear set of rules to follow for who you will and will not friend.

My rules are as follows:

1. I accept invites from people I know in real life.  Exceptions are made for people on other sites I interact on, and people I want to meet in real life. 

2. I accept most all invites from HS classmates and co-workers.  I may not know all of them, but I think this is good practice.  For HS, we have a semi-active group on Facebook, and a lot of people from grades gone by have joined the group, so friending them is a fun way to catch up with people I haven’t heard from in a while.   My Facebook account is also used for work promotion, so it’s ok for my co-workers to be on there.  In fact, I like that they see what I am up to. 

3. I tend not to accept invites from people I don’t know, and have no real life mutual friends in common with.  When I see you are friends with Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Chris Brogan, Stephanie Agresta, and Chris Heuer, I know you are interested in social media, but I’m not sure you’re right for me as a FB friend.  Nothing personal, mind you, but these are my rules.  The times I have accepted invites from these people are when they have taken the time to write a personal message.  Maybe they know of me, maybe they’re just collecting friends, but that personal touch makes a difference. 

This way, when I get an invite, I can apply these rules of engagement. 

When you receive a friend invite on FB, there are a couple of options.  You can accept the invite, ignore the invite, send a message to the inviter, or block the person altogether.  These are tools for you, so use them.

Sometimes, you get an invite that stands out.  Maybe it is from an ex- or a person who bullied you in school.  You need to set up rules to deal with that as well.  Maybe you automatically ignore all these invites, to not deal with them.  As for me, I’ve gotten one or two invites that surprised me.  It was kind of a “you tortured me for 2 years straight on the school bus, now you want to be my friend?  What gives?” situation.  Do you know what I did?  I wrote that in messages to the people without accepting their invite.  One wrote back with, “Well, I knew I was an a$%hole in school, but this proves it.  I’ve grown up a lot, that’s for sure.”  So I friended him.  The other person who got a similar note didn’t write back, and that’s ok.  In neither case was I in need of closure, so it didn’t matter either way.  But I think as a rule, that would be my plan. 

Now, that’s not to say that if, for instance, the guy who dated me sophmore year of college just to prove (unsuccessfully) to himself that he wasn’t gay sent me a friend invite that I would either write to him or ignore him.   I think I would freak out, run out the room flapping my arms for a good 10 minutes, and then call about 5 girlfriends for advice.  In the end, I think I would either send him a note or block him altogether.  I have blocked people before, when they are someone that I want no access to whatsoever.  I advise that you use it sparingly, but it is there, so don’t hesitate if the situation calls for it.

What are your “rules” on Facebook?  And what’s been the most suprising invite you’ve received from your past?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2009 10:14 am

    Solid rules. Mine are similar.

    Best Facebook invite…as I was late to the party and just joined a couple months ago, if that…was out of the blue from an old acquaintance I went to tennis camp with (think age 14). She was great and catching up genuinely brought a smile to my face. Considering this was in my first week of FB, it left a good impression. Charmingly enough, her husband is marketing recruiter…someone that is good for me to know. So heck, to me, the good outweighs the bad by a long shot so far.

    There have been some odd ones, and my high school experience wasn’t, well, 100% awesome either, but there does seem to have been a significant amount of “growing up” going on, and now it’s being used as a tool to plan our reunion.

    I’ll stick with it…totally works differently than LinkedIn or Twitter for me.

  2. Steve permalink
    January 12, 2009 11:01 am

    I have to admit I’ve become something of a Facebook addict recently. I think it’s the sudden influx of people I haven’t seen in 15-20 years. But, as you said, that can be a mixed bag.

    Fortunately, I’ve not left a lot of bodies in my wake over the years (one of the only advantages of not dating a lot in HS/college I suppose). So I’m not worried about exes and the like. I think your rules of engagement are pretty good, though.

    I’m fairly open to adding anyone from my past or present. I have a few people who slipped by the goalie that I really don’t know. I’ve come to notice that these people are the ones primarily using Facebook for personal promotion. They will likely be deleted off my list soon.

    I’m not ashamed to have a mix of work/personal/old connections and to write things that appeal to one group or all. One of the benefits of social networking is the whole personal transparency result. I actually enjoy my professional colleagues knowing a bit about me as a person and my personal friends getting a sense of my life as a professional.

    I think I would draw the line at adding some of my professional superiors (IT Girl can probably guess which ones in particular) because a) I occasionally admit to slack on Facebook and b) they would probably use the site to monitor my productivity during the day (the same superiors have been known to note when my car arrives in the parking lot).

    The only other dilemma I’m having is with some old HS friends. I don’t think I have any enemies from those days, but there certainly are a lot of people with whom I wasn’t close popping up. In these cases, I’m not sure of the protocol of if/when to send a friend request. It’s almost “hey – we weren’t really friends 20 years ago, but we are now!!!” Overall, though, I’m finding time is a great equalizer and it’s easier to connect to some of these folks at 37 than it was at 17.

    Sorry ’bout the chapter…

  3. January 12, 2009 11:08 am

    My weirdest was a girl I bullied in high school. She must be either very forgiving or have a short memory. To prove my maturity, I friended… Great post, and very solid rules.


  4. January 12, 2009 12:16 pm

    Nicole – thanks for posting. Glad you pointed out that Facebook is DIFFERENT from LinkedIn and Twitter. Most people think you have to pick one or the other, but you can have beachheads on all 3, just in different ways.

    Steve – great point about superiors. There are people at higher levels on FB who notice things. So if you are going to friend them, be aware. You should mention that to some people who work on other floors of your building.

    Jess, good for you. Closure gained, just in a different way.

  5. Jay permalink
    January 12, 2009 1:08 pm

    When I joined facebook I never could have imagined how much political thinking would be involved. I mainly just wanted to reconnect with people from the past. Then I started getting requests from high-school, college, old jobs, and my current one and realized my worlds were starting to collide. I guess I was too naive to do anything other than click accept.

    I’m not ashamed of any parts of my life, but admittedly was a different person through many parts (some I’m less proud of) than I am now. And while I try to keep my posts relevant to most, discussions with my college friends are certainly going to be different than with my colleagues.

    I think you make a good point about having a plan. I do believe people can change for the better (as I hope I have), but think you should at least be able to find out before you allow them into your network. I actually have contemplated re-connecting with someone who I parted with on less-than-stellar terms, but just don’t think that FB is the appropriate forum (although I have no other way to connect).

  6. Vicki permalink
    January 12, 2009 5:04 pm

    I have to laugh at this one. I do NOT have any co-workers on my Facebook. But have several former co-workers and former bosses who I would also now consider as a friend. I have added two ex-boyfriends but one was from when I was 12 and was totally innocent and we were friends in High School and were able to poke fun at our childish relationship. And the other is another one from adulthood that was a better friend than a boyfriend.

    The ones that puzzle me are the former sorority sisters. That was a bad experience for me. I felt they were all too petty and juvenile and I quickly just disanced myself from the whole thing. Yet a bunch of them have added me as a friend. It is THOSE people that I really struggled with. They never really got to know me, so why did they even bother???

    But the ones from High School and Middle School were great. Some of them I am still friends with and many of them were long lost friends that I WANTED to find.

    I don’t share too much personal info there. Mostly just sharing news and other websites that I find interesting. Nothing that can embarrass me.

  7. Cara permalink
    January 12, 2009 5:20 pm

    I went to a VERY small, religious high school. I was a boarder in a dormitory, so for me, reconnecting on Facebook is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with people who I am not only separated by years with, but also by distance. Most of my high school friends are from different states, and some are from different countries. I love that I can see what they’re up to or feeling at any given time. It gives me some sense of who they have turned into, whether they have a lightness about them or a sense of humor, what their beliefs are about a myriad of issues, etc.

    I also have reconnected with ex-colleagues, who I have found to be people that I would have liked to know better personally–for the same reasons that I mention above about old high school friends. I realize that FB is not a “true” measure of someone’s value system, but it is a good indicator of personality. I like all of the people that I have accepted as a friend.

    Now, there are friend requests I have gotten from people I have not formally met but have had business communication with them, and I generally accept them. Then I get requests from people who went to high school with me and insist that we were friends, and I have absolutely no recollection of ever having heard their names before. I generally accept those as well, since it was a very small school, and for me to not have any knowledge of them concerns me (do I have Alzheimer’s, was I that self-absorbed, etc.). But I have accepted a friend request before and subsequently deleted that friend. Marriage is supposed to be forever and it’s not, so I have no qualms about ending FB relationships. Nothing is permanent. If you add a friend and decide they’re not for you, delete them.

  8. January 12, 2009 5:24 pm

    This is such a good post. I’m not on FB but have been told I need to be. I’m a little afraid. Like I’ll suddenly be out of witness protection or something. Thanks for the rules.

  9. Jenny Webb permalink
    January 12, 2009 10:11 pm

    Ah! The issues of having a transparent (or semi-transparent) life…

    I have ignored friend requests by people that either I don’t know (one person friended me because he went to high school with my husband) or my relationship past and/or present with that person is not a favorable one IMO.

    However, I have enjoyed the reconnecting with people that I have lost touch with. Husband and I went to a Christmas party at a HS friend’s house and I spent an evening with 10 people I had not seen in nearly 20 years. It was fun…yet scary!

  10. January 12, 2009 10:56 pm

    Good advice. I’ve been on Facebook for about 6 months, and am enjoying reconnecting with folks from my army base high school in Europe, who immediately scattered far and wide after graduation. And with college and other friends.
    But my freakiest Facebook moment was this: A small business group to which I belong had gotten jazzed about social media as a marketing tool, and had all friended each other. Over the holidays I was trying to convince a friend to join FB. So I’m showing her how everything works on my page. And I’m noticing that one of the women in my business group, who resides in another part of the country, is suddenly the friend of a bunch of folks in my personal life. Like a relative in his 70’s, who has maybe 6 friends. Or a work-related friend who has an equally small number. And another friend in a totally different field… You get the picture. I was really upset that she must have sent a friend request to everyone on my list. Most of those, more experienced FB users, didn’t take it. But the newbies must have, thinking she was my friend and so they should accept.
    I fretted about this, and considered calling her out to the business group. But in the end I just unfriended her. Next time I’m visiting the relative (and therefore near his computer) I’ll ask him about it. Hopefully she is at least providing amusing posts for him and my other friends to read…


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