How to make friends on social networks
- 6 May, 2007
- 2 comments
Making friends in the real world can be hard. You need to overcome issues of trust, intimacy, vulnerability and, sometimes, conflicting loyalties. But the payoff matches the effort: a good friend is invaluable.
In the world of online social networks, the word "friend" is a lot less meaningful; it includes your most casual of virtual acquaintances. Until you have a chance to build a certain level of trust with them, respect and affection, your interaction with your online friends (a.k.a. "buddies" or "contacts", depending on which social network you're using) will often be the digital equivalent of nodding at each other as you pass in the hall.
The good news? It's much, much easier to make "friends" than to make friends. These folks will come in two flavours: people you already know from elsewhere, and people you've met through this particular social network. Here are some tips for adding people from both groups to your buddy list. We'll use Facebook as the example, but many of the tips here will work just as well on other services:
- Start with the obvious: Tools like address book importing and search will actually take you a long way. But you may be surprised at just how many of your friends aren't in your address book, or who signed up with different email addresses than the ones you have for them, or whose names don't jump to mind when you're searching. So you'll need to use some of these other strategies.
- Find friends from work and school: Once you've entered your work and education history in your profile, Facebook lets you browse people who also worked for your past employers, as well as people who graduated in the same year as you did. And don't limit yourself to that one year. Facebook also lets you choose other graduating years. Chances are you knew people who graduated a year or two before or after you.
- Look for birds of a feather: Scope out the groups that speak to your interests... especially niche interests. Browse the member lists for names you recognize.
- Use a friend to find a friend: Just as you'll often run into one friend talking with another in the real world, chances are good your online friends have already linked up with other folks you know. Flip through their friends lists and you're bound to run into somebody.
- Participate: Did you ever read those Ann Landers columns where someone would write in asking how they could meet people, and Ann would suggest that they get involved in their local church? The same thing works well in social networking sites. Start a group or join an existing one, and get active. Post on the wall. Comment on forum posts and people's notes. As you take part, you'll also get to know new people – and you'll soon be sending them friendship invitations, if you haven't received them yourself.
- Bag on the boilerplate: I know we're using Facebook as an example, but I can't resist adding a LinkedIn tip. When you invite someone to join your network, don't use the canned boilerplate text that LinkedIn gives you. Instead, write a personal invitation, something in your own voice that makes some reference to your relationship with the recipient. You'll start getting a lot more of your invitations accepted.
These are just a few of the ideas I use when I'm building my network on a site. What works for you?