You walk into a room full of people. Your first action, if you’re like most of us, is to scan the faces for someone you know. Barring that, you’ll walk towards whoever seems friendliest, or you’ll find a quiet space and observe. Imagine now that someone you know enters the room. Your eyes light up, and you probably smile involuntarily.
Now here’s the thing: if this person knows most of these people in the room, he or she suddenly has an equation to work out FAST: should he or she introduce you, and if so, how will he or she do so? What’s the appropriate level of social capital that will become exchanged in the process? Does he or she endorse you, or just know you?
This is difficult in the face-to-face world, but it’s even harder online.
Let’s look at LinkedIn: officially, the service suggests that you have a strong professional relationship with everyone you connect with on the service. I disagree. I’m a promiscuous connector. I invite people to connect with me on LinkedIn via Twitter all the time. The reason is this: I don’t consider friending (the act of adding a connection to you on a social network) the same as endorsement.
How I’m Managing This
I like to friend with people on social networks. I don’t consider these connections as automatic endorsement. Instead, I feel like a phone company employee, threading up new connections, building new dialtone, so that you can reach out to me in different ways.
On services like LinkedIn, I will connect with anyone, but I will only write recommendations for people whose professional work I can vouch for myself in some capacity. To me, this is a matter of how much of my reputation I’m willing to extend to the other person.
During a recent conversation, someone said to me, “I just follow who you follow on Twitter.” I said, “Oh no! That’s not necessarily a good idea. For a long time, I used a tool to follow back anyone who followed me, because it was easier than manually parsing through the multiple requests.” The person didn’t realize that a “friending” or “following” did not equal an endorsement of that person. Or at least, that’s not my interpretation.
How YOU Might Interpret Friending, Endorsement, and Reputation
First, don’t get caught up on the term “friend.” It’s just what the software calls the connection between two people. Most reasonable humans realize that the word doesn’t exactly mean the same thing as it does in the face-to-face world. And let’s just use the word “friend” to mean “connect with people on a social platform” and accept that there are somewhat different terms on all the networks.
Now, some ideas:
- Friend people you find interesting.
- Friend your customers.
- Friend your prospects.
- Friend your competitors (why not?)
- Search for friends based on interest (easy on Twitter, by using Twitter Search.
- Unfriend spammers.
- Unfriend folks who bother you.
- Unfriend people who talk too much if they’re swamping your stream. (I swamp people often.)
Endorsement and Reputation
Your reputation is one of the biggest assets you have, especially in this online space. Endorsing someone in any fashion is a withdrawal from your own reputational store with others. Meaning, if you vouch for someone and that person turns out to be not as respectable or reliable or civil as you originally thought, and this is all experienced by others in your various circles, your reputation (potentially) takes a hit for the other person’s efforts.
If the person you recommend turns out to be a stellar performer who really delivers for the people you referred her to, then your reputation for being a connector adds interest back into your account.
Gambling in the online reputation space is not a good recommendation.
So, what happens when someone who you list as a “friend” seeks out a recommendation or endorsement?
- Thank them for asking.
- Write a very brief and simple note that explains your position on referrals and endorsements.
- Sample: I’m very thankful that you connected for a recommendation, and I appreciate the opportunity. I have some very tight rules about who I recommend online, and I just don’t feel comfortable endorsing you, as I don’t know enough about your work history or your reliability. You’re probably amazing, but I can’t provide my recommendation at this time. I’m sorry.
- If they press for more, it’s your choice whether you want to open up and provide constructive feedback, or whether you want to simply restate your statements above.
I’m curious what experiences you’ve had with this, and what it means to you, this whole friend situation.
Has your mileage varied? Do you have any questions from examples that have happened to you or a friend?
Let’s open this up and talk about it.
Photo credit C.C. Chapman