Anyone active in social media knows, with certainly, the compounding annoyances of those who utilize mainstream social communities to network inappropriately. In a rapidly expanding universe where procuring a few influential “authority” players’ support can deliver oodles of traffic, valuable links and scads of motivated customers to the door, it’s clear why sites like Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Digg are rife for potential abuse.

Though unwritten there are implied rights and rules of engagement regarding friendship, set and enforced by the mob’s wisdom. I think we should make them official.

But first, it’s true that healthy mutual promotion among friends is what makes the world go ’round and such behavior is encouraged as a fundamental precept of various social site models. Digg offers the much maligned “shout” feature which facilitates users in contacting friends to promote bookmarked content. The StumbleUpon toolbar “send” function places one’s entire friends-list at fingertips to contact pals one-at-a-time with recommended pages.

Facebook and Twitter are possibly the noisiest communities of all, as they allow for instant broadcast-blasts of “suggested” content to one’s entire list with one button push. Pundits speaking at social media conferences counsel attendees to proactively utilize any method at their disposal to rally votes and recommendations.

When wielded respectfully these tools are really useful and fun mechanisms for play and profit. However, too often inexperienced (or downright cutthroat users) cross the line. Such behavior is infuriating, dillutes community quality and ironically cheapens the medium as a forum for professionals to holistically promote content and wares.

One is Silver & The Other’s Gold
Obviously the solution is to choose friends wisely and un-friend them as the noise level ratchets skyward. That’s a holistic ideal, easy to articulate but rather difficult to actually pull off in the real world. You see in Web 2.0 environs, the word “friends” doesn’t really mean “friends,” as classically defined by previous generations. “Friends” has come to include casual, professional, and in many cases nearly blind acquaintances.

By and large solicitations to connect and engage come from sincere folks who actually want to know you for sharing and networking. Others, some of whom are even shrewdly concocted fake avatars, size you up as worthy prey and target your profile as part of a broader campaign. Still others are unfortunate morons who just don’t get it.

Either way before you know it, cleaning the ol’ buddies-list involves hours upon hours of picking through hundreds of “friends,” some of whom are symbiotic leeches by now. Most of us learn to be more discerning only after being seduced by hundreds of folks we barely know or have never heard of. Some invite us into their lives, queue us up and blast us with noise after we took the bait like suckers. Nobody enjoys unfriending someone and that plays directly into the hands of unfeeling spammers.

The Social Media Friendship Bill of Rights
In an effort to engage others in a dialog regarding expectations and rights surrounding the curious and quaint social media ritual of friending,” I offer this list as a starting point:

  1. When solicited for friendship, we have the inalienable right to respectfully ask who the friender is before accepting. It’s not that the newly-friended-one is being a snot, snob or all that. It’s just that controlling the noise and even achieving serenity is important to some, even in light of today’s fantastically frenetic pace.
  2. Everyone has the right to say “no” to a friend-request, without the exchange being a referendum on anyone’s quality or personal-worthiness. It is not rejection. Rather the declination should be considered a prudent exercises of mature discretion to save everyone involved potential aggravation.
  3. Friends have the right to receive content informed by by the sender’s knowledge of what the receiving-friend actually likes. With today’s networking tools it’s easy enough to research any user’s personal affinities. Tell ya’ what, research mine and send me stuff that you think matters to ME. Use the research tools and find out what I like.Be a good friend. This is especially important if the sending-friend happens to be a manufactured persona. (Personally, I don’t mind having avatar-friends if the result is my becoming aware of great content I would have otherwise missed, informed by someone who has taken the time to research my personal preferences.)
  4. When a friend requests not to receive content recommendations by certain methods, it is their right to have the appeal honored. Some sites like Facebook have outbound filtering tools to control who gets what. Use them.If there is no applicable tool to accomplish such filtering, preserve the friendship by suggesting receiver-side tools which might help. If anyone asks you to stop sending content by Digg Shouts, StumbleUpon “sends,” Facebook messages, Sphinn contacts or any other method QUIT doing it. Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.
  5. Friends have the right to whatever level of anonymity they desire. I have one friend I respect a lot who only gave me her real first name after months of my asking and against her better judgment. Anonymity is her personal boundary. One of the very cool aspects of social media is getting to take different visions and versions of yourself for a spin. Respect others’ desire to do so.
  6. NEVER reveal anyone’s private messages sent to you. In StumbleUpon this is about the only TOS violation that can actually get you kicked out. “Personal” means just that. Ask permission before revealing anyone’s PM’s in any way, shape or form.
  7. It is everyone’s right to un-friend. Period. All of us only have so-much available bandwidth. Though codependence gets you nowhere fast in social media, be as polite as possible when doing the disconnect-deed. Keep in mind how rotten rejection feels at any level.

A social media “friend” can mean many things, including folks who mass-solicit relationships for selfish exploitation. Anyone active has experienced at least some measure of frustration at the hands of so-called friends who cross the line. In an environment fertile for abuse, claim your personal space and don’t settle for less than acquaintances who play the game respectfully.

Choose friends carefully and approach others with respect yourself. Lose friends who make way too much noise. Set an example for your community with the content you bookmark, recommend, and traffic for amusement and profit. Keep The Social Media Friendship Bill of Rights in mind on both sides of the friendship aisle.

  • spostareduro

    There seems to be much talk lately in reference to building real friendships in our networking communities and interaction with social media associates.
    It is easy to click a button to accept supposed ‘friendship’ or to request supposed ‘friendship’ in any of the communities in which we travel. It’s true…we are not mind readers and never know when we are following the ‘true blue dude’ or just another marketer that needs our vote, our avatar in his friend list as a display to how cool he / she is, etc..
    But as individuals, we can only choose to give of the same friendship that we hope will be reciprocated.
    If I weren’t sincere it would be difficult to sleep at night..And I happen to appreciate a good nights sleep today.
    Don’t get me wrong..I’m not some queen of goodness or anything..I’ve got certain issues that’s for sure..but friendships mean establishing connections that can possibly affect someones emotions and heart (not just a marketing pocket) so I don’t take them lightly.
    Thanks for linking to my site, but most of all, thanks for being my friend. That’s most important to me..the rest will fall into place.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @spostareduro: Beautifully said…I value a few online relationships that, as you say, have come to involve emotions. You know who you are 🙂 . Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers.

  • Gideon Shalwick

    Hi Mary

    Brilliant post!

    Yeah it seems like things are really starting to get out of hand a bit. And it has become WAY too easy for people to take advantage of others.

    Your article really got me thinking, since a friend and I am putting together a website that teaches people how to use social media to market themselves. One thing we’re very careful about, and we mention it all the time, is that all of this is really like building a relationship. And it’s no different to real, offline relationships. It takes time, and it takes courage, patience, love and care.

    I think we might put your “The Social Media Friendship Bill of Rights” on our website as the guiding principals when using social media as a marketing tool.

    Thanks sooo much!

  • billso

    Brilliant post! If someone could code these items into XML, and make it work like a Creative Commons license, I’m all for that. The XML would let other networks know what kinds of items a user will accept.

  • a2m

    Very good article – people will stop short of nothing to make money online.

  • ShariV

    Excellent post, Marty. I especially agree with point #3 because I do appreciate receiving shouts from people who know what I’m interested in. Those that send me a shout for something totally off the wall (unless we really are friends) – not so much. I’m probably over sensitive about what I send to others for this very reason.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @ShariV: It’s the old “do unto others” approach and it most often is a good standard. Thanks for stopping by.