A client recently contacted us to design a cover photo for her personal Facebook profile. She’d reached her 5,000 friend limit on Facebook, but wanted visitors to know that they could use the ‘Subscribe’ function to keep up with her posts.
I immediately got critical, telling her that she should be using her page for crying out loud! Those 5,000 friends aren’t actually her friends, and she should be using Facebook to promote her business properly. (Research shows that we can really only handle 150 actual friends, so 5,000 is pretty excessive.)
I was wrong, though. See, they’re not looking to engage with her business. They’re looking to engage with her, as a person, and she wants to engage with them. And she’s not alone.
She’s pretty well known as an expert in her industry; an opinion leader. Each industry, issue, interest and ideology has its own opinion leaders. They are change agents and active media users. Opinion leaders engage with the media where their ideas are spread to the wider world of those who care about the industry, issue, interest or ideology. She helps filter ideas and information about her specific industry – with passion and unsurpassed dedication in both her personal and professional life.
Becoming a “fan” of her business’s page on Facebook doesn’t provide that degree of personal connection or level of influence.
The restriction on ‘friendships’ completely devalues the importance of the personal relationships we build with our clients, customers and colleagues.
Now, does my client want to see status updates and personal photos of those 5,000 friends? Definitely not. But she does love to see their posts about their professional lives – their travels, their problems and solutions, their suggestions to their friends. She’s an entrepreneur – and like any entrepreneur, the lines between “personal” (Facebook’s Profile) and “professional” (Facebook’s Page) are very, very blurry.
With the new filtering and list making capabilities, she’s able to filter what she does and doesn’t want to see: it’s her choice. She enjoys commenting occasionally and getting involved in relevant discussions. She thrives on the strong community in her industry, and she’s not alone.
What’s more is that those 5,000 friends thrive on knowing that she might be interested. That she just might be impressed by what they’re doing or where they’re going.
Aspirational friendship is as important to maintaining her personal brand reputation as anything she can do on her business page. When these friends want to learn more about what she is interested in, they’ll be much more likely to turn to her. (Read more about group influences and reference groups here.)
A personal profile certainly isn’t right for every entrepreneur. You generally want to keep your Facebook profile personal and connect with your customers and clients through a page – where they aren’t required to “request” your friendship. But for the people behind the brands; for the celebrities in their industries; for the opinion leaders, Facebook needs to make an exception so we don’t have to find solutions like the below.
This graphic seems to be the only way we can show people that they can keep up with her updates without being able to become her friend. People tend to be unfamiliar with the ‘Subscribe’ function, especially in her target demographic.
The real problem with the above solution, more importantly, is that when she travels to her next conference and meets real people, face to face, and wants to connect with them via Facebook upon her return, she’ll have to cull her list first – or “defriend” some random folks from that 5,000 limit. And those random folks might just have been her next students or biggest fans.
She’ll have to choose who is a better friend to keep: one with whom she’s actually had a conversation or one with whom she’d hope to in the future. It’s a decision no entrepreneur should have to make.
What’s more is that the 5,000 friend limit is not just for friends – it’s for connections in general. Every person can have a maximum of 5,000 connections on Facebook, which include both friends and Pages. You will not be able to accept incoming friend requests or like any more Pages if you get to that number.
I’ve seen others with big friend numbers (professors, coaches, radio hosts, yoga instructors) periodically post status updates asking for people to defriend them voluntarily so that they don’t have to make these difficult decisions. Still others use a layered approach to approving new friend requests and eliminating others.
I don’t know that we have any other choice but the above for her to maintain the personal relationships, and I’m sad to see her have to make choices between friends when it comes time (as it has already). Perhaps Facebook could start a ‘verification’ program similar to Twitter’s, where they verify certain folks that might actually have larger numbers of friends.