Who’s your friend and who’s not? Facebook users can get a rude awakening. Since publishing our three-part series on Facebook in mid-June, I’ve been personally addicted to building a network and exploring the applications offered in the Facebook social community. At the same time, the number of LinkedIn relationship requests I’m receiving has increased exponentially. Suddenly, I’m immersed in social networking, a phenomenon I’ve been following closely, but until now considered the domain of the twelve to twenty-four demographic.
What has stunned me is the breadth and depth of corporate executive participation in Facebook. Facebook is clearly no longer exclusively for the .edu crowd. The implications for executives, however, extend well beyond the obvious connections and networked links. Facebook, LinkedIn and other executive social networks are redefining relationships, self-perceptions, and the very nature of friendship.
I’ve been surprised by the quality of relationships I can initiate and foster on Facebook. Bob Kerrey, former Senator and president of the New School; Wagner James Au, who I quoted in my new Virtual Worlds book; Procter & Gamble interactive marketing executives Vivienne Bechtold and Ted McConnell; AOL founder Steve Case and his wife Jean; Craig’s List founder Craig Newmark; CNBC host Jim Cramer; Google’s Tim Armstrong; Mark Cuban; Don Graham of The Washington Post; Jason Calacanis; YouTube founder Chad Hurley; CBS interactive chief Quincy Jones and his CMO Patrick Keane; Lachlan and Elisabeth Murdoch; AOL’s Ted Leonsis; Bob Pittman; Steve Newhouse; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Steve Wozniak; Carat’s David Verklin and Sarah Fay; Zenith Media’s Peggy Green; Sean Finnegan of OMD; Strauss Zelnick.
Equally interesting are those who have not yet become complicit in the Facebook revolution. The interactive heads of many media agencies, network executives, agency media executives. While a who’s who of interactive media is engaged with Facebook, most of the traditional media community is still … well, traditional.
Through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with Jarl Mohn, who I haven’t seen since he retired from Liberty Media years ago; exchanged e-mails with former AOL programming chief Jim Bankoff and ex-NBC entertainment president Scott Sassa about my new JackMyers website, which they learned about through my Facebook profile update. I’ve found and “friended” Jaclyn Myers, a Purdue student; Jackie Myers, who graduated last year from Salisbury College; Jacqueline Myers of London, Canada; Jack Myers of London, England; Jackie Myers from Kansas; Jack Myers of Michigan State; Brian Myers of The Boston Consulting Group; Jonathan Meyers of Forbes; Al Meyers of Turner Broadcasting; and Ashley Meyers, a hostess at Les Deux in Los Angeles who “gets paid to party.”
Even spending a few minutes on Facebook, you find people you know. Join and do a search for Jack Myers. You’ll find me and while you can’t immediately access my profile page, you can access my listing of nearly 700 friends. Among them, you’re sure to find some people you either know or you’d like to know. Simply send them an invitation to become your friend. “Friend” me first so you’ll have a mutual friend and up the odds of having your invitation accepted.
It get’s interesting when your invitation is either accepted or ignored. Why is someone who I thought was actually a friend and colleague ignoring my invitation? Is he simply not paying attention, or is he consciously "dissing" me? What will I say and how will I act next time I see him? Should I ask why he didn’t accept my invitation? Should I simply avoid the topic? The rules of business friendships and relationships are being changed by Facebook and other social networking sites. A new layer of business judgment is coming into play that we did not anticipate and that most of us are not prepared to manage.
You better not sign up for Facebook unless you plan on paying attention. But you’re making as much a statement by your non-participation as you are by your presence.
I don’t know Susan Mernit of Yahoo! but she has more than 700 friends including many of my friends. Should I send her a “friend” invitation, should I wait and see if she “friends” me, or should I do nothing? I can’t see her profile but I think I probably would benefit from knowing her. Doing nothing and waiting are foreign to the nature of Facebook. So I send an invitation and wait and see. (She accepts and I now know she heads the Yahoo! Personals team and is “thinking about the next release.”) But I’ve also sent out more than 50 invitations that recipients have chosen to ignore. They include people I actually consider my business friends. Should I reconsider the relationship?
I’ve met Al Gore several times but he didn’t accept my invitation; I’ve never met San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom but he’s now a friend. I’ve met Ana Marie Cox, formerly of Gawker and now Time Magazine, and I know Abbey Klaassen of Advertising Age, but they haven’t accepted my invitation. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon and Stuart Elliot and Virginia Heffernan of The New York Timesare Facebook friends. Do I now value and measure these relationships differently? If Jeremy Allaire of Brightcove fails to accept my offer of friendship, even though we know each other, while Dimitry Shapiro of Veoh does accept, does it affect my judgment toward them and their companies?
It’s fun receiving invites from those you know and those you don’t know, and discovering the common links. Plus it’s great to find old friends. I hadn’t been in touch with Garth Ancier since he joined BBC America as its president. Thanks to Facebook, we’ve now reconnected. My friend Lou Borelli regularly “pokes” me to say hello, much easier and less demanding than an e-mail. I don’t know Tam Bousquet of OMD Los Angeles, but we share several mutual friends as well as similar tastes in music and television shows. I value this new friendship as well as more than 100 new Facebook friends who work for companies that subscribe to my reports but who I don’t know, and many who until Facebook did not know me.
Some of my invitees, like Kate Crisalli and Kristen Green, sent me a message asking how I know them and why I want to become a friend. Many in the under-24 crowd, who grew up with Facebook as part of their college experience, are struggling with the concept of this personal link becoming a business tool. It’s “freaky” for a college age son or daughter to include their parents among their friends, giving them access to their personal profile pages. But how do they decline or ignore the invitation? Either a new site that remains exclusive to students will be needed, or students will need two profiles, one that’s parent accessible and one that’s not. Recent college graduates are uncomfortable with their bosses becoming their “friends.” But this is not your older brother’s Facebook. If you’re young and in business, you’d better adjust and take advantage of your boss’ and colleagues’ contacts. They’ve never before been so accessible to you.
Of course, there’s also the fun and flip aspect to Facebook. Catherine Zeta-Jones is now my friend, as are Michael Douglas, Haylie Duff, Sally Field, Katie Heigl, Robin Porter, Michelle Dessler’s (24) sister Lizzie, The Hills’ Lauren Conrad, Russell Simmons. I get the impression that Haylie might actually be maintaining her own Facebook profile, and whoever is working the Catherine Zeta-Jones page is doing an especially good job. Who knew she likes rugby, boxing, and a few beers?
Social networks, led by Facebook, are altering the landscape of business communications and connections. First it was e-mail, then instant messaging and chat, and then MySpace and Facebook that revolutionized interpersonal connectivity. Now Facebook and LinkedIn, inevitably to be followed by a slew of new vertical b-to-b sites, are introducing a new virtual realm to business communications. It’s a different world and those who stay away from it, stay away at their own career risk. Unfortunately, those who join up face other risks.
Communications opportunities proliferated by new media technologies are simultaneously relationship threats.
By Jack Myers