Tuesday, August 05, 2008

- Are you my friend?

OK, I am somewhat anti-social as well as being older than 20something, but that hasn't protected me from getting sucked into a social network!

Here's my etiquette dilemma:

What do you do when you get a "friend" request from someone who you're not sure you know. Yes, you check out their lists of friends & you may find people in common, and that may jog your memory. But what do you do when, in the 'family' of the romance, there are a lot of people who might know of me, just as I might know of them, but we don't actually know each other, have never spoken or met.

Are they my...friend?

When I launched into the uncharted waters of virtual reality, I ran around & made all my friend's children 'friend' me (the 20somethings were everywhere). Then I discovered authors, and found good friends there. But for me there was a delicacy—I felt I had to actually know someone to friend them. I wasn't using the site to do business or reaching out to strangers to expand my circle. I was just trying to find my friends—people I knew, had worked with, had met—virtually or actually.

When I make a friend request, I try always to write a message saying Hi, often reintroducing myself and reminding them how we knew each other. That seemed, well, friendly. Like when you see someone at an actual event, you say 'Hello, I'm ... and we know each other from ....' Even if you know them well, you still say Hello! And if you don't know them, of course you introduce yourself.

But that's not the M.O. for most others.  I often just get queries with no message or greeting and I don't know whether they're someone I've connected with or not.  Perhaps their vision is to expand their network to include someone with shared interests.  And while that's a reasonable goal, it's not my direction at present.  

Which means I've actually ignored friend requests when I didn't know for certain that I knew the person personally (sorry), and it makes me feel so ungracious! All these requests are impersonal—no note, no greeting, just click here and you'll be added to my list—I don't even need to say Hello. And there's also no place on the sites to share your philosophy or to alert people of your feelings on friending.

I worry that I might actually know them, that I ought to have remembered them—I've met them at a conference, they're a Harlequin author, I took them out to dinner, they were kind enough to host me at an event, or may have read my blog (thank you!).

But just like at an event, if someone came up to you and said, 'You don't know me, but I'm a fan of your writing/met you briefly @ a conference/heard you speak...& would like to connect' you'd be happy to get to know them. They've reached out, shared something of themselves, we'd found common ground and become new friends, or a friendly acquaintance. Or just a business colleague who chats and hands you their card.

Seems to me the same framework could—should—apply in this virtual world. Friend is a word that means something, and that matters to me.

Many years when I was a 20something my older brother's buddies would complain bitterly that often the girls they were checking out & were interested in wouldn't "put out." My girlfriends noted that that was likely because they weren't "putting in"—actually reaching out & putting themselves on the line.

I'm not comfortable ignoring people, but I do think I'm not going to put out unless the requester 'puts in.'


spyscribbler said...

I totally think that's a great guideline. Totally agree with that, couldn't ever complain about that policy.

When I was in my early twenties, I was very sick for about seven years. Sure, I had friends, but most of the time I was home alone in bed or in my apartment. My only quality "social" time was with TV characters and two discussion groups I lurked on.

It never occurred to me to do anything but lurk, but I grew to care about the people discussing as much as, or even more than (since they were real), characters in a book.

My point is, being online in any way (or even being an author) creates a lopsided relationship where sometimes people know you quite well when you've never met them.

I always try to be remember myself then, and I always wonder if I might be their dear friend, even though they are a complete stranger to me.

Donna Alward said...

I am the same way. I don't worry so much about myspace etc., but on Facebook, I am not Donna The Author but Donna the person before the author. It is where I connect with family and old friends and while I have some writing friends on there...I mean I HAVE made some wonderful friends in the writing community...I do not friend people I don't know. So I totally get what you mean.

To dispute Foghorn Leghorn, it's not always about the numbers.

Vicki Hinze said...

Is, it's a good policy.

The requests that bother me are from men who have nothing but women on their list, and the majority of them are in suggestive poses. What to do about those?

If the guy is a fan, then you certainly don't wish to insult him. Know what I mean?

But it does raise red flags when you check out the friend list and note this type of pattern.

I ignore the requests. If I hear from that person again and they've written a reasonable note, then that's fine. If not, I let it go.

It's a hard line to etch in the sand sometimes, so I'll confess. If I get a niggle of warning in my stomach, that's the final factor.



Isabel Swift said...

Spyscribbler: what a remarkable story & insight. And seven years--that is a long time.

Totally agree with you in terms of developing disconnect relationships--where you 'know' them through their work, through listening to them, through watching them. They have shared themselves with you, meant something--possibly something very profound--and have been part of your life, but you haven't been the same to them.

I had that realization at college when I'd see my lecture professor outside of class and smile with recognition & would get a blank look. I'd been listening & staring at them for hours and weeks, but the reverse had not been true!

I guess you just need to be respectful of that disconnect.

Thanks for that--and yes, the culture of MySpace seems much more straightforwardly commercial, Facebook, in keeping with its origin, a way of connecting with friends & sharing & having fun.

Vicki: Hmmm--well, I've never had that problem! I'm hoping that's because I don't have a photo... I guess that's your burden for being appealing & unafraid to show it. It's too bad you can't tailor a picture to represent you for a particular person. You could put up Whistler's Mother as your avatar, just for them!

Thank you all for your thoughts, stories, support.

Patricia W. said...

This is why to a large extent I've stayed away from MySpace, Facebook, and the like.

But they come from other places to, friendship rings, online book management sites like Shelfari, professional networking sites like Linked In, etc. This thing is like the blob. Just keeps splitting and growing.

Aside from not knowing folks, connecting with and remaining connected with all these people would take an inordinate amount of time. Time I'm not willing to devote to these sites, at least not yet.

I joined Shelfari and occasionally get a friend request. I check out the other person's bookshelf to see whether we truly have anything in common before accepting.

Beyond that, I've said no or ignored most all other requests.

Loreth Anne White said...

I followed Spy's breadcrumbs back here :) ... some interesting food for thought all round.

I think once the 'friend' lists on sites like MySpace and Facebook become too large, and too 'unfriendly', the whole network looses purpose. Too much to keep track off. Too impersonal. And you can feel like you're being spammed. I have dropped out of MySpace pretty much because of this. I plan to 'friend' judiciously on Facebook, too, because of this. So far, it's still fun. I can still keep track of family and colleagues ... and I do love seeing what they are up to -- easily sharing photos and other little pieces of news is part of the fun.

It's an interesting line some of us walk between the personal and professional on these sites. Seems like one needs to articulate one's reasons for heading in there in the first place... and then friend accordingly?

Loreth Anne White said...

Now if I could only spell loses :)

Christina said...

I have two myspaces for this reason. One is for business where I can network with other authors and the other is private where only my friends and family are linked. I did this so I could post personal things in the private one and it's shut off so that you'd have to know my real name and email in order to friend me.

As for the other one where I befriend (almost) everyone, my theory on this is that I'm not published. It gets really depressing getting rejection letters. I have so many author friends and read who is going to conventions, who is working on new books, whose got interviews or whose newest book will be coming out and it gives me a lot of encouragement.

I understand the frustration of not knowing people and getting requests. Chances are, if they knew you, they'd have written something to you in that little message box with the request. I get messages from people I know before they request friendships, everyone else just requests. You should see if there is something clever the site does to lock the requests so you'll get very few if any. Myspace does have something for that.

Teagan Oliver said...

I have to agree. It seems that every time we turn around there is another way to "put" ourselves out there. I'm all for promotion, but not insincere promotion. I love the connection that comes with meeting people, but when I join groups like shelfari, good reads, etc. I look for people that I've met... either through my writing group, my books or volunteering in my chapter. It isn't that I'm a snob. It's that I can't see having a million people out there connected to me who really (truthfully) don't know me or want to know what is going on with me. On the flipside of this, I've just started an experiment on blogbooktour.com about posting every day for August. At first, I was intimidated. Not only was this a challenge, but the challenge was to go to other's sites and see what they have to say. In the end, I've met some really great people who I really do have a connection to now. Maybe it's just finding the right avenue and not just clicking accept when someone wants to befriend me.

Teagan Oliver
Romance, Mystery and maybe a bit of Murder...

Isabel Swift said...

Very helpful. It is so nice getting the different perspectives & great solutions. Thank you.

Teagan, was just was in the midcoast Maine area on holiday--beautiful!

Teagan Oliver said...

Hope you had a good time in Maine. I'm on vaca and I've spent the week doing local roadtrips around the state to my favorite haunts. Even in the rain it's not so bad.

Barbara Samuel said...

Loved this post. Lots to think about. I went to Facebook to start with so I could be in regular contact with my niece and sisters. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace..all those places give an insight into the world of a bunch of twenty-something I love.

But, too, there's this:

"It's an interesting line some of us walk between the personal and professional on these sites."

Sometimes, it's just fun to be out in the world, hanging out, too.

As time goes by and absolutely everyone in the universe is online, the halls of the internet are more and more like a big city where you might pass a celebrity at any moment. I wouldn't ask to friend someone I didn't know, but I would join a FAN club of a person.

Michelle Monkou said...

I treat My Space and Facebook as business tools. And so I don't attach the same level of meaning and significance to the term "friend."

However when I am asking to be a friend, I do mention something that shows the connection, like "fellow romance writer."

Anything more intimate, I will pick up the phone and chat or use email. My true buddies know who they are.

But Isabel, if you do have a My Space page, I'll be sure to introduce myself.

stephe said...

I've stayed away from MySpace and other such things because, quite frankly, they make me uneasy. I friend people whose words really touch or help me in some way, and I only friend back after checking a cyber-profile, feeling a personality in their posts, and my Feel-O-Meter says, yeah, give it a shot.

It's not that I think I'm anyone special--not at all. It's just that life is short, and quality outweighs quantity any day of the week. Anything but interaction with people you really connect with seems a waste of precious time.

I've never understood having a gazillion friends for the sake of saying you have a gazillion friends.

Isabel Swift said...

More good stuff, thank you! Barbara's point on the 'fine line between personal & professional' is key to my concerns. Because I work in a job I love, there is a personal aspect to much of the professional side. Anyone who loves what I love is a connection & the lines between can disappear.

These sites offer professional connectivity options, but at the moment, unlike an author, I'm not leveraging that aspect--so I'm not on MySpace...yet. Michelle, will let you know if that changes!

Quality, not quantity is the word, and I'm reassured that expecting a note isn't expecting too much.

Jessica said...

When I first started MySpace I only made friends with people I knew. Then I let my husband be a part of my space.
Boy, suddenly he was friending everyone!
Yeah, I'm an introvert and he's an extrovert.
So I understand your dilemma. I eventually made a separate space for writing and sometimes I'll get friend requests from guys my age or rocker/hiphop people. Those ones I deny because I don't think they'll ever be interested in reading an inspirational romance. Pretty much everyone else gets accepted.
lol, good luck deciding who to "reject".

Isabel Swift said...

Hmmm, Jessica--maybe you should be friending them all within a sort of missionary context. Or perhaps the influence will touch you, and you'll start writing rap inspirationals--or perhaps just wearing very baggy clothing!

torontopearl said...

Hi Isabel,
I'll be your friend.:) After all, I was a friend to Harlequin/Silhouette for many, many years, based in the Toronto office.
Just stumbled across your blog when I discovered that Harlequin had a non-fiction program and I Googled for info.
Great blog. Keep up the good work.
Pearl Adler Saban

Isabel Swift said...

Pearl--how lovely to hear from you! Hope this finds you well & thanks for stopping by & especially for being my friend!

Sylvie McGee said...

Hi, Isabel,

Voice from the very past at Madeira...

I've been struggling with this question myself recently, since I've just really started actively following Facebook.

I joined Facebook really to have a *non-commercial* context to connect/reconnect with people socially.

I've developed a couple of filters that are working for me.

- I teach at one of the state colleges, and I *don't* friend students who are still enrolled.
- I only friend colleagues if they are people that I tend to pick up the phone and call anyway - in other words, we are colleagues but we are also genuinely friends.

My dilemna has been when people "suggest" friends. I does seem unfriendly to ignore the suggestions, but given that I really am using this as a virtual extension of my living room, not just the street outdoors (thanks to whoever offered that analogy!), I do let them go.

A thought-provoking post. Thanks for putting it out there.

Sylvie (nee Ball) McGee