Fans, Friends, Followers & Circles – Oh My!

Every day we hear from people who want to know to how to manage the constant input from their social media accounts.  There is no one right answer for everyone.   The only one constant for everyone should be one basic question – What are you trying to achieve?

Whether your goal is to stay connected with your friends and family or it is to increase sales for your company, the question should always be the same.  All decisions on who to connect with, how often to post, what to post about should all be directly related to what you are trying to achieve or put another way – what do I want out of this network.  Keeping this simple question in mind will make sure that you are always taking actions on your social media account that help filter out the noise.

No matter what your purpose in social media might be, having a purpose or a plan will help you keep the flow of information under control.  For example, this is how I navigate the constant connection requests and keep the influx of information under control on my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and now Google+ accounts.

First, each account serves a different purpose for me.  I respond to friend/follow/connect requests differently based on the role each account serves in my overall “plan”.

Second, I got over the “I have to be liked by/connected to everyone” feeling.  That feeling that encourages us to accept or seek out every possible friend request and connect to everyone we ever encounter in our personal or professional lives.   It is a feeling that we have to let go of or we will find ourselves overloaded with connections that we can not manage.

I break down my connections on each of these networks into specific categories based on my goal for that network.

LinkedIn is reserved for my professional connections.  I only accept or initiate connections with people I know well enough that I would recommend their work.  These are people who I either know personally, have worked with or know enough about their work through other trusted connections that I would write a recommendation for them.  For me, there is an implied recommendation in that connection on LinkedIn so I am very selective about who I choose to associate myself with on that network.  LinkedIn is my professional social network.

Facebook is a more varied but carefully monitored and constructed collection.  My Facebook friends are a mix of family, personal friends, high school friends, members of the tech, entrepreneurial and social media communities (especially in Philadelphia) and professional connections.  The one thing that all of these people have in common is that I have a personal relationship with all of them.  We have either met in person, have spent time together offline or I have spent enough time communicating with them online that they are more than just an acquaintance.  I care about the pictures of their kids, puppies and kittens.  I want them to share in both the personal and professional portions of my life that I choose to share.  I may share professional information, links, etc… on Facebook, but it is not my professional network and I do not want it to be.  That is what I use LinkedIn for.  That is why I do not accept every friend request from people in my profession.  Also why I will not participate in applications like BranchOut.  While I may have professional contacts as friends on Facebook, it is not the place I use to manage my professional network.  Facebook is the place where I connect with people I would invite to sit down around my kitchen table.

Twitter is my window on a big, wide, wonderful world.  It is a medley of friends, family members, colleagues, personal and professional acquaintances, potential business partners and clients and more.  However, I do not follow just anyone and do not allow just anyone to follow me.  I review each and every new follower looking at their bio, location, at least the first page of their tweets and any followers we may have in common.  I block the spammers and the questionable.  I follow back those that I find educational, entertaining and those  I am likely to have an actual conversation with.  Twitter is the network where I have my “arms” the widest open.

And now we have added Goggle + to the mix.  I am still figuring this one out.   Does it become restrictive or do I leave it wide open?  I am still not sure.  I can see the pros and cons to both approaches.  The biggest advantage I see to G+ is the Circles feature, which will allow me to restrict certain posts to specific groups.   However, as someone who only posts things that I do not mind the public seeing, I am having difficulty figuring out how this will fit into my patterns of behavior.  I am going to have to spend more time in G+ trying different methods and combinations to see what works best for me, but I will sort it out.  It will have a place in my plan. I will find my set of “rules” of how and whom to connect to.

One of the other keys to managing all of these fans, friends, followers and circles is be flexible.  Make changes when you need to, add and drop connections as it feels right to you.  Do not let anyone tell you what is “right” or “wrong”.  Just be open to learning from others.   So, how do YOU do it?  How do you manage all the fans, friends, followers and circles?