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The pajama test: An open letter to my Facebook “friends”

by Alex in | | | |

A year ago today, this blog post was the turning point in my relationship with Facebook. In my life affair for Twitter I’d pretty much lost sight of how Facebook could possibly be relevant to me. Then I made the decision that Facebook would be my personal space — the space where I connected with true friends, instead of just focusing on building connections — and settled back into a groove that has made Facebook part of my near-daily life again. I’m not on it constantly the way I am with Twitter, but it’s where I go to share news about my kids, post something that is too quirky and unprofessional to tweet, or to see the latest from my pals.

Recently my approach has gone through yet another metamorphosis after a conversation I had with Rochelle Grayson. Like me, Rochelle posts on Facebook as if it were her personal space, but unlike me she doesn’t limit her friends to only people she knows really well. She’s just made the decision that if someone is going to be her Facebook friend, they’re going to see the personal as well as professional Rochelle, and if that’s not of interest they should ignore her updates.

I like this philosophy because I think it puts the onus on the reader rather than the poster to decide how much information is TMI. The challenge is to post as authentically in that broader space as you would if you were posting to your 4 closest friends. But thanks to multiple friends lists you can choose the circle with whom you want to share any given update or image.

In fact, I think it’s time for me to create a new friend list. I’m going to call it “Pajama Test”.

Dear Facebook “friend”,

You may have noticed that you’re hearing from me less, and when you do, it’s mostly about my husband or my shoes or how I feel when someone eats the last brownie. Maybe you’re happy that your news feed isn’t full of my Twitter updates anymore (I got rid of my Twitter-to-Facebook hookup) or maybe you’re unhappy that I never write on your wall. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t accept your friend request, or maybe you’re wondering why you’re not in my friend list when you used to be.

Here’s the truth: we’re not actually friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or think you’re smart, or want to work with you. I’ve turned down friend requests from some of my favourite colleagues, and from people I respect a lot. In fact I would love to hear from you on Twitter (I’m @awsamuel), and if you’re missing all those great social media links and tidbits, you’ll still find them on my Twitter feed.

But Facebook isn’t Twitter. And for most of the past two years — the time in which I’ve been really active on Twitter — that’s felt like a bad thing. Twitter is more open, more flexible, and more useful as a source of professional learning and conversation. I can tweet something and store it to delicious at the same time, I can use Skitch to capture a screenshot and share it instantly on Twitter; I can even use Twitter to log my hours in Harvest, our time tracking system.

In fact, I use Twitter so much that it now feels like the most awesome, raging party you’ve ever been to: a packed room full of fascinating colleagues and friends where conversation is flying along a mile a minute. I love parties like that, and I’m not above saying they can also be very useful professionally: I’ve begun more than one great collaboration over a few beers.

And yet a giant rager is not my favorite place to spend time with friends. At the end of the day (or night) I want to go somewhere quiet and unwind, take off my party shoes and have a postgame chat with one of my closest pals. Hell, I want get into my jammies and settle in for a good long juicy talk.

I’m now focusing my Facebook time on the friends who pass the pajama test: is this someone I know well enough to chat with once I’m in my jammies? These are the people who actually do care about what I’m eating for breakfast (something I hate reading about on Twitter); these are the people I love so much that yes, I do want to hear about the funny thing their cat just did.

This is the point where you pop over to my Facebook page and wonder how the hell I could feel comfortable enough to wear my PJs in front of 718 people (my current number of friends). The truth is, I don’t. And that’s exactly why I’ve changed the way I use Facebook by:

  1. Creating a WTF list on Facebook for the people who friend me, but who I can’t place…but know I know somehow
  2. Ignoring friend requests from anyone who is totally new and unfamiliar, especially after I discovered that my habit of accepting random friend requests was filling my news feed with updates from some pretty undesirable “friends”
  3. Getting disciplined about clicking “hide” whenever I see news in my feed from someone I don’t really really really care about, and hiding that person from my news feed
  4. Refusing all group invitations on Facebook
  5. Killing the Twitter-to-Facebook import that used to cross-post all my status updates
  6. Setting my Facebook privacy settings so my posts are only visible to people on my Friends list, and not to my networks or friends-of-friends
  7. Setting up a “Kid Sharing Friends” list on Facebook for the even smaller number of people who I feel comfortable sharing kid photos with, and limiting the visibility of my Facebook photos to that list
  8. Gradually paring back my Facebook list to the people who pass my pajama test.

All of these practices make me a lot less visible on Facebook. And I’ll admit, that’s a little scary for a social media junkie like me: it feels like so much of social media is about waving your arms as wildly as possible and shouting “look at me! look at me!!”

But I’ve decided that Facebook is the one part of the social media empire where I’m going to stop waving. Because as much as Facebook’s “walled garden” approach (which makes Facebook relatively invisible outside the garden walls) is what drove me towards focusing on Twitter, the walled garden has its charms, too.

There are times when it’s nice to settle into a shady corner and talk about stuff that has nothing to do with work (bearing in mind that someone can still peek over the walls and tell the world exactly what you’re saying).  There are times when I want to pay attention to the people I know from school, instead of the people I know from work. There are times when it’s I just want to catch up with my BFF — even if there are lots of other people, like you, who I also really enjoy!

And yes, there are times when I just want to put on my PJs.

Originally published June 9, 2010.

First posted on June 9,2011
  • Jim Cashel

    Nice post! I’m in full agreement – except for one quandary. All of our consulting clients are putting up organization Facebook pages. The service is becoming more mainstream. I don’t know how to advise them. I’d prefer FB remained a sanctuary of private conversations among friends (which is basically how I use it), but I feel I’m losing the battle.

  • Jim Cashel

    Nice post! I’m in full agreement – except for one quandary. All of our consulting clients are putting up organization Facebook pages. The service is becoming more mainstream. I don’t know how to advise them. I’d prefer FB remained a sanctuary of private conversations among friends (which is basically how I use it), but I feel I’m losing the battle.

  • http://www.alexandrasamuel.com Alex

    Jim, great point — and one I’ve struggled with as well. My experience is that when my personal use of a social web tool is relevant to clients, it’s not because I’m interacting with them there, but rather that my experience and experimentation informs the advice I give. So we do have a Social Signal page on Facebook (a pretty nominal one) and I do check out various pages, apps and groups on Facebook so that I have a sense of who seems to be using Facebook in a smart and interesting way.

    And in fact one benefit of being more selective in my Facebook usage is that I get a more accurate picture of how Facebook works for “normal” people. When my Facebook feed was full of updates from colleagues, it made all things social media look like the heart and soul of Facebook. Now that my feed is mostly friends from my pre-Social Signal life, I get more of a feel for which kinds of stories, apps and pages get attention from regular people. Not that my friends are the most representative group, but it’s a little more representative than we social media junkies.

    One thing I am toying with is creating a fan page for my blog, so that I can have a professional presence on Facebook that is separate from my personal profile. It is useful to have a way for people to reach and out contact you on Facebook, but like you I don’t want that to intrude on my personal conversations.

  • http://www.alexandrasamuel.com Alex

    Jim, great point — and one I’ve struggled with as well. My experience is that when my personal use of a social web tool is relevant to clients, it’s not because I’m interacting with them there, but rather that my experience and experimentation informs the advice I give. So we do have a Social Signal page on Facebook (a pretty nominal one) and I do check out various pages, apps and groups on Facebook so that I have a sense of who seems to be using Facebook in a smart and interesting way.

    And in fact one benefit of being more selective in my Facebook usage is that I get a more accurate picture of how Facebook works for “normal” people. When my Facebook feed was full of updates from colleagues, it made all things social media look like the heart and soul of Facebook. Now that my feed is mostly friends from my pre-Social Signal life, I get more of a feel for which kinds of stories, apps and pages get attention from regular people. Not that my friends are the most representative group, but it’s a little more representative than we social media junkies.

    One thing I am toying with is creating a fan page for my blog, so that I can have a professional presence on Facebook that is separate from my personal profile. It is useful to have a way for people to reach and out contact you on Facebook, but like you I don’t want that to intrude on my personal conversations.

  • http://fadetoplay.com tyfn

    After reading your post, I thought about how I add friends on FB.

    I've been on FB forever and I'm a university student so I compare the way I share info on FB to that of a teenager's diary. I keep personal information there such as my phone number and home address so my friends can call me/visit me when they like. With very few exceptions I don't add randoms, internet people, or people I meet at public events. There was a period of time I would add randoms I met at internet-related events, I rarely do that anymore since twitter came along. Mostly I add students I meet, since I feel comfortable that I won't be stalked or add a weird person. I also keep my FB friend count about 400 as that is a manageable number and I continue to delete people that don't maintain an active interaction with me (either f2f meetups or writing on my wall, commenting on photos, send FB invites to parties, etc.). I use Facebook to build close relationships, not for networking. In my early days on FB, I used to add people and then put them on limited profile, I don't do that anymore, everyone I add gets full access to my FB content.

    That said, I use the “home visit” test to determine whether I will add someone as a friend. When I meet a new person, if I think I will get invited to their house sometime or if I believe they would visit my place, if invited, then we can be FB friends. Otherwise, I will use other networking platforms (e.g. flickr, twitter, email) to interact with them.

    I have found this method to be successful in creating an environment I enjoy being a part of. My newsfeed is always full of cool & fun photos or interesting status updates. I find little overlap with twitter or an overabundance of tech links shared by those I'm following. I am experiencing everyday life moments of my close friends, which is a way I can keep up to date until the next time we meetup f2f.

  • http://fadetoplay.com tyfn

    After reading your post, I thought about how I add friends on FB.

    I've been on FB forever and I'm a university student so I compare the way I share info on FB to that of a teenager's diary. I keep personal information there such as my phone number and home address so my friends can call me/visit me when they like. With very few exceptions I don't add randoms, internet people, or people I meet at public events. There was a period of time I would add randoms I met at internet-related events, I rarely do that anymore since twitter came along. Mostly I add students I meet, since I feel comfortable that I won't be stalked or add a weird person. I also keep my FB friend count about 400 as that is a manageable number and I continue to delete people that don't maintain an active interaction with me (either f2f meetups or writing on my wall, commenting on photos, send FB invites to parties, etc.). I use Facebook to build close relationships, not for networking. In my early days on FB, I used to add people and then put them on limited profile, I don't do that anymore, everyone I add gets full access to my FB content.

    That said, I use the “home visit” test to determine whether I will add someone as a friend. When I meet a new person, if I think I will get invited to their house sometime or if I believe they would visit my place, if invited, then we can be FB friends. Otherwise, I will use other networking platforms (e.g. flickr, twitter, email) to interact with them.

    I have found this method to be successful in creating an environment I enjoy being a part of. My newsfeed is always full of cool & fun photos or interesting status updates. I find little overlap with twitter or an overabundance of tech links shared by those I'm following. I am experiencing everyday life moments of my close friends, which is a way I can keep up to date until the next time we meetup f2f.

  • http://twitter.com/RideCalledLife Kristen R

    nail on the head. perhaps i'll begin cutting down my friends this weekend.

  • http://www.alexandrasamuel.com Alexandra Samuel

    Alexandra Samuel, Ph.D.
    Director, Social + Interactive Media Centre, Emily Carr University
    alex@alexandrasamuel.com
    tel. 604.630.4545 | cel. 604.726.5445
    Find me as awsamuel on Twitter | LinkedIn

  • http://peterfletcher.com.au Peter Fletcher

    Hi Alexandra, 

    Completely understand where you’re coming from here. Adding randoms, especially ones who send a request without an introductory message, is potentially dangerous. Even though the Facebook link in your sidebar links to your profile I for one would find it a bit weird to send a friend request to someone I don’t know aside from what I’ve read here and on Twitter. 

    That being said I’d Like a Facebook Page if you had one. I spend more time on FB than Twitter and would be more than happy to read what you have to say/share in my FB newsfeed without having the uncomfortable privacy issues that personal profiles invite. 

    Still love reading your blog and only wish I could write half as well. 

    Peter

  • http://ariherzog.com Ari Herzog

    When someone I don’t know sends me a Facebook friend request, it’s likely because s/he likes my blog or tweets and wants to see more of me. In these cases, I politely respond that my FB friends are for in the flesh friends and I suggest to like my page instead, e.g. http://facebook.com/ariherzogandassociates. More often than not, the response back is equally polite in understanding and the page sees a new like.

  • Greggross

    Jim has a good point.  Those of us in client service will appear remote or unfriendly if we resist FB invites from associates and clients.  So, after solving for world peace, we need to reach global consensus on the differentiated use of FB vs. Twitter.
    Separately, what’s up with the dates on these Comments: “10 months ago”. “11 months ago”, “1 year ago”??  Is my computer confused, or is it AWS’s blog host?

  • http://www.addvalue.com.au/ Branded Items

    I have 2 Facebook accounts and the one is personal and the other for business. If  a personal friend wants to be added I informed them on my personal  Facebook account. I value connections that is why people whom I am not that close who wants to add me will be asked to go to my Facebook business account.  

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