Too Many Facebook Friends: Blessing or Curse?

Jane's Facebook profile

On my personal Facebook profile, I am slowly but inevitably reaching the cap for friends (3,810 of 5,000). It’s prompting me to reflect on (1) how exactly I got to this point (2) how many people are turned off by this number (3) if *I* am turned off by this number and (4) what difference the number makes, if any.

I don’t like talking about the number. I don’t tell people about the number. (This blog post is a departure for me.)

But it’s a number that occasionally comes up in real-life conversation, and I try to be as dismissive as possible about it. I feel embarrassed because I don’t think it means anything except I’ve been on Facebook a long time, and I have a well-established website, blog, and social network. Plus I speak and serve in ways that bring me into contact with many hundreds of people each year.

I don’t send out Facebook friend requests these days, but I still receive them, and I say yes to most. (A while back, I decided it would be OK to have an open friending policy on Facebook. Read my history of Facebook use here.)

I’m confident only a few hundred people are actually paying any attention to what I do on Facebook. The rest? I believe they’re looking to expand their friend count, but they mute the people they friend.

That’s what I have to do when these requests come in from people I don’t know. I don’t have time to read updates from strangers, plus I have no context for their updates.

So it’s true when people say that anyone with thousands of Facebook friends can’t possibly have quality relationships with them all.

Which maybe means I’ve become a micro-broadcaster?

Facebook has a new feature that allows people to “subscribe” to one another’s public updates. I wish this feature had been in place years ago, because if it had, I could’ve directed people to subscribe to me rather than friend me. As you can see above, right now I have nearly 100 subscribers on Facebook. I find this a far more valuable number as far as engagement on Facebook, because it’s people who actively want to be alerted, in their newsfeed, to new things I post.

Have we reached the point in social media where it’s bad form to have too many “friends”—because you can’t focus as much on quality? Does it mean you’re not being selective enough? Conversational enough? Even controversial enough? (Some would say you ought to repel as many as you attract in order to ensure you’ve got the “true” community around you.)

Bottom line, friend count on Facebook has become a meaningless piece of data to me. I don’t know what the right answer is to address this issue, but I do believe this:

  1. I’m probably creating secret ill-will with people who know I can’t possibly be reading their stuff on Facebook. So I become known as a disingenuous “friend.”
  2. To unfriend people would likely be worse than No. 1.
  3. While I would never post anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t post in public, I know my behavior isn’t the same as if I had a very limited friends list. (I’m not interested in potentially offending hundreds of people.) I judge this as neither good nor bad, but it’s something I’m very aware of.

Years ago, someone said that he expected before long that my Facebook posts would come with a secure way for my “friends” to input a credit card number to buy products or services.

My biggest fear is that people think I’m on Facebook to take advantage of them or monetize them. What I’m really there for is to keep the line of communication open (especially since Americans spend more time on Facebook than on any other site), and to post things of interest to people. I may not be able to read what everyone else is posting, but at the very least, I’m responsive and present to activity on my own wall.

My hope is that’s why people are friending me in the first place.

To read some of my other posts on this topic:

What are your thoughts on Facebook friending, particularly as it pertains to your more “public” face?

 


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Posted in Digital Media, Electric Speed, Social Media.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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40 Comments on "Too Many Facebook Friends: Blessing or Curse?"

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Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
I never had an open policy on Facebook, but decided about a year ago to winnow it down even further to actual friends and family, unfriending ~150 casual acquaintances and continuing to unfriend anyone who’s solely using it as a marketing channel. (No! I’m not flying to Calilfornia for your poetry reading. Stop inviting me!!!! Also, stop adding me to groups!) It’s partly because I don’t trust Facebook as a corporate entity, and partly because it has always made filtering and privacy an unnecessary hassle; a nice side benefit is my main stream has become a lot more relevant and… Read more »
Christine Grote

Your posts are often quite helpful to me. I don’t know if I friended you on Facebook or not, but I’m going to run right over there and do that before I get shut out. 🙂

I limit my Facebook page to friends I know in person, and family. I do have an Author’s Fan page. My friends and family would prefer to look at grandson’s pictures and where I went to dinner, than read about my latest writing challenges and successes.

It’s all quite intimidating for someone jumping into the game in their 50’s. I can tell you that.

Jodiaman

I do both, have a fan page and personal page. Having nothing to sell- yet I am only giving. This works for now!

Will Entrekin
It’s interesting that you worry about appearing to be a disingenuous friend to others. I’ve recently begun to visit the site far less frequently as I discovered that I felt others were being disingenuous and didn’t really care about me. On occasion, I share something amusing, and posts on my site automatically update on my wall, but that’s about it, lately. And truthfully, my life has felt better for it. I’ve been more positive, had more fun, been challenged more both professionally and creatively, and felt more fulfilled. Not saying that those things are a result of using Facebook less;… Read more »
Lisa Hall-Wilson
Like Guy, I unfriended about 150 people and turned on the subscribe feature on my profile. So far, I have about 45 subscribers – but I don’t have a page. I’m still building a social network, so it’s working so far. I try to keep it conversational on Facebook, but tailor my public posts accordingly. It’s definitely a good compromise. A lot of the people I unfriended were public people like yourself who I wanted to follow, but didn’t have a page. Seems like a more transparent way to demonstrate the level of ‘relationship’ if you can call it that.… Read more »
Vaughn Roycroft
When I friended you I never expected anything but a means to keep up with what you’re doing, and knew it would be a mostly one-way relationship. This was before ‘subscribe,’ but in essence that was what I was after – and I’ve gotten what I expected and more. For better or worse, FB has become my social media wheel-house. Probably because of the WU page. I’m too easily bewildered for Twitter, even with Tweetdeck, so I only dabble there. Need to wade in deeper at G+, but never seem to manage it. I’ve wondered about having too many friends.… Read more »
Pdrewfs

I thank
you for mercifully befriending me on Face Book.  True wisdom, knowledge, and understanding –
so rarely shared in this age – flow from you like an electric stream.  I but wish to sample it where err I can.  I host no delusions ‘twill be quid pro quo:
nor will I foster any semblance of ill will when ‘tis not.  Though attendance and response to we shadow
folk be uncommon to nonexistent, our belief and following awe endures.  There may be 1.3 billion books in our World,
but there is but one genuine Jane Freidman broadcasting her net to catch us willing
fishes.

Heather Harshman

I feel the same way about Twitter. Are all of my followers really following me?  I think not. So why are publishers curious about how many Facebook and Twitter followers writers have?  

Anonymous
The national “unfriend” day addressed this very issue. Each of us has a different objective for friending. Believing building a “writer’s platform” meant inviting as many authors and author adjacent people to friend was the right business choice, I friended at random. Then I discovered most of those friends did not engage. They promoted their work but sent nothing personal nor did they include links  of interest. They did not respond to any of my posts whose content is varied. I unfriended anyone who did not demonstrate any real interest in me or my posts knowing they’d not care or… Read more »
John R Worsley
I love having hundreds of Facebook friends.  It reminds me every day that however alone I may feel, I am, in fact, connected to all these people.  I like the little glimpses I get into their lives through Facebook, even if it comes in the form of events I’d never go to. I have met the vast majority of them, and don’t accept friend requests from strangers unless we share a common interest (usually writing) and I feel they’re friending me for more than self-promotion purposes. But I don’t have a public face – yet. When I reach that point,… Read more »
Glenda Parker

I am using face book to learn and grow as a writer and someone who is trying to break into the publishing world. I blog and follow yours daily. I have about a thousand facebook friends but I don’t think that is a problem. Most are writers, agents, and publishers. I need a platform, right?
Glenda Parker
http://glendaparkerfictionwriter.blogspot.com

tdhurst

Just unsubscribe from their updates.

But if you do that, are you even friends with them?

Karen S Elliott
Facebook friending (and connecting on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn). I used to friend/accept/link to anybody. I’m more selective now. And I’ve unfriended a few. No offense to anyone, but I want to be sure that what this new person is posting/tweeting/blogging about is helpful to others. I don’t like to connect to the me-mes – those that post only about their life, their book, their blog. I’m not nearly as popular as you, but I can see (at about 400 friends), how Facebooking sort of takes over my internet life. I do see the benefits of quality vs. quantity. Those friends… Read more »
Renee Jacobson
I recently turned the corner with this. Frankly, it’s all my dang blogging friends that mucked things up. Initially I only “friended” people I really knew in real life and I directed everyone else to my “Fan Page.” But despite my hard work, nothing magical was happening on my fan page. So I let in the few bloggers that I considered to be friends. People with whom I had talked to on the phone, Skyped with, etc. Well, I forgot that the world can see who is friends with whom. So I started getting the requests. Now I realize I… Read more »
lynkelwoohoo

This is interesting and I learned some new things about FB. I don’t think I need to worry about hitting the limit. I don’t have a fan page and don’t plan to get one soon. I think that people realize when you have over 3,000 friends that you can only communicate with so many people and they don’t expect to have a lot of interaction with you. This is all food for thought, so thanks for posting this.

Elizabeth Moonrose
I have unfriended “deadbeats”, those who collect friends like some collect seashells. I click on their pages and if they have more than two hundred friends, and if I really don’t know them from Adam I unfriend. I figure they wont miss me. After all, with that many friends, they presumably will be quite busy with them. If they happen to discover you are gone, they can either ask to befriended again or subscribe. I personally think we are not responsible for other people’s hurt feelings. Some people take offense over nothing, while others shrug it off. If avoiding offending… Read more »
Cathy Dee

You need to change this friend page to a Fan Page (Facebook has instructions on how to), then create a personal private profile for just family and friends.

Sara Press
While I do not have anywhere near 3800 friends, or maintain a Fan page, or even have subscribers, I did recently go on a “defriending” spree. I’ve recently become an adopter of the “quality over quantity” philosophy, and now use Facebook as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family. While it is hard to maintain a vested interest in 3,800 peoples’ personal lives, I think that unfriending them should not be an option. On the plus side, keeping an open Facebook profile (as opposed to one without privacy controls) means that once you do reach the friend… Read more »
Judithpodell47

Increasingly I am using Facebook as my source for news and music and art etc.  I’ve been turned on to music and writers I’d never have found on my own.  And I use it as a writing practice-can I say something entertaining or informative in no more than two sentences.  And I use it to follow Occupy Wall Street–it’s a more up to date news source than the major media.
l

Antonyarakkal666

when the number is 800 million and growing, our personal take on the workings of FB remains just that. 1 in 800 million!. I suppose that should not discourage any of us from saying what we say.

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[…] For instance, I used to think accepting all friend requests for my personal profile was a workable policy, as long as I kept everyone organized in lists. But now that Facebook has a subscribe-to-profile feature, it doesn’t make sense to friend everyone. And so I’ve started the painful process of defriending people I don’t know. (This isn’t without reservation. Read my thoughts here.) […]

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