So I did a bit of unscientific analysis. January 7 is my birthday, and I was noticing that it seemed like I had a steady stream of friends dropping in to say “Happy Birthday” and that’s always good. But after thinking about it a day or two, I wondered how it stacked up to the previous year. There are many factors that could have influenced the numbers one way or the other, but the key factor was the total number of friends that I have on Facebook. For most of the time since I first signed up for Facebook in January of 2007 each year has seen a steady growth of friends as I reconnected with the past and reached out across the RV and travel blog worlds. But some time last year I decided to make a big change.
I unfriended half of my friend list.
I went from over 400 friends to just over 200. There were several reasons for making this decision. The primary driver for it was simply the fact that Facebook is constantly tinkering with their algorithms that determine what is shown on your news feed. If it doesn’t show up there, it is unlikely to be noticed. And the only way to re-engage is to visit every single friend’s wall on a regular basis and interact – like or comment, etc. Yet why would I do that with ex-co-workers and classmates that I haven’t seen in person in 20-30 years? If we didn’t start interacting right after we first friended each other, there’s probably a reason for that…
For me, the reasons are mostly my fault. Using my high school as an example, most of my ex-classmates still live in and around the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. While I still lived there we interacted and coordinated our 30-year reunion. Once that was over, the interaction faded. In addition, my views on politics and religion have shifted drastically. I’m almost the only one of my 76 classmates who is no longer Republican or christian. And given the nature of Facebook, posts about those topics make up the vast majority of people’s activity. In the end, I hid many of them, just to keep my news feed from being full of things that irritated me.
So now I have a large chunk of my Friends who are hidden from my feed, but I kept them as friends because I thought that maybe they would see my own posts and still interact. But most of them didn’t. I’m not blaming them, we just don’t share many current interests or live in the same area any more. In other words, our connection on Facebook was one of a shared place and time, some shared memories, but not much else. The classmates who are still on my list were people who I either dated or were in band with. We were friends in high school. That gives us a bond and extra memories to work with.
So for awhile I was stuck in this limbo. Most of my Friends never interacted with me, yet I left them on my list in hopes they would see my posts, especially our travel blog posts. And then I discovered a hidden feature about Facebook: Followers.
Facebook introduced subscriptions in late 2011. It allows you to ‘follow’ someone (like a celebrity) without having to go through the Friend approval process. As long as the celebrity makes a public post, all subscribers see it. This also works with regular people, too. They now call it followers, and I have 25 people who have manually decided to follow me rather than make a Friend request. But then I made the big discovery…
If you unfriend someone, they automatically change from your Friend to a Follower!
For some reason this made me feel a lot better about cleaning up my Friend list. It doesn’t feel like I am abandoning my FB friends – I’m just changing their status a bit. So while I have 438 people who can all see my public posts, I have only 223 Friends who can see most of what I post. (I also have a smaller Friend ‘list’ I use for more sensitive matters, usually jokes or items having to do with politics or religion).
And all of this is great, but how did it effect my engagement?
To compare, I looked at how many people wished me Happy Birthday for the last two years. On January 7, 2012, when I had approximately 400 friends, 59 of them dropped in to wish me a happy one. That works out to around 14%. On January 7, 2013 with my newly pared-down Friend list of 223 I had 49 birthday greetings, almost 22%. I find this an encouraging number, especially since we haven’t even lived in the United States for the last eleven months!
So yes, it’s unscientific and there are many other factors, but I’m very happy to have shifted a lot of Friends over to Followers. Besides, it kinda makes me feel like a celebrity with an entourage!