Are unfollowing and defriending really the next big trends in social media?

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Unfriend

I read an interesting quote recently:

“Defriend and unfollow is the next trend.” ~ David Shing, Digital Prophet, AOL

After reading this, I climbed onto Lord Google (but not in that prison movie kind of way) to verify whether someone wasn’t just pulling something — I mean how outlandish is that statement? The popular kids can get away with doing that, but surely there are not enough of them to classify the move as a trend – you need the rest of us mortals to start doing that too for a noticeable impact.

Then I found Shing’s talk at the Dublin Web Summit from October 2012, and I was surprised (given the context of my inquiry) by how much sense he made (although I may have been slightly frustrated with “friends” using quotes out of context, or that they don’t verify things for themselves and just take it as gospel. Yes, I’m THAT guy).

With reference to the aforementioned quote, the full text reads as follows:

There will be a backlash in social media as it starts to get too diluted and, dare we say it, stalker-like — for example, allowing you to pick your seat on an airplane beside someone you spot on LinkedIn who you want to connect with. The backlash will take the form of defriending, unfollowing, culling our social networks.

That makes sense. Without the additional context, the opening quote seems like a regression in the normal evolution of the community. Yes, online communities are the next natural step in the evolution of communities, how could they not be? In the traditional sense, people are all about community and have been since the dawn of time — community has ensured our survival en masse. Those who don’t want to be a part of a community live as recluses; in this case, they are the exception, not the rule. A mass move from social butterflies to crusty hermits? No, trying to comprehend that just hurts my face — I can only picture it in the context of the Zombie apocalypse.

Scatterbrained ramblings aside, Shing has a point. Some of social connections have completely purged their Facebook and Twitter accounts and started refriending and refollowing from scratch (must be nice to not have work to do…). The overwhelming reason? There’s too much nonsense. They want to try and regain value from the platform.

Linkedin EMEA talent solutions partner and author of Smart Social Media Recruitment Strategies, Andy Headworth, also had much to say on the subject in a blog post dated October 2012. Headworth lists the number one reason for culling connections from his social feeds as, “they’re just talking crap all the time”. Eloquent. I couldn’t agree more. With over a trillion websites on the net, we look to our friends and social connections to aggregate content that meet our interests.

Sure it’s not the first reason we friend or follow; according to Maggie Fox, CEO of the Social Media Group, 82% of new connections are made because the individuals know each other in real life. Fair enough, if you’re new to a platform, you look for the people you know first, surely. But once you’d added everyone you know, you start looking for the connection that can add a bit more value to your day, whether they’re celebrities, interesting or funny (or hot… seven percent of people who befriend an “unknown” posit “quality of photo”… we all know what that means.)

As for defriending someone on Facebook, Fox says that 55% of cancelled connections stem from the other party making offensive statements, 39% defriend because the other party is trying to sell them something, 37% defriend because they’re not in the mood for depressing or political comments, and 20% defriend due to a lack of interaction. We start following people we know, then we start following people who share similar interests, but we will abandon that connection if the noise levels start exceeding our tolerance for it, even at the risk of losing a follower.

C’mon, you know it to be true. While I’m a numbers whore (I like me some more followers, and I can say that out loud, because you know you also get a kick out of a new follower — or you’re that pompous jackass that gets all blasé about it once you’re in your thousands, #SMH), not even I am hard up enough to permit annoying, spammy or stalkerish behaviour. Especially when it’s so easy to do something about it, with a simple unfriend or block.

It’s a far cry from our departure point, but I guess the real question is, is this really an upcoming trend? Is it something that’s only going to start happening in a few months or years? I’ve blocked my fair share of buffoons in the past, and I have little to no doubt that you have as well – so is this something to look forward to, or is it already standard practice/common sense, Mr Shing?

I would love to hear your thoughts, or your stories about online or real life broken connections — leave a comment below.

Image: xXxRawrKidRawrxXx (via Flickr).

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  • http://twitter.com/tallulahlucy Tallulah Habib

    Someone once said something to me that made a lot of sense – wish I could remember who it was. “Just because you’re my friend, doesn’t mean I want to follow you on social media.” Fact of the matter is, not everyone has interesting things to say to an audience. Or should I say things *I* find interesting to say to me. I think we’re often guilted into following people we know in real life, but it shouldn’t be that way.

    I think gradually, as social media matures, we’ll come to realise that social media is as much about forming connections with people as it is about compiling our own feeds of interesting information. If I unfollow you? That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, it just means sorry darling but you’re just not that interesting.

  • FB Whore

    No, I am not a facebook whore. i don’t accept friend requests unless the person has established some rapport with me first.

  • http://twitter.com/senorblinky Alex de Coning

    I’m not a FB whore, only my real life friends and colleagues are allowed, but I’d feel awkward friending a client. Same for Linkedin, only people I’ve met and worked with IRL. Twitter on the other hand, man, I’m a follower sloot!

  • Kojo Baffoe

    I believe many are experiencing social media fatigue, or at least I am. In a way, we are starting to curate our own networks. With apps like Flipboard, one can follow the interesting links of twitter, for example, and bypass the rest. I’ve also refocused my interaction on Facebook. @twitter-5977072:disqus It may have been me? :-). I follow very few of my friends as I’ve shifted more to people whose timelines I find interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/senorblinky Alex de Coning

    Kojo, you’re actually one of the original inspirators for this article following a conversation we had here at Cerebra.

  • http://twitter.com/tallulahlucy Tallulah Habib

    It may have been! I do remember our conversation about periodically wiping the slate clean.

  • http://www.nafisa.co.za/ Nafisa Akabor

    I’ve been unfriending and unfollowing for years now. When it comes to Facebook, if I meet someone once, I don’t accept a friend request. I unfriend people routinely based on their interaction with me. I also removed a whole bunch of business contacts from Facebook because it’s not the platform I want to interact with them on – LinkedIn is for that. My current Facebook settings also means I’m not listed in a public search. Best thing I ever did.

    As for Twitter, I don’t follow people because I know them (that alone isn’t a reason) and it would be painful. I unfollow people who aren’t active; complain all the time; retweet others more than saying anything original; sport tweets; autopost from Foursquare, Paper.li (can that service just die), running stats, etc. I get easily annoyed by all the noise on my stream and don’t think I’d survive without mute filters. Mute filters FTW!

    As for LinkedIn – I have to reject more requests than accept. I keep it strictly to those I’ve dealt with. Having xx amount of contacts in common means nothing.

  • http://BeckyCortino.me/ Becky Cortino

    Since January, 2010, I’ve been endeavoring to cull my networks to remove bot/less-active accounts, with the goal of having a smaller, more authentically supportive network. I never totally bought into the “numbers” game — couldn’t see the logic in the approach of “building a large network quickly.” If I shared ‘how many’ I’ve actually deleted on FB alone, it would be shocking, but it all became very clear to me the biggest ‘time suck’ of all on social media is interacting w/bots anyway…

    Now that you mention this practice as possibly trending — I have seen some of the social media big guns (‘the popular kids’) beginning to do this. Guess they had more patience, since they’ve taken their culling process so public, now lol

    It’s much more difficult on FB, because account holders literally have to search through their expansive network to locate those “deactivated” accounts (most often by name) and also then manually ‘UNfriend’ each and every one. This process is not helpful to anyone, unless your focus is on ‘numbers.’ For some folks, it may well be easier to begin again “from scratch,” as you describe.

    Fortunately, for those who wish to allow “followers” in great numbers without a direct connection (newsfeed visibility), alternatively folks can subscribe, ‘Like’ a FB Page, follow…

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