Reading a little bit of self-disclosure and privacy literature recently, I asked myself (and you, readers!): What’s the best way for not losing friends on Facebook? Thinking very strategically, I should probably thoroughly analyze my social network (using social network analysis) and derive some sensible approach to serve the various needs of my ego-network with my status updates. I could come up with a differentiation of my Facebook friends, for example by using a clustering algorithm (Girvan-Newman or something similar). The software would then detect social circles in my social network. In my case, these could be: family, friends from elementary school, friends from high school, friends from my studies, friends from my stay abroad in Spain, friends from my PhD, friends from holidays, and some random friends from different points in time – some of them probably isolates.
Once these circles are identified, I could think of the risk profiles and answer the question: Members of which circle are most likely to unfriend me? I should target my attention to these groups. In my case, more distant contacts, with whom I have only shared little time, would be a risk group. So, let’s say friends from my stay abroad in Spain and friends from holidays are more likely to unfriend me than friends from high school and friends from my PhD. In a next step, I would consult the Facebook unfriending literature (e.g., the work by Sibona and colleagues: http://bit.ly/Qx3SYt). Here, I would find useful hints on the determinants of unfriending. Sibona and Walczak identify the following reasons why people unfriend: frequent and unimportant posts (“spam”), polarizing posts (“flaming”), inappropriate posts (“trolling”), and everyday life posts (“bores”). In addition, disliked behavior and changes in the relationship in “real life” also increase the likelihood of being unfriended. As a (more or less) sensible human being, it’s obvious that I don’t spam, flame and troll on Facebook. Hence, the first three recipes against unfriending are easy to implement. However, the fourth point (“boring your audience”) is a little bit more tricky because of context collapse. What my PhD friends might find interesting is very boring to my high school and holiday friends. Pictures that friends from my stay abroad in Spain understand and find awesome might be annoying for some other random friends (who might be critical of Spain’s colonial past).
In a highly segregated social network – with many different social circles – on Facebook, the best solution against losing friends is probably to disclose little and only consensual success stories, which are of interest for everyone, such as the passing of exams, a new job, a nice beach holiday or a link to a non-controversial and positive news site (the Buzzfeed effect). That way, nobody is harmed or insulted. Still, the pitfalls of disclosing little become immediately apparent. Some people regularly scan their Facebook friend list and delete people who they haven’t had contact with for a certain time or from whom they haven’t seen an interesting post in a while. You have to make yourself visible to these “users at risk”. The key is monitoring: Know your social network and know the different circles as well as individuals. Write birthday messages to the “at risk people”, comment their status updates in a friendly and complimenting way, maybe also have a short chat if they want to, show genuine interest blablabla…
Of course, such a social desirability-driven approach goes hand in hand with self-censorship and the lack of authenticity. In the end, users need to decide what they want: a more authentic but maybe less streamlined and more “scandalising” online-personality with less friends OR a catch-it-all, polished and uber-shiny online-profile with few unfriends. One might ask: Is it worth all the effort? Is this very strategic approach even necessary? No, in my opinion not 😉 At least not for me.. and probably not for most people. (But some might be very offended and hurt by unfriending. For them, such guidelines might be useful. I myself don’t unfriend people on Facebook… EVER. I think it’s rude and unfriendly)
In terms of research, the relationship between one’s social network – i.e., its diversity, homophily, clustering, centralization, size etc. -, the frequencey and type(s) of self-disclosure and the subsequent formation (friending) as well as dissolution (unfriending) of ties is so far understudied. We need more data and evidence on this: