Circling your Social Network

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while; a Twitter exchange this morning with John Jantsch (@ducttape) finally motivated me to stop stalling and just jot it down.

It’s about concentric circles.

Specifically, I don’t like how social platforms tend to force you into binary choices about people in your network. In Facebook, everyone you choose to connect to is a “friend”. With Twitter, you have followers, and/or you follow. It’s all too simplistic and, in fact, quite inaccurate.

My network (on-line and off-line) can be more accurately divided into four levels:

1. Audience – people to whom I am connected (or who are connected to me) and therefore within reach, though there is little or no personal interaction yet.

2. Acquaintances – people with whom I’ve had at least some passing contact, professional or personal or virtual.

3. Friends – people with whom I have more extensive and regular contact (professional or personal or virtual), generally finding areas of common interest and shared experience.

4. Intimates – my “inner circle” (professional / personal / virtual). These are folks with whom there is a deeper trust relationship and more transparent level of sharing.

Social networking technology actually enables growth at every level, and can provide interesting opportunities for and with people from intimates to audience. It also helps move people along into closer orbit – many of those who I now consider friends and “inner circle” folks were met via social media.

I actually wish social platforms would enable us to categorize and “filter” people more readily by making such distinctions. Because we might want to provide levels of transparency to different groups in an intuitive manner (yes, I know you can monkey with Facebook settings to do some of this, but I’d like one dashboard that aggregates the entire social graph…)

As John and I were discussing, the public nature of social media means we have to be careful not to make people feel excluded. Yet my sense is that if we relate openly and transparently with people, realistically understanding how relationships progress, then we can accomplish quite the opposite – slow and steady inclusion into deeper layers of intimacy (I’m sure John agrees).

That’s my take, anyway. Make sense to you?

P.S. it is my intention, in 2010, to spend far more time cultivating my inner circles, as that is where I am now convinced the greatest impact and good can occur.


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

24 Responses to Circling your Social Network

  1. John Jantsch says:

    Great post Steve – nice way to neatly draw relationships and the way that they evolve. So much goes on that you don’t get to witness or participate in that it’s hard to know where the circles collide.

    During our conversation I had other chime in and say they know they are on that outer ring but still enjoy listening only. I feel an awesome responsibility for that.

    I’m sure you know him but Dave Armano has always done some nice visual stuff with these ideas of networks and relationships.

  2. Karen Swim says:

    Steve, this is a great post and this drawing is eerily similar to one that my Pastor used to teach on the various relationships in our lives. I feel that gap as well and have tried to use the tools available to create different interactions – i.e. tweetchats to drive deeper and focused engagement, phone convos with those that have moved from audience to acquaintance or friend, and lists to try to keep up with those that I would like to know better. Yet, as you noted, it’s frustrating and not time efficient or always effective.

  3. This makes sense and to me rings true. Friends, Followers, Conncetions….it can be confusing. It also waters down the words Friend and Network.

    However – what I don’t want to have to do is to remember to change people’s status with me as the nature of our relationship changes. Especially when I am probably connected to people in multiple social networks.

    I just woudn’t want all social networking contacts to wade into the same territory “Relationship Status” on Facebook.

  4. Melissa – I agree with you – I think I’d want these definitions or “buckets” to be internal controls rather than public settings (“Gee, how come he only has me as acquaintance??”). If people are publicly “connected” to me, that’s fine and that’s all that anyone else needs to know. And if someone doesn’t like the arbitrary 4-fold classification I’ve sketched above, an ideal soc med solution would allow us to create our own circles and settings.

  5. Steve, I really like the way you’ve laid this out – I too have come to the conclusion that there are several different “relationship layers” in my SM activities. I’m also finding out that the commonly held view that one cannot “manage” a friend group of more than 150 is holding true for me- I think that corresponds to your “friend” ring.

    All in, this is a great exercise to think through how we are using SM to build and hold relationships – thanks Steve!

  6. Connie Reece says:

    Well said and echoes my own thoughts. I’m using List tools on Twitter & FB to focus my attention more on the people who are either actual friends or those moving in that direction because of frequent interaction. Guess that’s why a new tool like Buzz is overwhelming. I’ve spent 3 years building a network on Twitter, 2 on Facebbok (and that’s a very different network usage for me). Start over w/ a new tool without the ability to identify these concentric circles? Won’t happen for me unless there is a seismic (not seesmic) shift to Buzz.

  7. Jon Swanson says:

    I like the model. Closer is more intimate. It’s also more time-consuming. However, it is also a place for more mutual influence.

    I’d like to add mentees or disciples or apprentices or students in this inner circle. They need the transparency that you are identifying. They also need the time that you are talking about devoting. And you certainly can’t have a very big group of them.

    Nice work.

  8. Connie – right. I am loathe to jump onto anything new right now – too much to keep up with already! I need simpler aggregation, not more stuff.

    Jon – great point. And if Jesus only chose to manage 12 disciples, our capacity is definitely going to be a lot less!

  9. Is a good subject and I’m sure there’s a lot to drill down here, but I can’t totally with you.

    I guess people will feel more excluded when you “tag” them under a category. So instead of bringing them into one of your circles, you are actually expelling them!

    The good thing is that you can create as much users of facebook as you like, I know people who have a personal and a laboral facebook profile, they give out the one that meets his needs at the moment, and keep colleagues and friends on separte profiles… If we try to include all out “worlds” into one they will collapse! (Seinfeld haha) but is true, we need to keep some things to our selves and we really don’t want to share everything with everyone…

    Just a thought…

  10. Jeanne Male says:

    Thanks for making us think and delve a little more deeply into this topic, Steve. Connie, your comments had me nodding my head in agreement.

    As a person who has been described as, “never met a stranger”, it’s true that I am quite open when approached, simply because I love people… but I’ve always felt uncomfortable in formal networking or cocktail party events. Those events feel strained (or even predatory) and can be off-putting to me simply because I want to connect with individuals in a genuine way. A potential downside is that it limits my opportunities to find “my right people”. The upside is that I have a small, long-standing (10 – 25 year) and loyal inner circle.

    One of the great things about SM is that I can join an existing conversation in a way that automatically invites me in without the physical barriers, feeling intrusive, or the animal dance of sizing one another up. Twitter, in particular, has allowed me to expand my acquaintances offering a bigger pool of people that may become friends or eventually, inner circle intimates.

    P.S. – Yes, a dashboard to aggregate and differentiate the circles would be great! Are you hatching a plan?

  11. Deirdre says:

    I believe in cultivating the inner circle! And, I really like how you’ve represented levels of friendship right down to the inner circle, which represents trust and intimacy. I’ve been thinking about the different levels of friendship and also discussed this in my Twitter Relationship Stairway blog post. But, I love the way you are thinking about the dashboard to aggregate and differentiate the circles. It would be really interesting to see my social graph represented this way (through all the different networks). Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    • The best Smart Social Dashboard (yet to be developed – anyone?) would actually track our interactions with various people across networks and “suggest” to us whether someone should now graduate to a different circle (based, probably and most simply, on volume of interactions). Ultimately, it’s not about LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever – it’s about (Deirdre) and my relationship with (her).

  12. Laura Scholz says:

    I stumbled on this post via Deirdre, and I love the way you’ve presented the different levels of friendship. Because you’re right, we have varying levels of intimacy within our social networks, yet really don’t have the tools yet to filter and organize these groups. I also like how as we build relationships and connections, people move from the outside circle in. Great post–thanks for sharing!

  13. Christy says:

    Steve, I like your take on how our friendships, virtual and otherwise, progress.

    A definite downside to creating a network where one could identify the level of intimacy with a connection as you’ve described has already been mentioned…the upkeep it would take behind the scenes to properly categorize your connections and RE-categorize them as they evolved.

    Plus, if we distinguish different degrees of transparency, and those degrees dictate the information we share online, wouldn’t it take some of the punch out of our SM experience? We filter our communication to some degree already, of course (naturally I wouldn’t broadcast to my FB pals the same stuff I confess to my husband). However, I think the unusual degree of sharing and intimacy among acquaintances and sometimes mere strangers is one of the things that makes SM so powerful? The same degree of open communication if shared in other situations (like the networking or dinner party events Jeanne Male described), would probably be considered socially unacceptable. On social networks, we can join in conversations, exchange information, toss around thoughts (like I am now), and it is usually welcome.

    Great post!

    • I agree with you… In real life you have to belong to a social circle o to know someone to “interfere” in a conversation, say out loud a thought, bla bla bla… Instead on SM you can do it anywhere, anytime, anyplace, and you don’t need to “actually” know people interacting… That’s the magic of SM!!! And it goes along with one of “internet” achievments, no boundaries!

      And as I said before, the moment you classify you exclude not include…

  14. Great post. I agree that it is difficult to categorize your different types of social relationships. I do however think that Twitter and Facebook are doing a decent job of this if you utilize their built in filters appropriately. I personally like that they have them set up so that each person can personalize them so uniquely, as opposed to just having categories of audience, acquaintance, friend, intimate.

    For example, on Facebook I have several different lists with different privacy settings so each list is allowed to view different items (in increasingly private settings): favorites, regular friends (no list just settings for all friends), limited profile, professional only, and then of course settings for those who are not yet Facebook friends. I think it works rather well and I have quite a range of types of friends on FB.

    Although on Twitter I cannot necessarily send certain Tweets to only certain people, I do like the filter options from my end on being able to set such specific lists and view only those people’s Tweets, and therefore easily engage with different groups and not miss so many Tweets, which inevitably otherwise happens thanks to the quick pace of Twitter.

    Thanks for bringing this topic back to everyone’s attention again because it is definitely something we all should be thinking about as we involve ourselves in the online, social world.

    • I think I need to hire you as my “list” consultant, Ashley! I’ve been so lazy about doing that – I think because there’s so much repetitive “grunt” work to it…

  15. Brett Duncan says:

    I’ve found myself going through the same exact progression. I think the fresh new car smell of social media is starting to wear off, and we’re realizing it’s still a tool used best to truly connect. And that requires time and focus.

    Twitter Lists have completely changed the way I use the tool for the better. I’m getting so much more out of it now because I’ve filtered out (somewhat) all the crap. And to your point, it finally became OK for me to just focus on the few with whom I actually enjoy interacting.

    For what it’s worth, you’re one of ’em.


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