Gini Dietrich

Social Media Boundaries

By: Gini Dietrich | January 20, 2010 | 

FacebookYesterday I was friended on Facebook by someone I don’t know. We have a lot of mutual friends, so the friend request makes sense, but I don’t like to let people on my personal Facebook page who I don’t know in real life.

This happens often, especially because of all of the speaking that I do, and I always thank the person for the invite and suggest, instead, they become fans of Arment Dietrich, where I spend a lot of time engaging with clients, prospects, potential candidates, and our employees. I know some people are put off by this because it sounds like I’m promoting the company. And, I guess I am. But it’s less to promote the company and more to engage with people I don’t know in a place that feels safe to me.

But for some reason, yesterday’s request is bothering me. I think it’s because his  response was, “thanks anyway”, which makes me believe I left a bad taste in his mouth.

If you know me well, you know I want to be liked by everyone. And you also know I have trouble saying no. So when I perceive I’ve hurt someone’s feelings or left a bad taste in their mouth, I wonder how I could have handled the situation differently. At the same time, I am (in my wise old age) finally learning I need to have some boundaries.

Right now, my boundaries are as follows:

* On my personal Facebook page, I have to know you in real life (which is why, Dave Van de Walle, I don’t have very many friends there).

* On the Arment Dietrich Facebook fan page, I will talk to anyone there, even if it’s negative. This is where we’re building our culture and building relationships with people we might like to work with in the future (as well as people we work with now).

* On Twitter, as long as you don’t look like a spammer, I will follow you back and I will get to know you. My friend Nancy Lyons always teases me because I will talk to anyone on Twitter. It’s true. I will. I love Twitter and the relationships I’m able to develop using that tool.

* On LinkedIn, I will accept your connection IF you tell me how we know one another. The “I’d like to add you to my personal network” invite doesn’t work for me, unless I truly do know you. I never click “I don’t know this user,” but I do often just hit “archive” instead of “accept.”

What are your boundaries? How would you have handled the friend request I mention above?

*Photo courtesy of GeekSugar

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Gloria


    I’ve been thinking about this very issue lately and I’m glad someone else feels the same way. I completely disagree with the idea that privacy is no longer a social norm (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg). Thus I too keep my Facebook page a little more guarded than other sites I use. In fact, I rarely add co-workers or even distant family members as friends. My Facebook page is personal and reserved for people I’ve met who I feel comfortable sharing my daily personal experiences with and okay, I admit it, rants too. My LinkedIn page is for professional connections and Twitter is, at the moment, more about connecting with others who enjoy social media (like yourself). I think it’s important to remember who your audience is and reserve the right to control who might be a part of it, when/if you can.

  • I would have done exactly the same thing. And I have. I once accepted a friend request from someone I barely knew 25 years ago. I thought “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Answer: A disturbing message from his new girlfriend wondering who had initiated the request and why. Yipes!

    In my life, there are circles of connectivity. There are circles my lifelong friends and family vs. circles of friends vs. acquaintances vs. we share the planet so I love you kind of people. The two inner most circles in real life have seen me in my pajamas; know I find more humor in my life than most people would find normal and understand I get a wee bit dramatic now and then. Those are the people who are my facebook friends. If I don’t know you that well, you don’t need to be looking at photos of my family or commenting on my life’s story!

    I think it’s healthy and normal to have those limits. And I believe it’s an important part of approaching social media thoughtfully what purpose you want each communication channel to serve in your life.

  • Hurray boundaries… most of the time if someone you barely know is requesting “friendship” they are doing it to help themselves or raise their stats.

    I had this situation more prominently on LinkedIn where I had all these requests from people I don’t know at all, or barely know. All the advice I got was to keep it personal – and I agree.

    Luckily for me, I don’t have Gini’s affliction of wanting all to like me (quite the contrary) but I wouldn’t worry too much about it Gini. You’ve got a big enough army that if a few people don’t like you, you’ll get on just fine.

  • I like boundaries even though sometimes I am the one that steps outside! When I first joined Facebook I wanted to be friends with anyone and everyone that would accept me. Now that I have been a user for sometime I too am guarded with my friendships. Facebook has opened a new world to me so that I can connect with my neices and nephews that I don’t get to see often. I need to protect them.

    I am not only connected to co-workers but I am connected to my franchisees. On Facebook they see exactly who I am. The good, the bad, the ugly but most of all the fun side of me.

  • A timely topic and one that certainly leaves room for personality differences.

    LinkedIn: I’ve met you professionally or personally
    Facebook: Family and friends only…fan of selected organizations/brands
    Twitter/FriendFeed: I’ll follow anyone with relevant or interesting tweets
    MySpace: I’ll friend Bands/musicians only (yeah, I know 😉

    Another question: do you mostly/seldom/never use your real name when commenting on other people’s blogs/feeds?

  • Dorothy

    I agree with Gini and Jeff (but not MySpace – sorry Jeff!)

    Facebook for people I personally know and am friendly with
    LinkedIn for work connections
    Twitter – follow anyone relevant, interesting, or fun

    To the blog question, I always use my real name.

  • As the world of social media continues to gain branches, it’s hard to know where the transparency line should end–but there is a line. I guess if the content is something we would be willing to publish in a book, then let them in. Otherwise,…nope!

  • Well-put, as usual, and thanks for mentioning me above the fold.

    One thing we’ll all need to agree on, though, is that these boundaries continue to change and shift and morph with each new launch, shift in privacy, etc.

    When I first joined Facebook — since I was running a business that reached out almost entirely to college-bound students — I used the “connect with everyone” mindset, but I was up-front about it. Got shot down a few times, but also made some mutually beneficial connections.

    And I will admit that, in a weaker moment, I actually used the “I don’t know this person” option on LinkedIn. That was because LinkedIn didn’t have a “This person is toxic” button.

  • Gini, as usual great guidance and food for thought. I am pretty comfortable with Twitter and LinkedIn, but Facebook is a tough one. I don’t like to deny a friend request, but I have found myself with some “friends” that I have no connection to business or personal. I think that I need to spend some time there and perhaps look at fan page for business as well.

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  • I have similar boundaries on Facebook. My personal Facebook page is just that, personal. I do often cross-promote the HMA Public Relations page as well as my clients and non-profits that I’m involved in. But, like you, I “friend” people that I have some connection to. I like your idea of explaining why you have chosen not to accept the friend request. Will give that a try.

    I’ll accept almost everyone on Twitter but I do go back from time to time and check my following/followers. If there’s been no updates or just constant pushing of information I will unfollow.

    But Linkedin is an open environment for me. Over the past several months, I have used Linkedin for new business development, research, information exchange, etc. I consider all requests as an opportunity to build my network.

  • Deb Dobson

    What a great post, as I have come to expect from you Gini. So very true. When I’m speaking with people, this comes up often. Where do I blend the personal and professional. If it is challenging individuals, then I know companies are struggling. I think a great step is being clear in communicating boundaries. And god knows, that is a tough step. Love your honesty and open post as always. Thank you…a great post.

  • Great post Gini. This one definitely has me thinking about my Facebook account and doing a “spring cleaning”. I’ve had similar requests as you and I’ve chosen not to accept friend requests from people I have no connection with even if there are mutual friends. Thanks for sharing. Totally support the idea on this one!

  • I agree with you, Gini.

  • My basic philosophy – if we’ve never actually spoken to each other in words produced by the sounds of vibrating vocal cords, Twitter’s about as close to a “friend” as you’re going to get.

  • I think these are great guidelines and very cool to share. Even though I should be more conscious of Facebook, I have found that a ton of my really good Twitter friends from different streams, people who have truly become my friends, are also on Facebook, so I have been adding them to the mix.

  • My boundaries are similar, with one exception. On my personal facebook page, I not only need to know you in real life, but I won’t friend you if I don’t, well….how do I say this nicely,…like you. If you were mean in high school, chances are you’re still mean, and I’m not interested in finding out. If I’ve not talked to you in 30 years, for good reason, then I don’t have time to talk to you now so don’t try. I share info on FB that I want my real friends (some business, some not) and family to know. So, to the guy that said “you look interesting, will you be my friend?” the answer is NO.

  • This is one of the most popular topics in my social media workshops and speaking engagements. Thanks for sharing YOUR approach, Gini.

    I’m going to email this to attendees from my most recent “Facebook for Your Business Class” — I know they’ll love your perspective.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I can always count on Gregg to make me feel better.

    I do, like Julio, accept friend requests (and invite people) from Twitter IF I’ve built a really strong relationship with them, even though I haven’t met them in real life. But I’m pretty particular about it, and it doesn’t happen a week after we’ve been having conversations on Twitter.

    I also like Facebook for the sheer reason that it creates better relationships with employees, peers, and clients. I felt a little weird friending some of my clients early on (like Deb above), but we’ve formed a different, and better, relationship because of it.

    I took this conversation to Twitter with @ParkSocClass and this is what it boils down to: The invasion of privacy is 1) a choice and 2) usually welcomed. So if you decide it’s okay for someone to “invade” your privacy, you welcome it.

    And Hammmond? I always use my real name when I comment because, like Laura says, if I am ashamed to attach my name to what I’m writing, I shouldn’t be writing it at all.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Oh and Scott? Please tell them to become fans of Arment Dietrich…not to friend me! 🙂

  • Molli

    I agree with you, although, I look at it by how much information is shared. For me Facebook is JUST for friends and family. Since there are photos and tagging on walls it makes it very personal. LinkedIn is for my professional network. Since I pretty much have my resume up there I prefer that I know you or have worked with you in one way or another. Then Twitter is for anyone who wants to chat with me. Since the only information available is your bio and status updates, it’s more about personality than personal information.

  • Lon

    One feature of social media that has astounded me so far is how careless people are with their personal information. As a veteran of the privacy wars from my years in the news media, I’m probably more cognizant of the issues than some people people. I’m shocked at how much personal info people put on the web about themselves and how long it continues to exist out there.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Lon, you are so right! I don’t think people realize that attorneys are using the social networks for discovery. As business leaders, we have to be thinking about that at all times. But it’s also about transparency and we don’t want to be scared or paralyzed. We just have to be smart. I always say, “If you don’t want your grandmother to see or hear you do something, don’t put it on the social networks!’

  • Gini, I have almost the same policies.

    Twitter: I am open to anyone for a while. If it gets too spammy or self-promoting, I can unfollow or block.

    LinkedIn: I wish there was a better way to decline than just clicking Don’t Know; sometimes I will respond with a “how do we know each other?” or try to see how we are connected before accepting, or declining.

    Facebook: it’s my personal/play space, so I am very selective. If it’s a casual friend, old HS classmate but we weren’t close friends, you go on a HS friend list, blocked from the good stuff.

    If it’s really a business contact, I’ll redirect them to LI. If we are sorta friendly but still more of a professional relationship, I accept with the warning they’re on a Business list blocked from the really good stuff. Most people are cool with going to LI or being listed.

    Gregg’s right, lots of people are just trying to pretty up the numbers, connect to anyone and everyone they can. FWIW.

  • Mike Koehler

    Pretty much the same here. I have to know you personally to friend you on Facebook. I use FB for leisure only. I do struggle when people from the past reach out. Some I’m excited to see, others I just groan and internally debate do I accept or not. You and I have talked about this before, do we really want to friend everyone from BHS? ummmm no.

  • Great post, Gini. My Facebook page long ago crossed over from friends/family only to my larger professional network. Which was great for communicating and sharing information when my friend list was smaller and before I really got involved in Twitter, but now, I’m getting five random “friend” requests a day, many from people I don’t recall every interacting with. I really would like to remove about half of the people from my friend list, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling and wish I had set more boundaries up front.

    But, I do take advantage of privacy settings for photos and such, but I pretty much use the mother rule–anything I wouldn’t want her to read or see, it’s not on there. But I’m definitely more guarded on FB than I used to be.

  • You know how on some blogs, every comment seems to be, “I totally agree with you 100%; you’re so right!”

    Well, I VERY rarely do that. In this case, however, I am. I think the way we handle our social media boundaries is very close to the same (which is why I don’t have many Facebook friends either).

  • Interesting take, I was researching Facebook for a client and was Friended by people I have been able to successfully avoid for more than 20 years. If this were Lifetime Network and not real life, there would be a great reunion story here; mostly it’s Mafia Wars requests and validation for avoiding these people and not friending.

    With a personal page and a business page it starts to feel like the Seinfeld episode where George’s worlds are colliding. You mention your business page on your personal page and the next thing you know some super buff dude gets a case of extemporania on your business wall. Boundaries Good, Big Boundaries Better. Worlds Collide!

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