Why I’m Defriending my Workmates on Facebook

After careful consideration, I’ve decided to defriend my Facebook workmates and reconnect with them on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Nothing personal. Throughout my career, I’ve had the honor and delight of working with warm, generous, and talented people. It’s just that social relationships are nuanced, and I don’t want to be pushed into treating all my relationships the same.

Sure, Facebook has groups, but amid shifting privacy policies and growing financial pressures, I’m more comfortable with a site barrier over a feature barrier. As Reid Hoffman famously described, LinkedIn is the social media office, Facebook is the barbeque, and MySpace is the bar (ok, maybe MySpace is the morgue).

Hoffman is right. I love Facebook for my closest, most private, relationships. But sites where most of the information is public, like LinkedIn and Twitter, more easily lend themselves to professional use. This was driven home when my teenage son so bluntly chided me to quit cross-posting my Twitter posts to Facebook: “No one [on Facebook] knows or cares about any of this business stuff, Dad. Jeez!”

I think something profound is happening here. Harvard’s Steven Pinker describes how the communal relationship among friends is starkly different from the reciprocal relationship among colleagues. And when these relationship types get confused, things get awkward. Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, makes a similar point when he points out that a business team is like a pro sports team, not a family. The implication is that the primary goal of a business, unlike a family, is performance. So when a social network encourages confused relationships, we can expect awkwardness, misunderstandings, and general confusion. That’s no fun and a waste of time.

Time will tell, but I think I have a reasonable way to implement this church-and-state social network policy. When I receive a Facebook friend request from a colleague, I immediately friend them on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter. If they’re on neither, I politely inform them of my thoughts on the matter, ask for their understanding, and point them to this post.

Like communication innovations throughout history — from stone tablets to movable type to telegraph to internet — social media is the newest to remap our human mores and customs. To truly make this new medium our own, we have no choice but to take an active role in shaping it.

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