There’s a great discussion going on right now at my friend Robin Dickinson‘s blog on “Building Relationships: A Question of Quality Over Quantity” (go and read it!)

Today I’m hoping we can pick up on a key topic that has risen from the comments on Robin’s post, mainly about what I guess is easiest to describe as Friendship 2.0. We’ll look at what’s wrong with the current idea of friends, how we misplace confidence in community, and how we can move forward with genuine connections that get things done.

To start, you’ll notice that I call Robin my friend. Truth is we haven’t met, and only known each other since June, but through Twitter, Skype, and commenting on each others blogs, we’ve spent many hours talking and thinking new things through — in order to create action. You’ll see a lot of what Robin and I have been talking about at Like Minds in February.

One of the things that we’ve both started doing is asking “Leading Questions” at the end of our posts. We both believe that comments aren’t for praise, or an indicator of your ‘community’, but for you to actually refine the content with one another and move the ball forward. They are about relationship and collaboration, not to look good. We talked about some of this last week on the Community vs Connection idea.

Out of this thinking, Robin asked the question, with regards to building relationships, “In your opinion, what makes a high quality relationship?” There’s some great discussion still going on, with some valuable insights, however I wanted to bring the discussion here to look at a subsection of building relationships, namely in the sphere of digital relationships and Social Media.

The Flaw of Faux Friendships

I don’t have the Oxford English dictionary out right now, but I think a good definition of a friend is someone with whom you have an exchange of life. A relationship where each person grows by what the other supplies. This might be news, updates, heart-ache, joy, advice, mentoring, marriage, parenting, hive-fiving — the point is, there is some kind of exchange, whether large or small, frequent or infrequent, balanced or unbalanced.

There was once a time that when you had little exchange — more of a knowledge of someone — they were an acquaintance.

Acquaintance as a word has now been rather outdated. As technology and the growth of our communities has permitted us to have more relationships, we have begun calling everyone we know as friends. Well, at least I have, as 26 year old Gen Y man. Furthermore, Social Networking has made friends out of people we don’t even know. I don’t mean friends as in you haven’t met them but talk to them — I mean a friend with whom your only interaction has been the acceptance of a friend request. You don’t know them, and you don’t write on their wall or tweet them. But they are your ‘friend’.

Maybe we should dub these as faux friendships — where there is no exchange of life.

Perhaps I am being a little extreme here — but a large number of people follow and are followed by faux friends. Now sure, this is the wider ambit of community — but this isn’t compatible with Seth Godin’s Tribes idea, which paints a far more emotionally involved picture of community. I remember when Seth released the video I’ve posted above on the meaninglessness of high numbers in Social Networking. People were shocked, but Seth was right. They’ll follow you, but they won’t exchange life with you.

I would say that there are many of these faux friendships out there, and it’s a product of the Social Media movement’s high content turnover and large focus on high volume sales and numbers.

And this is fine. But let’s just get it straight — these people aren’t my friends, and they won’t collaborate with me.

And for me, I’m not interested in an audience. I’m interested in a team of people working together to bring about change.

Cultivating Deeper Connections

So, how do we cultivate deeper connections in our Social Media spheres, and across an increasingly more digitally connected world?

I think that the speed of the hi-churn, hi-turnover, hi-volume, hi-noise world is by nature conducive to faux friendship. Fast information makes for fast food makes for fast friendship. I would therefore put it to you that connections — the type of connections that collaborate, work together, exchange life, have meaning, grow by what the other supplies and make things happen – these connections require a slowing down, and a slower, more considered pace.


  • Well to begin, scale the levels of communication. Go from tweet to DM to commenting to email to Skype voice to Skype video to flying them over and shaking their hands. I think that each level is worth 10 of the below level — so a phone call is worth 10 emails, in terms of connecting you.
  • Get on the phone, Skype or meet. Text pales in comparison when trying to convey personality.
  • Give it time. I don’t mean laze around. I mean give time to the relationship: frequently talk and talk for a while. Take time to talk, even if it’s just ‘talking’. Slow down. At the same time, keep the frequency up. The people that I collaborate at the highest level with, I talk with daily.
  • Openness. Authenticity. This means not only being open enough to share your life, but open enough to receive life from others.

I’ve been thinking about this blog recently, and realising all the more that I what I want to foster are connections with people, with whom together we can achieve great things that make a great difference. I’m ready to do the above with you guys — let’s talk.

Actionable Summary

  • Social Networking has created faux friendships — where there is no exchange of life.
  • To achieve greatness, you must cultivate connections.
  • In this fast paced Social Media industry, real connections are slow and steady to counteract the fast and fragile.

Leading Questions

  • How do you marry the above with getting your message out there to help people? Or is this just a layer of vanity?
  • How do you treat comments? As a place to discuss, or a place to get praise from people?
  • Social Media is fast — too fast for comprehension — as evidenced by the amount of crap out there. How are you slowing down?

Archived Comments

  • Martin Howitt

    The idea of a “friend” on a social networking site is a very Gen Y thing, I think. As a gen X person, the first time someone added me as a “friend” on facebook I asked myself “do I know this person?”. Since the answer was no, I didn’t accept their friend request.

    So I’m curious. Why did you accept them as a friend if you didn’t know them?

    (Another great post BTW, they just keep on coming!)

  • Robin Dickinson

    It’s great to continue this conversation over here, Scott. You’ve taken it to the next level. These are important distinctions you raise – especially in terms of language.


    As technology changes rapidly and behaviors with it, language has been left behind, and is constantly struggling to catch up. So we end up with a mash of new ways, methods & ideas trying to retro-fit a dated lexicon.

    ‘Faux friend’ is an excellent synonym for acquaintance. It’s almost a challenge – “Are you a friend or faux-(friend)? Obviously, the fact that one connects doesn’t mean ‘instant friendship’.

    Using the term ‘friend’ to describe ‘connection’ is just savvy marketing. It’s a way of building motivation *into* the product experience.

    For example, I would be much more motivated to engage in a product that helped me accrue and trophy-display my tally of friends, than I would ‘acquaintances’.

    And when a brand like Facebook, for example, gets so big, we end up with a kind of word-jacking – where now, you write a post that points out the sheer folly of accumulating 1000s of ‘friends’. Obvious at one level, and yet scary at another. Imagine a whole generation coming through, believing that to become a friend, all you do is click and opt-in.

    More doors opening here, Scott.

    Wish I was coming to Like-Minds. Soon.

    Shine on, Robin

  • Scott Gould

    Gen Y do accept people as friends even if they don’t know them – especially when they see status attached to numbers. But it’s also in the Twitter language too – the idea of following and followers and friends when you both follow people. I think what I’m getting at is beyond the language though, and more at how shallow online relationships are. It’s fine if they are shallow, but ppl seem to overestimate how deep they are. And secondly, it means we miss having deep relationships.

  • Scott Gould

    Good points – and yes – savvy marketing does use the language to leverage participation.

    Good point especially on ” Imagine a whole generation coming through, believing that to become a friend, all you do is click and opt-in.”

    This is the key point – if friendship is now opt-in, then let us make a distinction between these valuable, deep connections that we share with people – like you, me, Martin, etc

    Given that Social Media enables us to interact in this amazing away, there is little collaboration over projects. This is what I want to up the level on!