Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 27, 200710:19 PM

The Facebook Undertow - We're All Getting Caught In It

On many instances I've made the argument that online social networks (like Facebook) should mimic real life social networks to get optimal output for individuals. My main contention used to be around the age-old adage of: it's the quality of the connections not the quantity that truly counts.

I'm actually starting to discover that quantity plays a unique factor in online social networks, and it's a new thought (at least to me), that I've titled: The Facebook Undertow.

Here's what happens: in order to truly expand and build your online social network, it must be attractive to the people who you are connecting to. Meaning, if they see no value - beyond being connected to you - what is their impetus to truly connect? For most, they're not just connecting to you, as an individual, they are connecting to your network. This network has to demonstrate a certain level of value and quality beyond being able to "poke" you as freely as they want.

To build this value and quality, the notion of quantity does play a huge factor. "How many people want to be connected to this person?" is a very valid question for someone to ask. Because we're all guilty of letting the quantity factor play a role in who we're connecting to, I'm switching my stance for online social networks to: it's the quality and quantity of your connections that truly count.

I've noticed something rather interesting on my own Facebook profile in the recent weeks. As new people try to connect with me, they're looking at who else I'm connected to, and as that list increases (by both quantity and quality), I'm noticing something new:

Facebook Undertow - where people get sucked in (seduced) by the connections of the network over the individual they're trying to connect to. I also sense that people are looking at my Facebook profile and having a reaction akin to: "well, if so-and-so has accepted him as a 'friend', I should probably do the same."

While this works out fine for me, I find myself getting sucked into the Facebook Undertow as well. I catch myself not just looking at someone's profile, but who their friends are, and if I see value in a connection based not only on the first degree (pixel) of separation, but the second one. It is becoming increasingly influential in my decision to connect (or not).

And that's the sound of the sucking Facebook Undertow. It all seems calm and nice on the surface, but when you take a look at yourself (and who you're connecting to), you notice that the community you are looking to grow is not based off of the people you know and would like a closer connection with, but also to whom that person knows as well.

"It's not about who you know_ it's about who knows you." This may well be an over-used sales quote, but it's becoming the battle cry of hardcore Facebookers as they, themselves, get caught in the Facebook Undertow.

This Blog posting is not a warning to be leery of the Facebook Undertow. The truth is that getting caught up in it has given me a unique Marketing perspective on Facebook and how the general public adds friends or joins groups. There's a subconscious motion towards groups of people versus individuals in online social networks. These individuals build complex and quantity-fueled profiles and groups. They are also developing and nurturing a new Marketing and Communications channel where their own Personal Brand takes center stage and they, themselves, become a media property.

My guess is that the people who get the most out of Facebook from a Marketing and Communications perspective in the near-future, will be the ones who enjoy a nice and steady Facebook Undertow.

By Mitch Joel