Different social media. Different social circles.

Social media is like life.

We all have many social circles.  Who we are and what we share with family and friends is different than how we act and what we share with neighbours, co-workers or our professional network. There are even differences between people within these broad categories. How you interact with your siblings is likely different than how you interact with your cousins for example.

We interact with people in a variety of social situations. The expectations differ from an office environment and a party. If we go to a restaurant, our choice of companions and our behaviour changes depending upon if we are grabbing a pita or visiting a fine dining establishment.

These differences are natural. They reflect our genuine selves. They help us to successfully navigate our relationships and manage our life.

Too often though we think or talk about social media as if it was a singular noun rather than a plural one. We must resist the temptation to live online differently than we do when dealing with people face to face. Different forms of social media have different audiences with different sets of expectations. That’s not only ok, I suggest that we are best to acknowledge and embrace it. Doing so is the best way to navigate our online lives.

We need to recognize the differences between social media and respect them. Lets look at what that means for a few of the big players.

Facebook

Facebook reflects the safe, comfortable relationships that we have with our families and friends. Just because we know someone online or in the real world, doesn’t automatically make them a candidate to be a Facebook friend. I prefer to keep this space as a place where I am comfortable sharing pictures and stories about my kids and where I can talk about my life without being concerned about how it might reflect on me professionally or by the broader community. These people know me and understand me for who I am.

I try to keep my Facebook friends to people that are family or real life friends. My test is whether I would get together with someone for a beer or a coffee. Would I be comfortable inviting them into my home or visiting their home. Or am I likely to talk to them at a family gathering. I may not do any of these activities regularly with all of my Facebook friends but I must feel its that type of a relationship or has the potential to be. I want them to be comfortable, ongoing relationships that easily move between online and real life.

Just because we know each other from other online activities such as Twitter by itself isn’t enough to become Facebook friends. However, I find that as I get to know more people that I met online that I am comfortable enough with many of them to relate to them in this way.

I find Facebook to be most useful to enhance current friendships and to maintain relationships with people from previous chapters of my life–that I otherwise would no longer have.

LinkedIn

I ran across a post recently that encouraged people to connect with everyone on LinkedIn. The theory was that to expand your business or your career you needed to connect with as many people–read people new to you–as possible.

I think it’s important that your LI connections be people you are truly connected to in real life and that you can get to know their contacts through them. Otherwise, I think it dilutes the power of LinkedIn.

I need to know the people that I am connected to on some level in order to enhance a genuine relationship. In some cases that connection may not be deep but I want to feel that I know the person in order to build or enhance that relationship. Its a slow and long process just as it is in real life or what I’d describe as organic.

Being a member of the same LI group by itself is not enough. I want my online professional network to reflect my real life professional network and I continually try to expand both.

At the same time, I have had good conversations and received great leads from groups. But if the interaction remains casual, I think it’s best to keep the relationship on the level of group members.

Twitter

For me, Twitter is the best social media tool to meet people and initiate relationships. The openness of being able to follow people that you find interesting and for people you don’t know to follow you if they find you interesting encourages new connections. Sharing information about who you are as a person or a professional is an important part of creating new relationships but what you share is and should be different than what you share on Facebook or even LinkedIn. Just as what you would share in a room of strangers or casual acquaintances is different from what you would tell a close friend or family member.

Twitter can ignite relationships that carry over to other forms of social media and real life but there is a time an place to take a relationship to the next level. Move there too soon and you risk damaging the relationship. You must have established some depth to your relationship or have a gut instinct that there is a connection before someone moves to a new social circle.

Reflect your life online

In the end, it comes down to who you are and how you live your life. Some people are open networkers and want to be connected to as many people in as many different ways as possible. But that’s not who I am or how I live my life. For me, that style would not be authentic. I value the quality of a relationship over the quantity of relationships. I believe I have more to gain that way than I risk losing.

Don’t get me wrong though I continually look to expand my social circles especially socially and professionally and I do. I find that my incremental, organic approach helps me to achieve quantity with quality.

I believe that most people are like me in that they have different social circles that they interact with differently and desire different expectations for different circles.

Social media should reflect what’s happening in your real life. Figure out which forms of social media match how you live your life or what you want to achieve in your real world and use them in an appropriate manner.