Being a Better Friend on Social Networks

December 27th, 2009 § 6 comments

On social networks such as Facebook, your friends and colleagues typically provide you with a vast amount of information about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. You should use this information to be a better friend.

When a friend makes some sort of comment or status update that makes you wonder “What’s wrong?”, “What happened?” or similar questions—don’t ask them that generic question. Take a quick look at their profile and check what they’ve been doing lately: have they been to a wedding? Did a relative fall ill or die? Did they just break up with someone? Did they just get laid off, or get a new job? Spend just a few minutes—literally!—checking in on your friend, use the resources that they have made available to you, and then use what you’ve learned to help your friend. If they’ve just broken up with someone, what’s better for them to hear: “What happened?” or “Hey, I heard you got laid off. Let me know if you want to talk or hang out anytime, my schedule is clear for you and dinner is on me.”? React to the event that happened; don’t just react because an event happened.

Look at this sort of research as the same way you would handle an in-person situation with a friend or co-worker: if one of your co-workers comes into the office and they seem excessively frustrated or angry, do you immediately confront them or ask them what’s wrong? Likely not; you’re more likely to talk to another co-worker first to see if you can find out what’s up. Sometimes, it’s better to learn things indirectly so you can approach a situation more delicately or give someone additional time and space. This works the same online as it does off.

If they didn’t say anything recently that makes it obvious why they’re in such a mood, then go ahead and ask them. But bear in mind that if they haven’t broadcasted the reason before, they might not want to broadcast the reason now, so a private message or email (not an instant message) is probably the best way to ask.

If you care about your friends, it’s worth spending a few more minutes to make sure that they are actually cared for, and not just bombarded with already-answered questions.

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§ 6 Responses to Being a Better Friend on Social Networks"

  • Golden words, these. I had this earlier this year when Mom passed away. It never bothered me too much, except for the part in the back of my mind saying, did you miss the tons of updates that have been going up for months now? But yeah, golden words.

    Now, go and install Subscribe to Comments so we can all be happy.


  • Adam says:

    Done! I think. Is it working? I’m not sure. :P

  • gwen says:

    I disagree. I mean, if there’s the answer *right* before, that’s one thing… but digging around back posts leads to assumptions and possible inaccuracies about what is upsetting me today. And I thoroughly object to people bothering my friends about my status; that’s the way to stir up rumor mills and inaccurate second-hand information.

    Please, just ask me directly. I may respond with a pointer to what is bothering me, but at least I can provide that more quickly than waste your time looking for something that may or may not be there.

  • gwen says:

    Er, meant to also state this, but posted before I did:

    Also, if I am posting that I am unhappy to the internet, I am looking for attention and sympathy on the matter. Asking me about it is a form of sympathy.

  • Adam says:

    I’m not talking about going on a giant hunt through the six months of posts: I’m saying look at the last 2-3 days or so, depending on how frequently someone posts status updates or the equivalent. At the very least, that gives someone enough info to say “Hey, are you still frustrated about your flaky computer today, or is something else wrong?”

    I also think it’s bad form to run around asking everyone if they know what’s wrong with Gwen — but quickly asking one or two people when it’s convenient isn’t the same as rumor-mongering, especially if you ask someone with good judgement, who isn’t going to turn it into rumor-mongering.

  • Adam says:

    Also, gwen — you generally aren’t the sort of person that says something like “Man, today sucks!” and leave it without context. So, you’re already conveying that authoritative information.

    Obviously, in the case of knowing how a specific friend likes to be dealt with: deal with them in that way. :-)

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