Last week was Mark Twain’s 176th birthday and The Christian Science Monitor ran an article about how Mark Twain would’ve been booted from Facebook for not using his real name, Samuel Clemens. To support this notion, Matthew Shaer, who wrote the article, cites the tale of Salman Rushdie, whose Facebook profile was deactivated as potentially fraudulent, then only reinstated when he used his real name, Ahmed (read more about that story and how Rushdie actually won his battle here).
So what, right? Wrong. Facebook wants us to follow their rules. Facebook is designed so that people can connect to other people, so they want people to use their real names. If you want to plug your business, then you can set up a page for that and use your company name.
Except that Facebook, like many large companies these days, tends to enforce their rules rather arbitrarily and, it seems, only at the top, with people who “count.” So you end up with small business owners who set up personal profiles using their business names and “personalities” who mistakenly think they can become more popular by leveraging the popular “Yellow Pages” method, whereby you use a character like ” ‘ ” at the beginning of your name so that you come up first in search listings.
But random enforcement of the rules isn’t really the issue, is it? I mean, we’ve come to expect that with a vast user database, it’s almost impossible to police certain things across the board, so that Facebook can’t quite keep up with all the “little guys” who break the rules really shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
The issue, at least in my opinion, comes down to the real intent of Facebook. What is Facebook for, other than sucking up a whole lot of time? Frankly, it’s a question I get asked over and over by my clients, who occasionally wonder at the true utility of social media as a viable part of a marketing strategy.
Facebook started out, as we all know, as a way to connect students on a single campus. It’s now evolved into a way to connect people around the world (and, lest we forget, provide valuable marketing data about each and every Facebook user to advertisers so they can make sure they’re selling you exactly the stuff you most want to buy).
I think we’re still supposed to be operating under the illusion that our personal profiles offer us the opportunity to connect with others on a personal level, but let’s pull off the mask for a second and acknowledge that there’s literally no way that one could engage significantly on a personal level with 5,000 people.
So even though I myself am getting dangerously close to hitting my own 5,000 limit on my personal profile and long ago started spilling as much of my professional audience into my business page and personal fan page, I confess that I think the Facebook friend limit on personal pages might be too high. The proportion of folks who befriend me on my personal Facebook profile but don’t actually engage with me once they’ve been approved suggests to me that the 5,000 limit ultimately creates a status game that creates the illusion of success for some, but ultimately, simply doesn’t bear business fruit.
On the other hand, what Facebook does well (and Twitter, to some extent) is to provide access to people one might want to connect with but wouldn’t ordinarily have an easy or direct method for reaching. And while I fully support that notion, and the access it has provided me (and the friendships I’ve cultivated as a result), I imagine in most cases, I could have forged those relationships without the “official” access.
So, if Facebook really wanted us to connect on a personal level via personal profiles and leave professional networking to our professional pages, then yes, I imagine that the enforcement of the “use your real name” rule makes sense to a certain extent, if Facebook enforces that rule across the board. But if Facebook really wanted us to connect on a personal level via personal profiles, then one has to assume that the friend limit would be much lower, since studies show that today, most people have only two close personal friends and a circle of around 150 people in total (and in fact, the average number of friends on Facebook is 130).
According to Psychology Today, anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar suggests that having 150 reciprocal and personal relationships pretty much maxes out our brains. Our neocortexes literally can’t handle more relationships than that. So while you might be able to influence far more than 150 people, creating the kind of relationships Facebook suggests we cultivate on our personal profiles would mean the friend rate ought to be capped closer to 150 or 200. And since Facebook pages offer unlimited space on pages, if you want to engage with that many people, it would seem that the psychological research indicates that we would do better to relegate our “relationship overflow” to pages, rather than personal profiles.
What do you think? Should personal profiles remain totally personal? Would it be useful for Facebook to lower the limit of friends one can have on a personal profile to, say, 200, and to leave anything beyond personal relationships to professional pages?