Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are you my friend?

By Isabel Smith, Harlequin Editor

OK, I am somewhat anti-social as well as being older than 20something, but that hasn't protected me from getting sucked into a social network!

Here's my etiquette dilemma:

What do you do when you get a "friend" request from someone who you're not sure you know. Yes, you check out their lists of friends & hopefully find people in common that may jog your memory. But what do you do when, in the 'family' of the romance, there are a lot of people who might know of me, just as I might know of them, but we don't actually know each other, have never spoken or met.

Are they my...friend?

When I launched into the uncharted waters of virtual reality, I ran around & made all my friend's children 'friend' me (the 20somethings were everywhere). Then I discovered authors, and found good friends there. But for me there was a delicacy—I felt I had to actually know someone to friend them. I wasn't using the site to do business, reaching out to strangers to expand my circle. I was just trying to find my friends—people I knew, had worked with, had met—virtually or actually.

I tried to always write a message with my friend requests saying Hi, often reintroducing myself and reminding them how we knew each other. That seemed, well, friendly. Like when you see someone at an actual event, you say 'Hello, I'm ... and we know each other from....' Even if you know them well, you still say Hello! And if you don't know them, of course you introduce yourself.

I realize that there are those for which 'size counts' and like counting piles of money, they delight in piling up a virtual world of people who are willing to be a notch in their friend-post. But I'm just not that kind of girl.

So I have actually ignored friend requests when I didn't know for certain that I knew the person personally (sorry), and it makes me feel so ungracious! But all these requests are impersonal—no note, no greeting, just click here so I can add you to my list—I don't even need to say Hello. And there's also no place on the sites to share your philosophy or to alert people of your feelings on friending.

I worry that I might actually know them, that I ought to have remembered them—I've met them at a conference, they're a Harlequin author, I took them out to dinner, they were kind enough to host me at an event, or may have read my blog (thank you!).

But just like at an event, if someone came up to you and said, 'You don't know me, but I'm a fan of your writing/met you briefly @ a conference/heard you speak...& would like to connect' you'd be happy to get to know them. They've reached out, shared something of themselves, we'd found common ground and become new friends, or a friendly acquaintance. Or just a business colleague who chats and hands you their card.

Seems to me the same framework could—should—apply in this virtual world. Friend is a word that means something, and that matters to me.

Many years when I was a 20something my older brother's buddies would complain bitterly that often the girls they were checking out & were interested in wouldn't "put out." My girlfriends noted that that was likely because they weren't "putting in"—actually reaching out & putting themselves on the line.

I'm not comfortable ignoring people, but I do think I am going to maintain the standard. I'm not putting out unless the requester 'puts in.'

Isabel Swift
http://isabelswift.blogspot.com