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How Does Facebook Affect Your REAL LIFE Social Network?

I just had a revelation.

I realized that my network of close personal friendships -- the people my wife and I spend time with in our local community -- has been altered over the years by our exposure on Facebook. I also realized that everybody's network of friends is altered (good or bad) by Facebook, whether you're using the site or not.

Let me explain.

Before you ever used any form of social media... you had a social network.

I am referring to that real life network of friends, family and acquaintances who you try to stay in touch with. This includes the people you spend time with plus people you communicate with via phone, email, snail mail, etc.

With more than 1 billion users, it's no longer an exaggeration to say that Facebook is used by the majority of the people you know. In fact, a Pew Research Center study reported that 67% of American adults who are online use Facebook.

You probably fall into one of the following three groups of people:

  1. Fully-Engaged Facebook Users
    Many people put their lives on Facebook. Fully engaged users share all parts of their lives. They connect with family, they connect with friends, they use it to make professional connections. They also interact with brands as a consumer. Jay Baer points out that for many, the lines have completely blurred between business and personal lives. We no longer have a "personal life." We just have a "life." It's all together in one place through the ways we communicate online.

  2. Partially-Engaged Facebook Users
    Other folks people choose to put PARTS of their lives on Facebook. Some connect with family and friends, but do not make any professional connections. Others do just the opposite.

    In my case, I connect with friends, family and customers. But for reasons I'll explain in #3 below, I post a minimal amount of personal stuff on Facebook.

    But only a fraction of my life is represented by what I put on Facebook. If you look at my Facebook page you see work stuff, a few old vacation pics, home improvement projects without my family in it, and pics of me with friends and extended family who are also on Facebook.

  3. Non-Users
    There are people who are not on Facebook. For some, they may join later, but if you are waiting for ALL of your friends to join Facebook, it isn't going to happen. There is a segment of the population -- I expect it to be 20% -- who will NEVER use Facebook.

    Some choose to stay off of Facebook for professional reasons, others simply aren't interested. But recognize that a segment of your local network of friends will never be on Facebook.

    My wife falls into this category. As a Christian Counselor, it creates challenging situations in her profession to be on Facebook at all. So she stays off, and she asks me to try to keep pictures of her and details about our life off Facebook too.

So what does this mean? How does it affect your "real life" social network?

I see three ways we are all imapacted by Facebook...

  1. You may be missing out on deep friendships if your social plans are made solely on Facebook.
    If you organize an event and invite your Facebook friends, 20% of your friends may never see it. Make sure you figure out a plan to stay connected to friends, family and customers who will never be on Facebook.

  2. If, like me, you only put parts of your life in Facebook, give thought to how that might be misunderstood.
    For me, I show lots of stuff about work, but very little with my family, due to my wife's desire to stay off of Facebook. Does this make me a workaholic? Well, occassionally I am, but this image is definitely exaggerated by the type of content I post (and more importantly, the content I DON'T post) on Facebook.

    Everybody should recognize that there may be more dimensions to some of the friends you connect with than what you see on their Facebook page.

  3. If you aren't on the site at all, that's fine! But you need to be twice as intentional about building offline relationships.
    Remember that Facebook is a convenience for two-thirds of your friends, so they may be prone to overlook you. Reach out to friends and make plans... don't let Facebook make you feel like an outsider.

Are you on Facebook? If so, how have your relationships changed since you started using it?  And if not, have your relationships changed since your friends started using it?

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