Followers, Friends, Fans — who’s who?

Sometimes things happen in life that make you stop and take stock of who your “real” friends are. Like when I feel anxious and I call my friends to give me some moral support. If I need a hand with a ride somewhere for the kids, I call on my local parent crew. If I want to vent about the latest parenting issue, I might post on Facebook and get some reactions from my contacts around the world.

Robin Dunbar, a University of Oxford anthropologist and psychologist, studied social networks and brains, and proposed that people can typically handle a certain sized social network, ranging from five people you would consider “confidants” to about 150 that may be in your “social group”. Subsets of “friends” and “close friends” exist in between.

But how do social media networks change that picture? I have 777 Twitter followers and 4300 Facebook friends, and some of those are connected to my work on Screenagers. My daughter Tessa counts about 1000 among her followers on Instagram. There are apps you can get to boost your Instagram follower numbers and increase your Facebook “likes”. So, just how important are these numbers? And how significant are these connections?

This brings up some questions to consider with your family this week:

  • How many of the friends in your favorite social media app are the same friends you see regularly in person?
  • How do you decide what to share with online friends vs. in-person friends?
  • Does social media help you have more friends you care about? Who care about you?
  • Do you spend more time with in-person friends or online friends?
  • When you watch a funny YouTube video, do you laugh as hard when you see it alone as you do when you watch it with friends?
  • Do you have a Snapchat streak going? If so, tell me about it and what is your relationship with those people you are having a streak with? Really good friends? Love interests? Casual friends?