Close-knit circles disappear due to social media expansion

My grandmother sent me a friend request on Facebook recently, but I haven't accepted it yet. I figure I can put off clicking the confirm button until Thanksgiving, when she will inevitably ask why I've ignored her invitation.

My grandmother sent me a friend request on Facebook recently, but I haven't accepted it yet. I figure I can put off clicking the confirm button until Thanksgiving, when she will inevitably ask why I've ignored her invitation.

It's not that I have anything to hide from her on Facebook - no embarrassing photos or profane status updates here. I call my grandparents regularly, so why not open another avenue to stay in touch? To understand my hesitation, I looked back at when I joined Facebook during my freshman orientation in college. Back then, you had to have a university email address to join the site and I used it to connect with other students I met on my campus.

Now, as many people know, Facebook's demographics have evolved beyond the college crowd. In 2011, users aged 35 and older made up 35% of the site's members, the same percentage as 18- to 25-year-olds, according to a survey by CVP Marketing Group. Facebook is also testing technology that would allow children younger than 13 years old to use the site under parental supervision.

I recognize the benefits of having a sprawling social network at my fingertips, but sometimes I miss the small circle I started with. Not only has Facebook grown larger, it's blurred the lines between social groups. My non-digital social life is segmented. I meet my friends at the local bar and my grandparents at the family BBQ. There are times when those groups converge, but I also value separate time with my peers and with my family because we share common experiences.

Logging onto Facebook now is like visiting a grocery store where I could run into anyone, from an awkward acquaintance I've been avoiding to a brand salesman offering samples, and I don't want to hang out there for long.

More often, I find myself turning to smaller social sites such as photo-sharing service Instagram, where I only have 30 connections, or to Pinterest, where my best friend and I created a board to pin our favorite recipes. Of course, Facebook recently purchased Instagram, and Pinterest ended its invite-only policy, so perhaps it's only a matter of time before my grandmother starts following my pins.

With that in mind, it's not enough for a brand that wants to connect with consumers to just have a Facebook page or Twitter handle. Those platforms are important, but when speaking to such a vast audience, a brand's communication could lose some of its impact. If my grandmother and I hear the same packaged message, it isn't personal anymore; it's a billboard, shouting at anyone who will listen. 

Brittaney Kiefer is the corporate reporter for PRWeek. She can be contacted at brittaney.kiefer@prweek.com.

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