Managing information and people is not the same thing

Summary : “accept as friend”, “add to your network”, “follow” are concepts that are more and more present in our personal and business lives. That does not come without human issues. One may be interested in the messages, information, signals shared by another person without having a good relationship with this person. Sometimes there’s even no relationship at all. The problem occurs more and for frequently in both the consumer web and enterprise tools where things are even more sensitive. Binding how one manages the information flows he receives and how he manages his relationships with others causes complex and complicated situations that are humanly uncomfortable for people. The solution is simple : splitting both. The good news is that it’s a very actual trend.

I recently wrote on the difference between signals and conversations. It’s not only about words : it’s about the whole approach for people, for the system as long as we admit that conversations is only one way among others to share and transmit information. It gets even more important if we consider that a given person may be more or less comfortable with one or the other and that one or the other will work better in a given context.

A similar issue applies to relationships, contacts, friends etc. Managing what I’ll call relationships is about to become a pain on the consumer web and raises many questions on enterprise internal tools tools.

I won’t mention the wording that can kill the system by itself. It’s the somehow political context of work there’s a big difference between adding someone as a friend or as a contact. Accepting or requesting such a request from one’s manager or staff member is a kind of political and diplomatic decision. It comes even more critical when one has to make such a request, to state a relationship,  to see what someone shares or interact with this person. Add to that the sensed attitude of users saying they don’t have the time (and often not the know-how) to manage as many relationships  even if they need to shortly interact with one or the other to get things done.

It all comes from the confusion between managing one’s information flows and managing one’s contacts. By mixing up diplomacy and efficiency, many social platforms, internal or consumer facing, did not help their users and made themselves touchy to use.


To understand what’s happening, let’s start with consumer web tools.

– someone asks me to become friends on Facebook. Should I accept or not ? This person says interesting things but we’re not what we can call friends So I’ll put him in a given group…but which one. And how will he react when he’ll understand I don’t share as much with him as I do with other contacts we have in common ? Same on linkedin with the opposite situation : this person is a good friend but from a professional standpoint…..I’m doutbful.

– on twitter. My timelime is too busy. Need to clean it cup. Why do I have so many followings ? Because, being polite, I follow my followers. Same for unfollowing. And who’s this boor who does not follow me while I’m following him ?

When I see the headaches some gets with such issues I don’t want to imagine what things may look like in the enterprise world. In fact I know it too much

Understanding what’s happening is easy ; when you can’t manage information without managing the diplomatic (or even affective) relationship you have with the sender, you get into very uncomfortable situations that are humanly complicated, technically complex, which make people step back on social.

If I consider the previous example, Facebook is  a platform that helps to manage relationships rather than information will twitter does the opposite. Even if no magic recipe or policy exists (what matter being to find what works for you), we can make the following analysis :

– on Facebook I say that a relationship exists between us, you say the same and then we become friends. (Everyone having his own definition of what a relationship is…)

– on twitter I follow you because what you say is interesting for me. You follow me for the same reason. If it’s a one way interest (I like what you say but you don’t find what I say worth) it does not make any problem. If both find the other worth ? There’s still no relationship but a reciprocal interest that may ends up with an actual relationship…but not always. This relationship may end up with a personal relationship that will be “stated” on facebook or linkedin.


Bottom line :

– two people can be friends on FB but not follow each other on twitter (Robert is a close friend but he mainly tweets about frog husbandery…what is not my cup of tea)

– one can follow someone on twitter without being followed back. (Alfred teaches me a lot but, according to my own relevancy, I understand he does not want me to show up too often on his timeline and consume too much of his attention).

– two people may have reciprocal interest on twitter without having any relationship (his information his worth but, humanly, we don’t get on with each other).

It’s not that hard…provided tools make it possible and does not force users to manage people and information together.

Fortunately, things seem to be improving over time. Two examples :

– on internal tools I saw with interest a new feature on IBM Connections : users can now follow someone without adding him as a friend, follow a community between requesting for membership…

– same on Facebook since the last announcement. It’s very meaning to see that the problem first became critical in the enterprise world and after on the consumer web. In the same way, more and more users complaining about having to “like” a brand to get information and interact with.

I’m still convinced that, in the knowledge economy, managing information is managing people. Separating the interpersonal and informational side is not going against this principle. It allows more sharpness on the diplomatic, political or affective part of the relationship.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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