This is a corollary to my earlier piece on how to deal with complete strangers on LinkedIn.

“Unfollowing”, “defriending” or “cutting the deadwood”. No matter what you call it, at first, it sounds harsh.  But there’s a place for it all.  If you want a beautiful garden or lawn, you have to take care of it.  Same goes for your social networks.  To get the most value from them, occasionally you’re going to have to prune. Don’t feel guilty: It’s a necessary part of maintaining your social media life.

Be clear: Your social networks should reflect where you are in your life now.  Not where you were way back when you first joined that network.  Me, I joined LinkedIn back in 2004 and Twitter in 2007.  I guarantee you, I had a different focus at both of those points.

A lot happens to our lives and careers in that much time.  It’s only fair to reevaluate.  In fact, go back to the early aughts and you can recall a time when we were all excited to be on social networks.  We accepted connection requests left and right!  Fast forward to today, and I know I’ve become much more discerning who I let in my networks.  And you should be, too.

Why? Because networks are only valuable if they’re built on strong, actual relationships.  Quality trumps quantity any day.

Besides, we’ve all had those moments when a name pops up on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and our reaction is, “Who is that?”  That’s a sign that you should drop that person.

In fact, I believe in what I call the “birthday unfriend” on Facebook: If you show up with a birthday and I say to myself, “Who are you?” that, for me, is a good reason to unfriend you.  Seems like a clear indicator that we don’t have a relationship.

Let’s be fair: The burden of maintaining a relationship goes both ways.  The fact is, if neither of you have put much energy or effort into the relationship, why take up space on each other’s social network?

Also, if you haven’t had any meaningful interaction with a person and then, all of a sudden, you start asking for favors (introductions, endorsements, help getting a job), how can that person comfortably recommend or help you?  And, if too much time has passed, can they represent you well? Doubtful.

Finally–and this goes back to what I said earlier about where you are in your life–the information you get from your network should provide you with some kind of value.  Take a look at your Twitter stream, for example.  There are people I’m sure you followed because you were really into, for example, marketing, music or politics, but now not so much.  Let ’em go, so you can better focus on what you care about now.

Works both ways: If my network isn’t getting enough value from what I’m contributing, drop me. Make room for someone who does.

Networks, especially our professional ones, are meant to reflect our lives as they are or as we hope them to be.  Not as they were.  Makes sure your social networks are up to date and you’ll be more likely to contribute your insights, expertise and passion to them.

That’s the kind of network that enriches everyone.

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Posted by Rob Fields