Friend or friend icon?

We have recently seen a dramatic shift in the definition and responsibilities of friendship. According to Time Out Chicago, we are more likely to call people our friends without really defining them as real friends. Some sites like Facebook and Twitter have made friendship equivalent to replying to a status update.  And even Dentyne is telling us to how to treat our friends:

But, in an era where online social networking is the norm, how do we find the set of people who’s opinions we trust the most? And how does this effect what we buy?

Well, there is a fair amount of research on the subject of online word of mouth referrals amongst friends and it all centers around two things: 1.) A referral by a past customer is one of the most trusted pieces of online communication and 2.) The Dunbar Number. According to this concept, a human being can sustain relationships and communicate with about 150 people. Ironically, this is the average number of friends users have on Facebook. These 150 people make up a person’s referral circle, the people we receive information from (commercial or otherwise). Yet only 26% of these 150 will actually be called ‘real friends’ according to the aforementioned article in Time Out.

So, do we only trust these 39 people who we call our ‘real friends’? Well, a local artist/teacher, Maria Scapelli, might be able to shed some light on that with a project  called Peoplescape 365. Essentially, Scapelli set out on a mission to make one new friend a day for a year either online or offline. Her topline conclusions: 1.) she only kept about 10% as ‘real friends’ 2.) almost all of these people she met in person. So, based on these loose numbers, we might be able to say a person is only able to maintain about 30-40 real friendships and that these relationships are mainly forged by face-to-face contact.

Does that mean we don’t trust the remaining 110 people in our social circle when they say a Samsung TV is a great purchase or buy a book recommend by Legend457 online? No, of course not. But when it comes to making a brand something we love to a point of passionate irrationality (see Lovemarks), one might assume we have to talk to these 30-40 people (among other things). If we don’t, we are simply just providing purchasing descisions not life long loves.