As it stands today, unfriending or unfollowing someone on one of my social networks seems akin to breaking up with a high school sweetheart. Therefore, I’d like enterprise social networks to enable what I’ll call “provisional following.” In other words, I’d like to be able to specify the how long I’ll follow a person, project or document when I initiate the “follow.” At the end of that time, I’d like to be presented with some options about how to continue the social network connection.
The assumption that I want to be connected to others in my professional network now and forever is just plain wrong. While Google+ Circles, Facebook lists go part of the way toward recognizing this fact of life by letting me group connections and control the way information is shared, I’d like an easy way dissolve social connections.
Here are the ways I would use provisional following. 1. Test drive. I often follow people who post something interesting only to find that this was an isolated phenomenon. At the end of the test drive, let’s say two weeks, the provisional connection would present a choice box asking if I wanted to convert to a permanent follow, continue provisionally, or drop. Cool.
2. Limited interest. Not everyone I work with is permanently useful. For example, a PR rep is someone I might “friend” or “follow” while I’m working on a review, but I don’t necessarily need to be connected beyond the term of the project. On the otherhand, a product manager or engineer IS someone with whom I want a permanent connection.
3. Smarter choices. This is related to the Test Drive. When I formed the core of my professional social networks, I started with people that I really knew, people who actually were my friends. Over time, I’ve moved into a periphery of acquaintances and friends-of-friends. I’d like to be able to provisionally connect to these people to see if there is a professional basis for continuing the connection.
If a provisional follow feature were available, I think it would help me improve the quality and relevance of my social networks. Besides deescalating the drama that is currently associated with severing a social connection, an easily convertible, provisional following feature would give me the power to ensure that my social relations were actually intentional, useful and relevant.