Google+: Should You Have A 'Frenemies' Circle?

Google+ could help you keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer, says social media expert. But beware some dangers.

Frank Ohlhorst

July 22, 2011

4 Min Read
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Chinese general and military strategist Sun-tzu was onto something when he opined, "keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer."

Of course, Gen. Sun-Tzu was referring to the art of war and the nature of politics. However, those words still ring true in the business realm, where friendships are made and dissolved on a regular basis and we go to great lengths to protect ourselves from the frenemies that we all seem to have in the modern workplace.

While much can be said about the concept of a frenemy (either an enemy disguised as a friend or a partner who is simultaneously a competitor and rival), common wisdom was to avoid them at all costs. However, as that proves impractical in most cases, the best bet is to keep tabs on those frenemies, just as Gen. Sun-Tzu suggested.

That brings us to one of the most powerful concepts behind Google+ circles. Circles allow users to customize and categorize their friends (acquaintances, contacts, associates, whatever) into groups. Common circles are family, friends, business, neighbors, and so on. What's cool about circles is that you can drag and drop your friends into them very simply, they can "live" in multiple circles, and you have control over what information goes to what circle.

So, here is the kicker: With Google+ is it a good idea to create a frenemies circle, one you can dump those individuals into and keep an eye on their updates, while feeding them the information you choose to?

In an email, social networking expert, Julian Smith, author of the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents, said he has a friend who has created a Google circle category titled with a mild expletive. He said the people in that category "often thank him for being included in his circle but have no idea, which I think is hilarious."

A frenemies circle could become a powerful ally in highly charged, political business environments, giving you an easy way to keep tabs on people you would never friend on Facebook or connect to on LinkedIn. Of course, misinformation and outright deceit are very Machiavellian tactics in the workplace and could easily cost someone a job, but both are commonly used in today's business environment. Google+ just makes it a little easier to automate the process.

Smith said, "One problem with using circles is that it removes the importance of the important social act of 'unfriending.'" On Facebook, unfriending is used to send a clear message to someone that they are no longer a friend or business associate, the electronic equivalent of the act of shunning someone as the Amish do.

However, there is a definite downside, in that if a frenemy discovers he or she is in a frenemies circle (potentially interpreted as the business equivalent of President Nixon's enemies list) it could wreak havoc with one's career. Also, it takes a bit of effort to track frenemies, time that may well be better spent on productive chores.

Smith said, "I think the main problem lies not in the circles but in the naming of them. ... People by nature are non-confrontational and therefore may avoid even a private, negative labeling. As people become more savvy, however, they'll start to do what digital natives do--ignore them. The currency is attention and even putting [frenemies] in any circle is too much."

Nevertheless, frenemies circles are bound to become part of the Google+ nomenclature, and may be a sign of things to come in the world of social networking, where categorizing contacts may have political ramifications. Perhaps the best thing for Google to do would be to make sure everyone knows what circles they are in, preventing users from using questionable tactics in their dealings with others.

However, circles in Google+ still prove to be an interesting concept, foe or friend aside. "The really interesting part is that Google plus puts your friends in circles the same way that you inherently, in your head, put people in circles. That means Google is better at emulating the way we categorize our friends than Facebook. They seem to be paying more attention to what humans enjoy and don't enjoy doing naturally. This might be because they have a better understanding of privacy," said Smith.

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