I’ve unfriended people on Facebook. I’ve most assuredly been unfriended on there. Now here’s some research on why all this happens.

Ten years ago, no one knew what the concept of “un-friending” someone was, save for possibly not calling them or texting them back. Now it’s a fairly common part of the linguistic world in which we live, and it happens quite frequently: some numbers are in the 70s in terms of percentage of people who have un-friended another on Facebook. I’ve definitely done it (honestly, probably more than 10 times). I’ve definitely been un-friended (Hee-bus, probably north of 20 times). I had a rough period with Facebook and being a little too real about some of the dumber posts in 2010 or so; that patch cost me a good deal of connections, for sure. That said, I’ve also thought about quitting the site a number of times; I’ve never actually followed through on that whatsoever. (It’s likely because of FOMO, or fear of missing out.)

There’s been research on this. Some of the initial notable stuff came from the University of Colorado — that’s also mentioned in the video above — and basically outlined four major reasons for de-friending/un-friending: (1) frequent or unimportant posts; (2) polarizing posts (religion/politics); (3) inappropriate posts (sexism/racism); and (4) everyday life posts (eating habits/spouse shout-outs, etc.). That was the 1-4 order of why people un-friend/de-friend. That all makes sense. In the 12 or so cases where I’ve un-friended someone, I’d say 9-10 of them come from Category 1: frequent or unimportant posts, which is often like “everyday life posts” (sadly, everyday life is not always that interesting). I post once-twice a day now because of this blog, and I even am starting to think that’s too much; I might cut down to 3-5 times a week, total. Less people would see some posts, but I think there might be more resonance. I’m not entirely sure.

There’s more on follow-up studies to the original one in The Atlantic, and here’s the new findings:

“The results show that survey respondents who unfriended high school friend types indicated that the person they unfriended posted statistically significantly more often about polarizing topics and frequent/unimportant topics than friends who were not from high school,” Sibona wrote in the study, recently presented at the Hawaii International Conference on System Science.

Work friends, meanwhile, were more likely to be unfriended for their real-life behaviors. (However, perhaps the high-school friends would have had just as many opportunities to be annoying in person, if they didn’t all live in Toledo.)

“The general term of friend on social networking sites can be misleading because a given dyad does not always represent friendship in the common sense,” Sibona concludes.

Indeed, as this and other studies show, “friend,” in the Facebook sense, represents people who say things we want to hear, for as long as we wish to hear them.

This rolls up with the idea that your social life is essentially akin to an onion; sometimes you shed layers for other layers, and that can happen far more readily in a social space. I’ve said this in a couple of different posts that I’ve written: I honestly think people go to Facebook for life updates (marriages/babies/etc.), photos of their friends/themselves, and maybe for networking/cool stories/links/to voice their opinion (although that latter category can be tough in terms of possibly being un-friended). This is all adding up to why it’s becoming harder for brands to have resonance in that space. For Facebook to stay super relevant, it needs to (a) expand its user base, not losing any of its current number and (b) figure out how to make money off its current users. It’s doing the latter with solid mobile success, but it may have a problem with the former — if teenagers find it less cool and don’t join in droves, or if brands dominate the NewsFeeds and drive people away, or if more people are doing the four things above as the years go by. If Facebook, essentially, becomes boring — then it starts losing money. When the four activities above happen, it’s boring. That’s why those things lead to un-friending/de-friending. It all makes sense — but what it all means for the future of the service is interesting.

Ted Bauer