Although it's an easy way to stay connected, it is possible to misuse Facebook, and possibly end up offending or alienating your pals. And unlike real-life friendships, which include face time that can mitigate the damage caused by misunderstandings or disagreements, the cyber setting allows bad feelings to fester if left unchecked.
The good news? Being a good Facebook friend isn't vastly different from being a good real-life friend. "Be considerate, courteous, kind and think about how your actions affect the other person," says Toronto-based etiquette expert Louise Fox.
According to Facebook, most of us average 130 Facebook friends. Here are our 10 top ways to nurture those relationships with ease and élan.
1. Update your status regularly, but not constantly
Once a day is good. You may find your Facebook friends tuning you out if you clog up their newsfeeds with a running ticker of feats like these:
"Holy smokes! Ran into traffic on the 401!"
"That bagel had a smidge of cream cheese! Why so stingy?!"
"60 minutes cardio, 20 upper body!"
2. Post funny, clever or interesting status updates
Just as you'll bore your Facebook friends with by-the-hour status updates, prosaic comments no one understands, or a running litany of what’s on your plate are similarly alienating.
"Be selective. Most people don't care that you just ate a ham sandwich," notes Fox.
3. Comment on, or "like" your Facebook friends' status.
It's an easy way to say, "Hi!" and it shows that you are interested in and care about what your friends are up to.
4. Respond to messages that your Facebook friends send you.
A good Facebook friend responds to messages. If you don't anticipate yourself communicating with someone, don't "friend" them. "You don’t have to accept every friendship request, particularly when the person isn't a friend in the first place. Nor do you owe them an explanation," says Fox.
Better to click "ignore" than to make a Facebook friend whose messages you'll ignore.
Page 1 of 3 - Learn why you should comment on friends' photos on page 2
5. Post interesting photos, videos and articles
Post stuff you think your Facebook friends will find interesting or thought provoking (be careful with controversial topics, though).
It's not unlike sharing that fave magazine when you're done with it, or phoning your friend to tell her she has to TURN ON THE TV RIGHT NOW! to catch a crazy "American Idol" audition. Use posts to stay engaged and share common interests, even when life's too busy to let you catch up over coffee.
6. Comment on your Facebook friends' photos
Friendships are about interaction, so comment. But watch your tone. "Attempts at humour, sarcasm, wit or irony aren't always obvious to the receiver, who may interpret them as criticism. Remember: the vocal and facial cues that let others know you're joking, aren't there," says Fox. (That's where emoticons come in very handy.)
7. Don't post unflattering photos of your Facebook friends
It's a no-brainer. No one wants to look bad, and in a world where potential employers can Google or Facebook job candidates, the wrong photo of your friend passed out drunk on a deck chair or making stupid gestures could cost them a job or embarrass them in front of their other friends or family.
"Think twice before posting something that may reflect badly on your friend. If in doubt, always ask permission," says Fox.
8. Don't wall-post when you should be messaging
"I don't like when couples post personal messages on each other's walls – they should message each other privately," says one skeeved-out Facebook user. Your Facebook friends really don't care about – or want to be privy to – the fact that you and Monkey Bear have a night of passion planned once he gets through that horrible highway traffic.
Page 2 of 3 - Find 3 more tips on being a good Facebook friend on page 3.
9. Cool it with the virtual gifts and poke wisely.
"Keep the 'shoes,' 'flowers' and other distractions to a minimum. Not everyone has time to respond to these. Pokes are a quick way to say 'I'm thinking of you' or 'What are you up to?' but shouldn't take the place of a real response or message. Don't overuse them," advises Fox.
10. Know when real-life friendship is most appropriate.
"Most thank yous are more meaningful if done on the phone or, even better, by a handwritten note. Reprimands, break ups, criticisms, evaluations and discussions of a personal nature are best done in person so that misunderstandings, if they occur, can be discussed. Some things are better not put into writing," says Fox.
And when it comes to the big three: Births, deaths and weddings, turn off your laptop and buy a card, write a note or send flowers.
A good friend knows when Facebook isn't enough.
Page 3 of 3