Friendship Framework

friendship framework - two guys sitting at the water edge

I’ve thought a lot about friends lately. Planning for my wedding last year required consideration about relationships in general. Both in who it was appropriate to invite from our families and in who from my friends it made sense to invite.

One result of moving from Palo Alto, to Boston, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York, and finally Berlin where I live now, is that I have a lot of friends in a lot of cities. Keep in mind some of them have moved elsewhere since I left our mutual stomping ground.

Looking through that list of potential invites the friends at the end of the tail in Boston or New York are very distant. Friends from Palo Alto who didn’t maintain direct contact with me since high school are automatically passive friends. We look at each others family vacation photos. Occasionally share or disagree with points made on social media. We like each others instagram posts. But as time passes, the bonds between lose strength.

People who promised to stay in touch when I moved away, are also the people who stopped showing any indication that I’ve crossed their thoughts since I left.

Not an easy thing to realize. But it makes me more steady in momentum too as we’ll see ahead.

I made a lot of investments in keeping those distant friends by visiting my former residences. This was especially true of New York, and Los Angeles. I didn’t want to let those connections go cold over time. I’ve intentionally avoided this by making trips back to each of my haunts and making an appearance with as many old friends as possible. But as the lists of former places lived gets longer, and the lists of friends gets longer, it becomes less and less realistic to make enough rounds to see everyone. One can’t visit new places if one keeps visiting the same ones over and over.

The other side of this is some people have come to Berlin and visited, others come to europe and don’t tell me, ignoring the fact that it’s relatively easy for me to grab a flight to most cities in the E.U. for the weekend. It hurts to see friends coming, and not even get a note, text, or call. Nothing makes me feel forgotten more than this.

Introducing the Friend Framework

And so when the guest lists were made for our wedding I had to create a framework to help filter out all the names. I thought about not just who I’d seen, but who had made an effort to see me. The ones who somehow communicated before the wedding that they were making an investment in our friendship – thus establishing a two way investment.

Friends who maintained contact exclusively on Facebook didn’t count. I decided that an Internet friendship held very little weight for me. If there weren’t emails, text messages, postcards, or face to face time between us outside of those likes and comments on FB, it just wasn’t a real thing. Even one phone call a year counts for something. If I couldn’t remember the last time someone reached out to me, it was fairly easy to take em off the list. It also elevated my affection for the people who were invited.

Choosing friends who reinvest

The framework made some sense, especially in the context of a wedding invite because it was a two way street, for the wedding and for life. If someone didn’t want to come to the wedding, it showed they didn’t care about seeing what was arguably the most important moment in my life. And afterwards, when choosing which branches of this family/friend tree to continue supporting through investments of time (and money to see them), it only made sense to choose the ones that bear fruit.

Does this mean we’re not friends anymore? No. It just means that I’ve finally given up on using my personal time to see people who as far as I can tell don’t think about me or care fo know me anymore.

Some rules of the framework

Skipping past the wedding itself, I now have a mechanism not only for deciding who to reach out to when I’m making the rounds, I also have a filter for who to follow in social media, who to send cards to when traveling, or for the holidays. Last year I removed 200-300 friends from my facebook account, it wasn’t hard, if I hadn’t communicated with a fb-friend in two years, I unfriended. Facebook’s algorithm had probably already long-ago stopped sharing our posts across boards, recognizing much earlier than I, that these people don’t seem to care for each others content.

Now that I live in europe, I usually have less than two weeks in the US to visit friends each year. After removing any family events, and mandatory things to do in the US (i.e. renewing drivers license) I usually have about 8 days to socialize. I try to give the folks in the places I’m visiting lots of warning when I’m coming so we can plan ahead, but there is admittedly very little time. Making use of my methods in the past I like to try and string together 2-3 friend hangs in a day, if I’m in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, that’s pretty easy to do and a good way to see several people over a short period of time without zipping around too much. But if the schedule doesn’t work, I expect people to come my way, whether I’m in Venice Beach, Williamsburg, or Palo Alto, I just can’t waste my trip driving on freeways because someone doesn’t fully understand the gravity of it being the only chance of the year to see each other. This more than anything else has forcibly reduced the number of people I see with any regularity now.

At first employing these methods felt harsh, but when I looked at it from the reverse, how others had handled their friendship with me, it only seemed fair.

It’s depressing, at first

Only a year or so into this way of choosing who to focus time with, I often get sad. I miss a lot of my friends. I know how easy it would be to just make an effort to reach out to them, but when the opposite of that is the absence of any friendship at all, I feel empowered to focus on the people who are making an effort to be in my life. It’s working too. We’ve made new friends here, and some of our friends from the US and Poland visit, make skype/facetime calls, send postcards, etc. So we have a shorter list, but a stronger purer group.

And so now?

I still intend to reach out to the outer ring of friends who don’t make an active presence in my life. I still let them know when I’m coming to the US. But I know where my focus is, and who I’m planning to see first, most likely we’ve already talked about it a lot before I even got on the plane.

If you’re my friend and your reading this and you feel like you unrightly fell into the wrong side of this equation, I hope you send me a note soon. Or if luck has it, we’ll connect again down the road in one way or another when the time is right.

Who Invented the 30 Day Trial Anyhow?

This morning after posting a tweet, I noticed I had some new followers on Twitter. In this event I normally look at the new followers, decide if I want to follow them or directly message, or ignore completely.

But today the new followers notification sparked a curiosity about my stats in general as a Twitter user.

Ever since reading this post about tools for Social Media Managers I’ve created accounts with those social media account tools, and had a bunch of fun dashboards to look at and gain new insights from on my social media accounts with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and more.

So, today, instead of looking at the new followers I’d gotten I wanted to head over to Sprout Social, one of several social monitoring tools recommended in that post.

What I discovered when getting over to Sprout was, my 30 day free trial with them was over.

Trial is over

It was curious that the trial was already over, because I have probably looked at my Sprout Dashboard 3 times since I started the trial.

After opening the account I got some emails from them with customer success managers offering to help me and nudging me to learn more about their tool.

Your New Sprout Social Trial Getting Started tomhillard Gmail

I declined the help, maybe after finding some useful stuff on my own, I might want a more thorough introduction was my thinking. Also, when I started the account it took 2–3 days for my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts that I connected to be analyzed. This waiting step is a big obstacle in gaining new users. I believe people have an expectation to be excited about a product when they start it. At least, in the generalist pool that’s the case. Specialists know better and probably already have much more information about what to expect when they get started with a new product. But for a guy like me who has had no recommendations to use this Sprout dashboard except from a blog post, I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I really want to wait three days to start using it. But I did anyways.

After three days, there really wasn’t much data to look at. I know I’m not the biggest tweeter out there, I only post a photo on Instagram ever week or so, and my facebook is really not a business tool, just friends family, and a photography page, so I don’t have many people liking, commenting, or sharing/retweeting my posts, but really, the data was little or not useful at all. There was a good reason for that though, Sprout like a lot of these social monitoring tools are useful for tracking events in time, and changes over time, there isn’t much you can do except get an overview of your follower count, and some demographic data on those followers like the gender breakdown. Honestly I’d explain more about what data they do give you, but I can’t access my account at the moment. (play sad trombone here)

This whole shut out at 30 day trial ending thing really got me thinking. It created a reaction in me.

In the past, this moment of 30-day-trial-ending-before-proper-analysis-is-achieved has just been a turn off. In that case, I walk away, unless one of the many “come back to us” emails I would get down the road was really convincing, I just didn’t bother to look again, I wasn’t terribly informed about the product, but if someone asked I probably say I didn’t find it useful.

If after the ending of a 30 day trial I really believe I might learn something but wasn’t ready to spend money yet, I could use a new email address to make a new trial account. The whole pressure to sign up now or stop, just doesn’t leave a good feeling.

It forces my opinion of the product to be captured at that pay now moment, and asks me to decide.

So naturally since I hadn’t really gotten attached, my decision and forced analysis was, “this product must not be for me because I don’t feel motivated to open my wallet so I can keep using it” when they expect me to.

This paradigm of the free trial customer acquisition is very common in SaaS (software as a service) products. Sampling before buying, goes back to the beginning of time as a business strategy. Think of merchants at a market offering a sample of their food before you go in on a real purchase. But in the modern software online world, somehow, a lot of companies think that 30 days is the typical duration necessary to evaluate a process.

I’ve signed up for so many of those online services with a free trial, I just assume it’s a 30 day trial, I would be really blown away to be told I got anything else at this point. But as SaaS Marketing Strategist Peter Cohen rightfully points out in his article here, there is no magic number, the duration largely depends on the complexity and economics of the product. So why is everybody going the 30 day route? Who invented this? I’ve read dozens of marketing strategy books, and several historical non-fiction novels about the origins of modern salesmanship, I haven’t seen the initial starting point of this concept told. To be safe, I did a Google search, and also posted a question on Quora. Since those are the two lazy ways of researching such a topic and I don’t have a publishers advance to write about about it, that’s probably as far as my search will go for now.

But if there is any return on writing investment I hope to gain from this post, it’s not to discover who the creator of the 30 day product trial, it’s that companies think more carefully about what is required to fully try out and evaluate a product, and offer customers time to reach whatever metric / milestone that is, instead of this totally dumb and non-sensical 30 day period business, it just makes no sense.

In my case with Sprout, I wrote to their sales department, told them I hadn’t had enough time to evaluate the product, and if they would extend my trial I would continue using it and would be more likely to pay for the subscription after having more time.