Why Facebook wants you to have 100,000 friends

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says the company looks forward to you having "80,000 friends...100,000 friends." That couldn't have anything to do with advertising, could it?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

How many of you weep into your downy pillows because Facebook limits you to 5,000 friends?

After all, you know that pretty much everyone you come into contact with loves you with truth, madness, and untold depth. Even the lovers you mistreat want to hang on your every happening.

You will feel giddy, then, that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wants to help you and your unparalleled loveliness. In an interview with Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, Ms. Sandberg promised an era of extended familiarity.

Speaking of the 5,000-friend limit and the need to expand it, she said: "I'm not going to give you a specific date, but I will reinforce the message that this is coming, and more importantly tell you why we think this is important. Because you have these friend requests, because people genuinely want to hear from you and genuinely want to connect with you...We look forward to you having 80,000 friends...100,000 friends."

Perhaps I could unblur the lines a little? Ms. Sandberg genuinely needs the social network to make money and genuinely thinks that you could make it happen.

The people Facebook needs to convince--clients and their ad agencies--have always succumbed to the lure of numbers. The bigger the number, the more attractive it seems to be. So please hold my hand--don't squeeze, now--and enter Facebook Futureworld just for an instant.

Facebook finds a way for people to surround themselves with their most beloved 100,000. Then it wanders along to ad agencies and offers parcels of, oh, let's call it psychographic engagement media. (It's my job to make things up.)

The Facebook sales chappie or chapess says to the agency: "Now look, here we have 100,000 folks who all stem from your perfect target. And we mean perfect: 28 years old, male. With income more disposable than paper bags and an education more essential than cloth napkins at a dinner party."

Now perhaps the Facebook sales folks have identified another 10, 20, perhaps 100 immensely connected people in the same target. Before your lo can beget a behold, we're talking millions. Yes, nice, big numbers.

You'll be thinking that there must be a twist. Well, I have one here. (Again, it's my job to make things up.) Those who have amassed 100,000 human beings on their online fireside rug can, genuinely, be offered significant incentives to push products to their 100,000 nearest and dearest.

It's that numbers thing again. There's safety in them. And, you know, there's some sense of bigness. You think that Facebookers wouldn't do it? Oh, I suspect that when we start operating with a little scale, their venal tendencies might burst through like a conference attendee espying a free buffet.

I only make all of this up because there hasn't been too much synergy yet between Facebook and ad agencies. It isn't just the absurd defriending of Burger King's brilliant Whopper sacrifice promotion. Someone at a very important ad agency recently told me of a meeting with a Facebook sales chappie.

The agency was interested in finding new and creative ways to use the site on behalf of its very big clients. The sales chappie, according to the agency folks (who, in this instance, I trust, respect, know and, strangely, like), had his mind set on selling a specific space on a specific page. Almost as if he was selling magazine space to Prada. And he'd flown in specially for the meeting from another city, another temperature altogether, far, far away.

The impression left was that Facebook wants to sell a little like old-fashioned media has always tended to sell: mechanically, by numbers.

Facebook's achievements are already immense. But it is extremely difficult for all concerned to get their crania around selling ads on a site where those who use it don't actually want or need to see ads. A site where they go, in many ways, to actively get away from the commercial world in order to focus on their own vast personal wants and needs. (Disclosure: I often include ideas for using Facebook as part of my client presentations. It is not a simple thing.)

But Ms. Sandberg made an even more important statement in her interview with TechCrunch: "We really believe in enabling people to be their authentic selves on the Web."

So just imagine if she can persuade you to sell to 100,000 people while being your authentic self. Powerful, no? Genuinely.