A recent conversation on the Higher Logic Users Group (HUG) centered on the concept of connecting - the equivalent of "friending" on Facebook or connecting on LinkedIn - on private community platforms. In short, people were expressing their opinions on whether or not there was strategic value around members connecting with each other as contacts in addition to participating in discussions. While there's no doubt that members see value in private community platforms in terms of being a place to share or look for resources, or ask/answer questions, some feel that "friending" is something that is best left for Facebook.
I would say that there is a lot of value in members being able to add contacts within a private community platform. Especially in this day and age of online privacy concerns, the ability to limit who has access to contact information is an important benefit. "Friending" by adding other members as contacts within a private community platform allows users to create customized, private Rolodexes that will be perpetually updated and also gives users the ability to customize who sees what contact information about them within the platform.
For instance, I have the ability to specify which pieces of my contact information - email, address, phone number, etc. - can be seen by the public, all community members and then only people with whom I'm connected. So while I might be fine sharing my name and workplace with all members, I can set it so that only my contacts have access to my email and phone number. This is not only a valuable privacy control for users, but an incentive for people to want to make those connections and build up their own personal industry contact list.
From a community management perspective, how you set the defaults of the privacy settings is important. If you make everything available to all members, then you're making some pretty strong assumptions with respect to how your members feel about their privacy. If you make some less useful things available to all members while keeping the more useful things such as email and phone number restricted to only people who you have accepted a friend request from, then it provides an incentive for people to accept/decline - and more importantly, send - these contact requests. It should be a key part of your engagement strategy.
Also, if your private community platform is integrated with LinkedIn, it allows your members to leverage the connections they have already created in LinkedIn but within the context, and confines, of your community. For instance, you could allow users to match all their LinkedIn connections with the connections in your database and subsequently generate a connection request in your network.
Notwithstanding all the above, there are other really creative things you can do with friend requests. See the example I wrote about earlier with respect to using QR code generated friend requests at in-person meetings as an example.
Do you have any other examples of innovative ways to leverage friend requests?