You may have heard about how more Facebook users are unfriending each other. While some have decided that this is a very unfriendly action, it may suggest that after five years, users are becoming more savvy about how to create, connect and collaborate socially online. A recent study by Pew Research suggests that people are also becoming more savvy about protecting their privacy online.

Relevance is Influence

Back in the day, when Facebook was for college and high school students, a big network was an indication of your popularity. Same was true for Twitter, as celebrities and big brands aimed to gather as many followers as possible in an effort to assert their authority.

A few years later, thanks to more social networking options like LinkedIn, Google +, Pinterest and Path, users are creating relevant networks and becoming more selective about who they share information with. Along the way we've come to learn (hopefully) that it's not about casting a wide net; it's about sharing relevant information and engaging with users to build a loyal network of users. 

It’s no longer practical to follow or friend as many people as they once did, so cutting back is only logical. But a new report also suggests that’s it in an effort to control their online privacy, or what little is left of it.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project's report "Privacy Management on Social Media Sites" shows that a majority of social network site users (58%) restrict access to their profiles and women are significantly more likely to choose private settings.

Women Want More Privacy Online

For awhile now we've been watching social networks evolve. Facebook is no longer a safe haven for teens -- they've moved to Twitter to avoid their parents. Google+ shows a lean toward male users, while Path (which limits users to only 150 friends) and Pinterest attract more women. 

According to Pew's study, women who maintain social media profiles are significantly more likely than men to keep their profiles private. Overall, women were much more conservative in the basic settings they chose; 67% of female profile owners restrict access to friends only compared with 48% of male profile owners. 

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While women may be restricting access more than men, when it comes to age, there wasn't a significant variation. Overall, users across all ages are equally likely to choose a private, semi-private or public setting for their profile. 

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Privacy Plays a Role in Customer Experience

Though the report points out that more women and younger users are un-friending the most, there seems to be no clear indication as to why. However, we do know that more social network users are becoming more proactive about what they post having learned from mistakes about what not to post or what they wished they hadn't. 

Such a study of users' online social behaviors is always interesting, but it shouldn't be analyzed in isolation. The act of pruning one's network is part of the natural evolution of social behavior -- we all do it as we progress through milestones, from graduating high school and college, evolving careers and relationships, to changing locations. Of course, losing touch with a friend wasn't always done online, until now, where it can more easily tracked and documented. 

As well, these results parallel what we're learning in the enterprise. Users want to take more control of their online experiences. Companies are behooved to allow more transparency so it's easy for users to understand what is being shared and why, and the steps they can take to control access.  A need to control one's privacy should not be perceived as counterintuitive to social networking and sharing, but rather as an integral part of the customer experience. Transparency doesn't necessarily mean letting it all hang out -- it means providing clear and concise ways so that user can effectively manage their information.