Want to avoid being 'unfriended' by your friends on Facebook? Then, just start responding to posts on your wall, researchers say.
Researchers at Arizona State University in the US found that following some simple but unspoken rules, such as responding to messages, avoiding disrespecting people and not posting controversial pictures, can help one stay in friends' good graces on social networking sites.
Study researcher Erin Bryant and her colleague Jennifer Marmo said many of the 'rules' people live by on Facebook are designed to prevent possible awkward situations, LiveScience reported.
It may seem that maintaining a bit of discretion on Facebook is a no-brainer, but in fact, it's these sorts of unspoken rules that make the social world go round, they said.
For their study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the researchers created a focus group of 44 students, aged between 19 and 24, who averaged about 200 friends each on Facebook and spent nearly 40 minutes a day on the site.
The focus groups came up with 36 rules big and small, from 'don't post anything that will hurt a friend's image' to 'monitor your photos to make sure they are flattering'.
'They were very adamant that you needed to wish people happy birthday', Bryant said. 'If it's your close friend, you have to call them or text them, you can't just say it on Facebook. But everyone else, if they're an acquaintance, you should at least say happy birthday on Facebook.'
Next, the researchers created a questionnaire to figure out which of these rules really mattered. They gave that to 801 students, randomly assigning them to think of a real-life Facebook 'close friend', 'casual friend' or 'acquaintance'.
Students who didn't show enough differentiation between these three categories in their friend circle were eliminated, leaving a final sample of 593 students. They then completed the survey about whether each of the 36 focus-group rules would apply to their relationship with the Facebook friend or acquaintance.
Overall, the results revealed that reciprocity was the most important factor for a successful Facebook friendship.
People believe that if you post something on a friend's Facebook profile, a response is expected.
It was also very important to avoid posting anything disrespectful of a Facebook friend and to consider how posts might affect other people's relationships, the researchers found.
They also found that the closer the friend, the more Facebook communication channels were open to them; acquaintances wouldn't use the Facebook chat feature, for example. Acquaintance relationships were understood to be for 'passive Facebook stalking', Bryant said.
'Even though I'm letting you see these things [on my profile], I don't expect you to suddenly try to IM me on Facebook," she said. 'It creeps me out if you come post on my wall'.