What Friends are for

It wasn’t until a colleague pointed it out to me that I even realized. At some point last fall, my friends list on Facebook had reached a monumental precipice. I had amassed 999 friends.

“Dude! This is like hitting 100,000 miles on your odometer!” he said. “You have to pick the perfect 1,000th friend—maybe a celebrity—and write about the search.”

Quest stories have always enthralled me. More than what the heroine seeks, it’s what she finds along the way that I find compelling. It reveals something about the subject’s inner character. Just maybe, I thought, this could hold true, even if the subject is me.

So, instead of simply accepting the next friend request that came across my inbox, I decided to be more intentional with this 1,000th friend challenge. Maybe I would learn something about myself.

Coolly smoking a Lark between spellbinding courses of exotic cuisine in some remote locale is how I imagine Anthony Bourdain sitting at the top of my “Famous People I Admire” list. Tony, in my opinion, is the arbiter of all things cool. His back-to-the-basics, brutally honest approach to cooking, eating, writing and traveling in No Reservations mesmerizes me. Would he be my friend? How cool would that be?

A close second on my list was Marc Jacobs.

Like Bourdain, the fashion designer adopts a renegade approach to his craft. When I interned in W’s fashion closet last summer, Jacobs’ collection turned this polka-dot skeptic into a believer.

Of course, one doesn’t simply “friend” a celebrity. They have fan pages.

So I crafted a formal email to the social media contacts for the Travel Channel and Marc Jacobs International.

“A fan page like what Tony has is much better for him,” his rep wrote in response. “It gives public figures more tools to manage their presence, allows some privacy if they want it, and allows an unlimited number of fans.” Marc Jacobs’ team said essentially the same. Both were out of the running.

Maybe I could meet a celebrity in person, I thought, and bypass the social media gatekeepers. I botched my first attempt by getting starstruck by Mignon Faget at the Louisiana State Museum. I completely forgot to ask her about my quest for a 1,000th friend.

Later that same night, as a crowd of fans at The Cove pressed in on Scrubs star Donald Faison and movie actress Elizabeth Banks, I decided to play it cool. This is a willpower-challenging move I had learned working in New York City and had employed in the presence of Zach Galifianakis, Cameron Diaz and Alex Rodriguez. They’re just normal people enjoying a night out. Leave them alone.

I left The Cove no closer to reaching 1,000 friends. Famous People 5, Rebecca 0.

Instead of seeking someone new and famous, what about someone I admire from the past? Mrs. Doucet came to mind first. She was my former English teacher, like Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, only with a cute, shoulder-sweeping haircut, kind brown eyes and blazers free of elbow patches. While she didn’t make me stand on my desk and yawp, she encouraged me to pursue writing as a creative outlet.

Unfortunately, she shares something else with Mr. Keating. Neither is on Facebook.

Surely, Lindsey Frugier must be. She is the market editor for W Magazine for whom I worked last summer. It was a summer of 12- and 13-hour days of looking for a particular white Christian Dior blouse in a closet packed with hundreds of white blouses, eating lunch at 3 p.m. and carrying 70-pound garment bags up and down subway steps to and from photo shoots.

Once I clicked “Add Friend” on her profile, a powerless anticipation set in. Weeks passed without a response. Feeling the burn, I turned to a few prominent Baton Rougeans, the local celebrities and men and women about town who maintain vast friend lists. Surely they could provide much-needed insight into crossing Facebook milestones.

First up was senior associate director for the LSU Athletics Department, Verge Ausberry. Of Ausberry’s 2,747 Facebook friends, he primarily likes to monitor student athletes and keep up with a few of his former classmates from New Iberia Senior High. “I only dabble around on Facebook every now and then,” Ausberry says. “‘Poking’ and all that stuff—I’m not into that.”

Next, I contacted cookbook author Holly Clegg. When her friend-count exceeded the Facebook limit of 5,000, she created a fan page to meet demand.

“‘This many people are interested?’ I thought,” Clegg says. “It’s not a cold business tool. It’s a great PR tool that gives me the opportunity to have personal relationships with a lot more people.”

After consulting with local Facebook pros, I had a better idea for who my 1,000th friend should be: Tom Hallman Jr., senior reporter for The Oregonian. He’s been a Pulitzer Prize finalist twice, won it once, and he inspired me last year as the keynote speaker for a writing conference in New Orleans.

“Point to those moments that highlight humanity—the universality of the human condition,” he told us. “Make your story matter in this moment, and in one hundred years from now.”

I had tears in my eyes. Kind of embarrassing, because I was sitting next to two seasoned Business Report staff writers. Get it together, intern.

Then one day as I was thinking about my quest and what it means to me, there it was. A familiar Facebook message: Friend request accepted. It was Hallman. We had kept up by email since the conference. I had thanked him, and he had responded in kind. “Your thank-you was the nicest thing anyone has written me in years,” he wrote.

Finally it sunk in. I felt relief and joy. I felt affirmation.

What began as a little project to make Mr. or Mrs. 1,000 someone meaningful forced me to contemplate how I use the world’s most popular social media platform. Six months ago, I graduated from LSU and became a community writer for inRegister, covering luncheons, cocktail parties, galas, awards banquets, Mardi Gras balls and the like.

People I meet at these events often want to be Facebook friends. As a young professional, do I want the marketing director for a local organization to see what I did last weekend or who all my friends are—or me without makeup?

Maybe Lindsey Frugier rejecting my friend request wasn’t meant to be hurtful at all. Maybe she just uses Facebook in a different way, and former interns don’t apply. Now, I’m at peace with that.

Holly Clegg posts a picture of her with her daughters or husband every now and then, but mostly she uses Facebook to interact with the large group of eager cooks who devour her recipes and cooking tips. Clegg demonstrates how strong social media management can help a brand flourish.

Regardless of whether one has a product or company to promote, it seems we all represent our own brand of sorts when maintaining our online identity.

Do I want to be more like her and use my profile as a professional tool to market myself? Not likely.

Along the way, this heroine discovered that she’d like her personal Facebook profile to remain that way—personal.