How to figure out if someone is a friend or acquaintance (a person review of Gini Dietrich)

*Note: there is a short plug for my friend’s book in this. I received a free copy a while back, but I also bought one because it’s great

The prototypical Gini Dietrich mischievous smile
The prototypical Gini Dietrich mischievous smile

You can only have so many friends.

This is one of those problems that we all face… the truth is, of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of connections you have online, how many of them could you possibly be sync’d with on a deeper level? You hit the upper limit pretty quickly, as anyone who’s blogged for personal or professional reasons can attest to.

And even more interesting than that, you don’t necessarily need constant contact to be good friends with someone. It’s not the frequency but the quality of the actual content exchanged between people that builds the relationship.

An acquaintance asks “how can I use you”

Lots of people talk about content and context and all sorts of buzzword-y marketing things, but most seem to get bogged down in basic transactions.

This is true of many of my acquaintances – people ask me all the time to share blog posts, contacts, what they’re working on, etc… and expect that if I liked something in the past that I’ll like whatever else they do. I’m not necessarily judgmental about this, it’s human nature, and I’m always happy to take a look.

But it misses a fundamental point, which is that what makes us of true use to each other is not the exchange of goods or services, it’s the exchange of ideas, of inspiration, of humanity. The content of our lives is the content of our friendships, and when we refuse to carefully consider that content in the bigger picture, we are simply asking for things that don’t mean much.

A friend asks “how can I help you use my skills, experience, ideas”

So all that being said, let me tell you a personal story to illustrate what I think a good friendship looks like.

I met Gini Dietrich a couple of years back through her blog, – at the time I was only somewhat involved in marketing in my professional life, but I knew we were going to get along because she was smart, empathetic, and funny.

Most people I know who are good friends start with the same question: “How can I be of help to you?”

That’s something I caught right away about Gini. She’s genuinely interested in being of use to the people in her personal and professional life.

This is actually a pretty tricky concept – because on the surface “how can you help me” and “how can I help you” seem reciprocal, and transactional in nature. They don’t seem to be about a deeper friendship at all.

In fact, they are completely different questions.

Asking how I can be of use to people (and I do it all the time) is an inspirational level question. Sure, I could help you with something basic like taking your cat skiing, but I’d rather know how I can help you build things that work for you, that make you a better person. (Ok but yeah definitely if you want me to take your cat skiing, that sounds like a blast)

Gini is one of those people who really gets this, and as a consequence we exchange ideas, as she does with quite a few folks, on a semi-regular basis. We’re not in geographical proximity, and I don’t talk to her every week, but she’s a good enough friend that I can’t name an instance where I didn’t sincerely appreciate talking to, sharing info, or connecting with her.

She also understands something I believe in – that anyone can have great or awful ideas. Even the smartest person can say something dumb. And even someone who does dumb things can do or say something smart, too.

So when I heard she was going to publish a marketing book, I was quite curious. Would she be able to replicate what I’d seen on the blog? Would she provide practical, thoughtful advice? Would it be useful?

I was pretty optimistic, and quite happy that the answer to all of those questions was yes.  Her book specifically focuses on communications, branding, and PR, but it’s actually an interesting read for anyone. If you’re curious about how internet trolls work and how to deal with them, for example, it’s a particularly good read. Definitely don’t need to be a communications professional to dig that – though if you’re a student or looking to get into professionals comms / marketing, my friend Dwayne Alicie has a great review of how the book can help.

All that being said, a review of Gini would look something like this:

Friend – y/n…. Yes!

Is honest, thoughtful, experienced, doesn’t take herself too seriously. Knows the difference between good and bad ideas, and that anyone can have them. Is genuine, compassionate, and cares about being a better human and helping others to do the same.


How would you review the people in your life? Do you clearly delineate between friends and acquaintances?


11 thoughts on “How to figure out if someone is a friend or acquaintance (a person review of Gini Dietrich)”

  1. I love this, Joe, and wish I had more time to comment. I’ve often thought of doing a blog post where I let pick a number among my 2000+ FB friends and I do the post about them … because honestly there are people on there (by my choice) who wouldn’t be inclined to take a middle of the night crisis call from me but who I like counting as social media acquaintances but really know nothing about … I need and want to dig deeper to at least know who I am sharing (again by choice) so many details of my life.

    All of that is a long way of saying … there’s a big difference … and it’s easy to spend a lot of time surface-y among the acquaintances while letting the deeper friendships stagnate.

    I think your call about Gini is right-on. And I enjoyed her book too!

    1. I regularly feel the same pull. I think there’s a need for clarity – I would hope that folks who are acquaintances know I still value them, I respect people for lots of reasons and would rather choose to have an honest, casual acquaintance than try to be close friends with too many people at the expense of my brain and heart.

  2. I think a friend defies description – else why would my friend and I rake leaves upon hours, saying nothing perhaps secretly enjoying the perfume of the burning enveloped in the crisp fall air. All the while lying to each other about we wish those darn trees wouldn’t have leaves so we wouldn’t have to rake them. At the same time dreading the moment when, as we must, we come to the last leaf. We’d put our rakes away on the way into the house where burning leaves were replaced by the aroma of coffee and flaming hardwood in the fireplace. We’d sit for hours she and I – the sparks flying up the chimney spoke for us saying all that needed to be said. And tomorrow would be another day!
    Acquaintances are OK I suppose – but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one!

  3. This is such a good question. What would you call us? There is a third category I run into a lot which is, I guess, an aspiring friend. An acquaintance I am fond of but circumstantially have not gotten to know very well.

    1. Caroline! Oh, you are a friend for sure. No question everyone has a different idea in their own head of what it means, but for me personally it’s about the quality of ideas exchanged, and by that measure I couldn’t call you anything other than a friend. If I were to visit Chicago next month, I have no doubt we could get coffee and talk and it wouldn’t be any different than other friendships I have.

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