Sunday, June 26, 2011

3 Concepts for Facebook Newbies

I've had a lot of friends who have never done much online beside a little emailing and some modest web surfing sign onto Facebook. Watching their experiences (and fielding their questions) helped me articulate my own thoughts about the social network and the various ways I choose to use or not use it.

If you're new to Facebook, please read on! And if you're not, I invite you to read on also, and let me know via comments if you think I've hit or missed the mark

Concept 1: Welcome to the party

Facebook is a social media platform -- and the operative word is social. Just like any real-world social gathering, your enjoyment depends greatly on your participation. It's all about interaction -- especially conversation.

Your Facebook experience can be very much like your experience at parties and other gatherings.
If you stand in a corner and don't talk to anyone, no one will talk to you. I always know who these people are. They get a Facebook account, don't post anything and then complain "I don't see what all the excitement's about." Well, looking at their news feeds, I don't either.

It's not you, it's me
So interactions important. But what kind? Again, think of what you would do in public. One of my friends (who hates the Internet) rails against Facebook and other social media. "Me! Me! Me!" he storms," It's all about me!"

Well, he has a point. If the only thing you post about is all about you, then that discourages interaction -- just like it does in a real conversation. I've been in situations with such people. I endure their company and their endless litany of accomplishments until I can tactfully excuse myself. Online, it's easier -- I can just defriend them.

So how can I get into the conversation?
I just showed you. The best way is to ask a question. Sharing information about yourself is fine -- it's a great conversation starter.
"I'm really happy that the Shamrocks won last night. How about you?"

"Am I only person who thinks Buster Keaton is hilarious? Just watched 'The General' again. Genius!"

"Where to go for dinner tonight. Thai, or Italian?"
Yes, all of the above statements are technically about you -- your sports team, your favorite comedian, your dinner plans. But there's an opportunity for others to respond, and to add something to the conversation instead of just hitting the "like" button, or saying "Yeah!"

So what kind of party is this?
Some people use Facebook to further an agenda. They share their political positions, their religious convictions, or tout their businesses. There are places for all of that, of course, but it's important to remember the context.

Facebook is like a class reunion, office party, neighborhood gathering, family reunion, Friday night get-together and a special event all rolled into one. You might tell your friends over dinner that your boss is a poopy-head, but you probably wouldn't share that at an office party. Politics might be the key discussion among your family, but maybe not something you share in other gatherings. You may consider your neighbor's avocation silly, and say so to coworkers, but not to your neighbor.

In real life, we can compartmentalize our social groups. What's said in the home can be kept separate from what's said at the office.

But Facebook rolls it all together. And that's an important concept to keep in mind. So that if you say your boss is a poopy-head, all of your family, friends, coworkers, former classmates, fellow church members, and club members will know it -- and potentially all the people they've friended will, too.

Which leads us to concepts two and three:

Concept 2: Pay attention to your privacy settings

Facebook as a company has a goal: to make everyone as connected as possible. I'm not going to go into the nuts and bolts about the privacy settings, as they change frequently, but I will say this: never accept the default settings. They're always set to share as much of your information as possible.

Go into the privacy part of your profile and take a hard look at everything there. What things do you only want friends to see? Friends of friends? Everyone? (and remember everyone can potentially include that creepy guy you avoid at work). Remember to look at the clause about pictures. Unless you say otherwise, your image could show up in an ad on Facebook.

It's usually best to err on the side of caution with privacy.

Concept 3: Assume there is no privacy

This seems to contradict what I just said, but it's a good policy. Remember, Facebook is all about connections. Have you ever told someone something in confidence and they passed it on? In real life, it only impacts one of your social groups. On Facebook, it can affect them all.

Hate your job? Facebook isn't the place to share that information. Even if you have your privacy setting locked down, if you're friends with anyone at work, they know it, too -- and they can pass it on.

Got some images of a wild party? Better have that photo album set for friends only. But if there were other cameras at that party, those partiers might not be so discrete. Pay attention when you get a notice that you've been tagged in a photo -- it might not be a photo you want to be identified in!

Wow. Do I really want to do this?
Sure you do. Any new social situation can be scary, until you get in there and try it.

Just apply the Golden Rule. Post the things you'd like others to post for you to read. Not sure what that is? As you add friends, pay attention to what they post. The items you enjoy reading are the type that your friends would probably like to read from you. Find a certain type of post annoying? Then keep that in mind and try to avoid sending similar posts out yourself.
The bottom line is this: everything you share on Facebook is a reflection on you. What my mom said still holds true. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all (especially about other people).

I've enjoyed my time on Facebook. I've had some great conversations, learned some things, reconnected with old friends, and had some fun along the way.

And now it's your turn.


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