Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking with a professional face – 2: access and visibility issues in social profiles on Facebook

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 1, 2011

This is my second posting in a series on social networking with a professional face (see Part 1: starting a new series.) As I said in Part 1, my intent is to cover the high points of this general topic, and with particular focus on some of the more important areas that are frequently overlooked. I begin that with this posting where I will look into the closely related issues of access, visibility and personal privacy, and how you can manage them through the systems of personal privacy settings that most social networking sites provide. I add that this posting is taken more or less directly from a white paper I prepared for a client, in working with their clients, and I offer it here with their approval.

When people think about managing their social networking they generally focus on two areas:

• Who they directly connect and network with, and
• The message content that they offer through their online profiles, Facebook walls and so on.

These are very important but there is another area of importance that should also be included here:

• Managing privacy and visibility for resources offered online.

This includes obvious online resources and connection points such as your LinkedIn profile and Facebook page but as online forums, channels and options expand and evolve in capabilities, this has become a progressively more complex set of issues.

I am going to offer some specific suggestions here for managing your Facebook and LinkedIn online presence, and note here that the basic approach I suggest here would apply to other social networking sites and to social media sites in general where you offer information online and to the community.

Facebook offers a range of options for managing public visibility of your page and information, available from you on their site. Click to Privacy Settings under Account in the upper right corner of the Facebook template after logging into your account to manage this. The major headings that come up are:

• Your status, photos and postings.
• Bio and favorite quotes.
• Family and relationships.
• Photos and videos you’re tagged in.
• Religious and political views.
• Birthday.
• Permission to comment on your posts.
• Places you check into.
• Contact information.

The general setting options you can select from in managing what is visible to and to who are:

• Everyone.
• Friends of friends.
• Friends only.
• Other (where this can mean setting to block a specific type of content from view by anyone other than yourself and when you are reviewing your profile settings.)

“Everyone” is only limited by the scale and scope of the universe and would include anyone and everyone who would look you up and for any reason. This includes potential hiring managers and others who you would connect with on a professional level – and who will look you up online as part of their routine due diligence when reviewing job candidates or considering promotions. Do you want to include details that might appear on your Facebook page that purport to present your religious or political views, as professionally representing you? If not you may want to limit visibility for this area to “Friends of friends” or even just to “Friends.”

Depending on your networking objectives and priorities, most any area you could cover in the first set of bullet points might be set to any of the various privacy/visibility settings offered, including “Other” which allows for setting some areas within a larger bullet point category one way, and other areas a different way as to visibility and access.

The one top level content area in the above list that does not divide into multiple subcategories is also the one section that I would always recommend you not show, and even to “Friends” – your birthday. And this is a very important point for several reasons. First, showing your birthday looks to be completely innocuous – simply a way to help friends know when to send e-cards and well wishes. But this is also information that can materially help identity thieves as they collect personal information. Watch closely what contact information you offer about yourself and to whom and limit access to personally identifiable information such as your birthday. There is a reason why Facebook has set this single data point up as its own top level privacy setting category.

Basically, my goal here is not to go through every option and setting, but rather to provoke you to think about what you post and who you want to have viewing it, and with what objectives – social or professional, friends-only or community-wide.

I will finish this note by briefly discussing one more of the top category privacy setting areas from the above list: “Photos and videos you’re tagged in.” And I bring this up to point out how our online presence does not just come from our own online submissions, postings and updates. It also comes from and is found in search in the content that others post about us. This includes plain, ordinary text entries, but it also includes photos and video clips and especially where they are tagged with our names. So managing our online presence and making it work for us professionally means keeping up on what others post about us too – and their tagged photos definitely count here.

My next note on managing social networking visibility and privacy will turn to LinkedIn and managing privacy and visibility in what you post to your social networking profile there – and for who gets to see what of that.

I add that my next posting in this series will include material from that white paper and focus on LinkedIn too. I will then look into issues of networking strategy and social media profile content – areas I cited above but held off on for this memo and posting.

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