When people talk about using social media to advance their careers, they’re usually talking about LinkedIn, Twitter, or maybe their blog. But the reality is that more people use Facebook than any other social network, which means that sooner or later, you need a Facebook strategy for your career.
Companies use Facebook pages to harness the power of its network to reach business goals, and individuals can do the same thing: particularly if you’re an author or other recognized expert, you can create a Facebook page for your professional identity, and promote that page just like any other brand presence.
But most of the time we’re on Facebook we are using our personal accounts, so especially if you’re open to friending your colleagues it’s crucial to think about how you’ll manage your personal account in relation to your professional identity. That’s because life on Facebook increasingly spans both the personal and professional. We use Facebook to share our professional news: career accomplishments, job changes, requests for business advice, or posting links to industry-related content. We also use Facebook to share our personal news: stories about the kids, photos of the family, hysterical YouTube cat videos, and political rants.
When these two worlds collide, it can get awkward. Your boss may have second thoughts about your prospects for professional advancement if you like posting late-night ramblings. Your college buddies may simply unfollow you if you keep filling up your Facebook feed with industry updates or plugs for your business. So how do you keep these worlds separate, without cutting yourself off from either the personal or professional benefits of Facebook? Here’s what I recommend:
Use your restricted list. Facebook automatically provides you with a “restricted” list: a list of people you are friends with, but who don’t get to see the content you’re only sharing with (good) friends. This is the answer to managing all those people who send you friend requests you feel like you have to accept (like your boss), but who you don’t actually want to privilege with the intimate details of your day-to-day life. A good rule of thumb is to put anyone you know professionally on your restricted list, so that you don’t share your friend updates with those people. (For step-by-step instructions on how to use the restricted list, see this post.)
Create your own lists. In addition to the broad distinction between friends and the people on your restricted list, you can make lists that include specific people and have specific viewing permissions. I have a small list of people I call my “kid sharing friends”; they’re the only people who see photos or news about my kids, unless it’s a story that I think will be relevant to a wider audience. It’s not that I think my Facebook friends list is full of child predators; I just know that not everybody recognizes how utterly fascinating my children are. You can use the same approach to target other audiences: professional colleagues, co-workers in your company, best girlfriends, or fellow baseball enthusiasts.
Target each post. Whenever you’re posting to Facebook, get into the habit of thinking about who you want to share that content with. Facebook’s posting interface includes a little button right beside the “post” button, where you can choose to share a post with “public,” “friends” (i.e. everyone who isn’t on your restricted list”, “only me” (something you’re just recording for your personal reference). You can also use the “more options” button to choose one of the custom lists you’ve created, or even to name the specific people who should see this particular post. I generally make content “public” when it’s related to my professional interests, so that even people on my restricted list get to see my professional news and insights. The exciting details on what I ate for breakfast or how I am feeling about my hair are limited to my friends.
Classify your colleagues. One of the things that’s tricky about putting all your colleagues on your restricted list is that some of your colleagues are likely personal friends. When you get a friend request from a colleague, think about which category they fall into: someone you don’t want to know better (deny the request, or put them on the restricted list), someone you think of purely as a colleague (restricted list) or someone you are really, really close with (friend list). Just remember that if you haveany co-workers on your un-restricted friend list, you’ll need to picture that person reading every single thing you share — so think twice before posting a gripe about your job.
“View as colleague.” A good way to audit the way your Facebook feed may look to your colleagues is to use Facebook’s “view as” feature. Go to your profile page (by clicking your name in the upper-left corner of your Facebook window) and then choose “view as” (from the menu under the three dots beside the “View Activity Button” at the bottom of your cover image). Choose one person who is on your restricted list, and see what your Facebook profile looks like to that person; do the same thing for someone on your un-restricted friend list. If you’re not comfortable with who is seeing what, tweak the past posts where you’ve over-shared (you can retroactively change the audience for any post, though you can’t ensure it hasn’t already been seen) and be more careful about what you share with which audience in the future.
Set aside times to review your friend requests. One problem with relying on the restricted list is that it makes accepting friend requests a slightly more complicated process. Instead of just accepting a friend request, you have to accept it, and then edit the lists that friend is on (if you’re planning to add someone to your restricted list). So you can’t just accept friend requests as they come in; you’ll need to aside aside some time every week or so when you can review incoming requests and decide who goes on which list.
Tweak your defaults. If you share to Facebook from your phone, check the default privacy settings on your photo uploads. Set the default to the narrowest audience you ever share pictures with; it’s better to accidentally share a post too narrowly than too widely.
Using all of these tactics can ensure you don’t accidentally overshare with colleagues — without denying yourself the pleasure of connecting with them and with your friends. Better yet, once you’ve done a good job of quarantining your personal content on Facebook, you can actually use it to keep in touch with the people you care about, without constantly worrying about the professional impact of each post. When you’re able to use the world’s largest social network for both professional and personal reasons, you’ll rediscover social media at its best: not as a platform for self-promotion, but as a platform for genuine human connection.
Alexandra Samuel is an expert in online engagement and the author of Work Smarter with Social Media (Harvard Business Review Press, May 2015). She previously led social media R&D for the customer intelligence leader Vision Critical (which has worked with some of the companies mentioned in this article).
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