The prevailing wisdom of our celebritized culture seems to tell us that, when everyone has an opinion about you, you know you've done something right. Facebook is a celebrity, a big star. It's a cultural phenomenon. Everyone has an opinion on Facebook. And just as the tabloids love to talk about celebrities, the Internet loves to talk about Facebook. The chatter about Facebook usually comes from one of two camps, admittedly with some inhabiting the territory in between.
Those Not on Facebook
If this is you, you probably have friends and family telling you daily that you should be, and other friends and family who think you're just fine in holding back the tide. What you should know is that there isn't even a typical Facebook user. Some are on just to be on and see what's all the fuss is about, and don't do anything with it - I actually count these among the "Not on Facebook" camp. Those aren't the ones telling you to get on it. If that is you, I understand your point of view. You're just like my wife, who thinks Facebook is a big waste of time. Offline or online, some people are more social than others, and will regulate their amount of interaction accordingly.
Those on Facebook
The ones telling you to get on Facebook are the social ones, regaling you with stories of finding that old school friend, or chuckling to themselves about that great video of the grandchildren that you never saw. I'm sure that if you're not a particularly social person, that can be mighty annoying. Unfortunately, I plead guilty to being one of those people. We all know that life these days can get very busy, and there are always people in your life that you wish you could spend more time with. I am on Facebook because I know it as a great online way to replicate my offline personality, and therefore spend more "almost-quality-time" with people I care about but often don't have the time to meet.
Isn't Facebook Information Public?
However, I'm going to try not to take sides here, and, in the spirit of trying to write an objective article on something it's very hard to be objective about, I will start by addressing a few common misconceptions, so that we can at least all get on the same page. Many non-users of Facebook, or even beginner users who are on but not active, are under the impression that by registering for a Facebook account, all a person’s information will be immediately “made public”. In fact, Facebook only shares the information that you tell it to share, which in the case of some personal profiles is nothing other than name. Even among those who share more information, most people on Facebook choose to share that information only within their own network of friends. In other words, anyone who you don’t know well can only see your information if they request to and you give them explicit permission.
Security and Privacy on Facebook
That said, the Facebook naysayers are certainly right about one thing - you should always consider very carefully what you choose to show to the world. It's always a great idea to take a very close look at privacy and application settings of any Internet service before you do too much on that network. The good ones (like AnnTheGran!) are very respectful of that, know how to store your information, and won't do anything with it without your permission. The sneakier ones are the ones you have to watch. If you are thinking of dabbling in Facebook but aren't sure where to start, or even if you're on it but are concered about your privacy, my recommendation is that you set up an account and go immediately to the Settings, so that you can review and choose which information you'd like to share. If you have questions, they have an extensive and searchable Help section. If you're still stuck, you can always ask me using the Comments field below.
A Talented Matchmaker
So, now that we've established that, what is it about Facebook specifically that makes it a mandatory part of the daily routine of over 200 million people? Aren't there other social networks on which you can "replicate" your offline self online"? I think the key to Facebook's current success is that it started with a very simple and very strong value proposition to potential users - to rekindle long-dormant relationships - and made an interface in which it was very easy to do so. As its userbase grew through this simple functionality, it became very good at recognizing relationships between its existing users, that they might not have known even existed. For example, if I live in Mississauga, my friend Pedro lives in Guadalajara, and my friend Kenji lives in Osaka, and I am connected to Pedro through Facebook but I haven't spoken to Kenji in ten years, Facebook looks at my relationship with Pedro and understands that I may very well know Kenji, and so it tries to put us together. If Facebook makes a mistake and I don't know Kenji, I ignore the attempt to connect and Kenji is none the wiser. But if Facebook is right, and I end up re-connecting with an old friend, Facebook looks like a genius, and has earned my gratitude.
Making You a Better Friend
Now that Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds, this little trick applies now not only to connecting people but to connecting the important moments in people's lives. The Facebook algorithms (programs that analyze information and figure out what is relevant to you) have now evolved to monitor not only which relationships are the most important to you but even to speculate as to which kinds of interactions within those valued relationships (wanting to see photos, attending similar events, supporting the same organizations, etc.) might interest you. Facebook doesn't always get it right, but you sure end up knowing a lot more about those in your world than you did before you found them on Facebook. It could even be argued that, with its ability to help you remember important birthdays and share in important milestones, Facebook makes you a better friend.
Lurking in the Shadows
In one sense, this is all rather elementary, and is no different from what happens when one person facilitates a personal connection between two other people in any social situation, but when it is done digitally and automatically, it dramatically expands your network of people. Now, of course, there are thousands of applications added to the mix that allow you to do everything from send gifts and play online games to share favourite movies and have caricature sketches done of yourself, and this is where it all starts to drift back a little towards being more cautious. There are quite a few unscrupulous application builders on Facebook, whose applications are designed to be fun and to spread quickly for one primary purpose - to get your contact information so they can sell you stuff, or sell your information to someone who wants to sell you stuff. The good news is that Facebook has recently undergone a major overhaul that now allows legitimate organizations a way to connect easily and safely with legitimate users.
Facebook For Business
So, even if you are not the slightest bit interested in the new Facebook on a personal level, if you own a business or are involved with an educational or charitable organization, you owe it to yourself and your employees or volunteers to be aware of the incredible promotional opportunities that exist on it. Many of the recent changes to Facebook revolved around its Pages, which exist for the purpose of promoting organizations like yours. Pages are great because they are viewable by non-users of Facebook and get found by search engines like Google, sometimes above the organization's own web site. The business buzz around Facebook Pages right now reminds me of the early days of the Internet when Google first got into pay-per-click advertising, the system that still allows them to make most of their money. At that time, the possibilities of search weren't well understood by businesses, and so the businesses who did understand it could spend almost no money yet still make a huge impact. I know that's what my company did. If you have a business, Facebook can do for you now what Google did for me then.
How To Promote Your Organization on Facebook
If you're interested in knowing how, I've created a guide that I'm selling through the AnnTheGran store. For those of you with a business or organization to promote, it will be the best $40 you've ever spent. The whole system is based on using the FREE tools already available on the new Facebook. For non-users of Facebook, the good news is that you don't have to be personally active on Facebook to make it work for your business. In fact, you don't even need to be on Facebook to see what a Facebook Page looks like. To give you an example, I've created an actual Facebook Page (click on the link to view it) as a tutorial for the kit, from which I took screenshots I used to make the kit. The best thing about this new opportunity on Facebook is that it works for pretty much any kind or size of business. So, whether you have a small home-based embroidery business or a ball-bearing factory with hundreds of employees, you can reap huge promotional benefits for just a bit of effort and no cost (except the cost of the Guide!). You can view the product page for the Guide here, including some sample pages.
The Bottom Line
Whatever you use it for, the right amount of Facebook time, like anything, is all about how it affects your relationship to those with whom you are connected. I've overheard some people say that they think it's ridiculous that their friends spend a couple hours a day on Facebook and yet they think nothing of spending those same couple hours in front of the television. Like television, Facebook, and the Internet for that matter, can be used for education and enlightment just as it can be used for mindless entertainment and trash. In fact, with the added social element of Facebook, I don't see it as much different than getting a group of guys together to eat nachos, drink beer and watch the big game. Either way, whether it's in front of a screen or not, it's the quality of the time that counts.