Archives for category: social networks

For some reason (an intersection between tech-geek tendencies and narcissism, no doubt), I have been an early adopter when it comes to the self-publishing elements enabled by the Web. I started blogging before the word had been coined, was an early adopter of Twitter (March 2007), Facebook, and more. The advent of the Social Web has been particularly interesting to me. I already had been “public” about my day-to-day life, writing a number of essays for publication on various aspects. But the Social Web (especially Facebook) amped things up and — as it has for many of us — forced the question: How do you present a face that is at once authentic, personal, and professional?

In other words: How do you live in public?

Recent changes announced by Facebook (“top news,” the “ticker,” “timelines”) have people quite worried about their privacy. People are worried about how they will live in public. One of the effects of the new Facebook interface is that more of what we do online is easily accessible (it was always visible, but we could pretend it wasn’t there because it was a bit buried.) Some are threatening to quit Facebook, but with 800 million users it is likely that as many people will quit as actually followed through with their threats to move to Canada if their favored presidential candidate did not win.

No, people will have to come to grips with living in public.

Over the past few years, based on trial and error, I have developed a simple set of rules that help. They are common sense, but they may be useful to you:

  1. Never assume something on a social network is truly “private.”This is the cardinal rule. Many social network services provide privacy controls. Use them, for sure, but assume they will fail. A policy change may invalidate them, the company may get purchased and the new owner will have no obligation to uphold previous privacy deals, or — most likely — you will make a mistake and make something public that you thought would be private.

    It’s like the advice communications professionals give to people when talking to reporters: Never go “off the record.” Sure, maybe you can trust the journalist you are interviewing with, but once something is in his or her notebook (or even just in their head), they might make a mistake later and forget what aspect was private.

    So, what do you do if you simply must (for creative or personal reasons) publish anonymously. It is simple: build an alternate identity and only use that identity in ways that do not connect with your current social networks. (It is easy. First, install a new Web browser that will be your “anonymous only” browser. For instance, if you use Chrome, install Firefox. Using the anonymous-only browser, set up a new email with Gmail. Use that email and the new browser to subscribe to a standalone blogging service that you do not currently use, whether it be Posterous, Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger. Blog to your heart’s content under your alias. Never, ever interact with your anonymous material using your usual browser.)

  2. Get comfortable with your work colleagues knowing you have a life outside of the office.Once you have come to grips with the idea that “privacy” online is an illusion, everything else flows from that. Assume you are always in public. This will drive you insane unless you get over the anxiety. For many people, this anxiety centers around work colleagues. People will think less of me professionally if they see me in nonprofessional settings, people think.

    But, think about it. Do you respect your colleagues (or boss) less, after you see a photo of them bowling? I didn’t think so. Same goes for you. Unless you live a double life (in which case this blog post will not help you), it is important to accept that your work persona will coincide more with your non-work persona.

    This has been happening inexorably in the professional world for years. Yes, social networks have helped it along but it is a trend that goes beyond the computer screen. Some may dislike that you can no longer say, “It’s the weekend. No one needs to know what I do.” However, it is difficult to avoid the fact that this is true.

    What this means in practice is that you will need to get comfortable with the idea that photos of your yoga class may be visible by colleagues. (Don’t like that? See Rule 1).

  3. Choose “iconic” connections and use them as tests.The best way I have found to live with this, and to stay out of trouble, is to create icons. I have three such icons. One is a very straitlaced colleague, one is an older family member, and one is a close friend. It helps if they are Facebook friends.

    Whenever I post something, I do a gut check: What if my icons see it? If I have a problem with that, I do not post. (See Rule 1.)

    This may sound bogus, but it is truly a filter I use. I include emails in this. If I am typing it on my screen, I review it for whether it passes the icon test. I have written and then deleted many, many emails, status updates, blog posts, and chats.

  4. Learn how your sharing works on each network. Review privacy settings regularly. Monitor yourself. It is critical to really understand what you are sharing. Yes, Facebook makes changes (as do other social sharing networks). You must take the time to understand how it works. This may take longer than you wish it would — but it does not take as long as you fear it might. Take five minutes and understand the tools you use.

    Every week or two, you should review your privacy settings. This takes sixty seconds. (On Facebook, go to “Home,” and click the little down arrow in the upper right. Choose “Privacy settings.” It’s all there.)

    Most important, periodically monitor yourself. Facebook allows you to see your profile as others see it. Go to your profile (click your own name) and choose “View as…” on the upper right. Now, type in the name of one of your icons from Rule 3.

    What do you do if you see something you would rather not have available, even after all that care you’ve taken? Simple. See below, Rule 5.

  5. Do not hesitate to delete past information.This last rule is a little controversial. There is an ethos among social network users that once something is published, it should stay published. I completely disagree with that.

    What exists on your profile is a snapshot of you — make sure it is flattering. Delete with impunity.

    There are exceptions to this, but they are up to you. For instance, I am a co-founder of a blog (now a Facebook page) called Rockville Central. It is quasi-journalistic, so we do not delete or alter previous posts except in extreme cases of abuse or profanity. That is part of the deal on that site.

    In general, though, for my own individual accounts, I maintain and curate them so they represent me putting my best foot forward.

How about you? How do you live in public? Do you have a favorite tip?
Share it in the comments!

Facebook has just unveiled a new feature they call “Subscribe.” Essentially, you can now follow people without friending them.

I created this quick screencast to show how it works. It’s totally simple:

On June 28, 2011, Google pleased geeks worldwide by unveiling their third try at social networking: Google+, or G+. While the previous attempts met with at best only mild success (Orkut is popular in Brazil but few other places, and Google Buzz remains a sideline for most), G+ has seen quick adoption and quick praise from the technological elite.

In a Google earnings call yesterday, newly re-installed CEO Larry Page live-G+’ed his remarks, including the nice tidbit that in two weeks G+ has 10 million users, and 1 billion items are being shared per day. (The math here does not exactly hold up: That would mean the average user is sharing 100 times per day. That seems excessive even to me.)

Thanks to my friend Guy Gonzalez, I scored an invite to G+ and have been playing with it for a bit.

In major respects, the functionality of G+ is identical to Facebook, and its layout is identical too. (See the screenshots of my Facebook profile and my G+ profile below, enlarge by clicking.)

G+, click to enlarge

Facebook, click to enlarge

That said, there are some features of G+ that have people jumping up and down with delight. Some of those features are real differences, others are not. (For instance, G+ is much better looking — and cleaner-looking — than Facebook, but I am not sure that is a huge difference, as part of that is just a function of when the look was designed. Facebook could refresh its look and look better than G+.)

In this article I will focus in one one specific feature of G+: Friend Circles.

Circles Make You Feel Private

The most exciting feature of G+ for many people is the ability (the requirement) to put all friends into “Circles.” This encourages you to group your friends in some way that makes sense. The interface is a simple drag and drop to create the Circles.

The first time you share something, you are asked which circles you want to share it with (you can choose “public,” which shares with everyone). That way, the photo of you sporting your new tattoo won’t show up in your boss’s stream unless you want it to.

In subsequent shares, G+ remembers your last setting, but it is very easy to add and remove circles with a mouse click.

This has given G+ users an increased sense of privacy and for the people I have talked to, this has been a huge win for G+.

However, I don’t see this as a Facebook-killer of a feature.

In the first place, it’s easy to accidentally put someone in the wrong circle, or forget who is in the circle, or share with the wrong circle. The heightened sense of privacy may paradoxically encourage unsafe (or stupid) behavior. For instance, imagine if you had “colleagues” and  “collages”  circles. You might accidentally share the scrapbook you made of Justin Bieber photos (“collage”) with your boss (“colleague”). Just having circles does not exempt us from having to take care and exercise judgment.

Furthermore, the idea of segmented friends list is a feature that is already implemented quite robustly in Facebook. It is called “friend lists.” In fact, the feature is more powerful in Facebook becuase I can control my sharing all the way down to the specific individuals irrespective of the lists they may belong to. That means I can share an update with me “family” list but exclude my daughter — so I can plan a surprise birthday party for her.

The difference between G+ and Facebook when it comes to this “segmented sharing” is that in Facebook, the feature is buried in the background.

How To Create And Use Friend Lists In Facebook

In order to use this function, first you need to set up some friend lists. In Facebook, click on “friends” and then in the upper right click “edit friends.” In the friend list that appears, there is a button (again upper right) that says “create a list.” Click it and add the people you want to your new list. I adhere firmly to the policy that all friends must be in some list, even if it is my “npk” (not personally known) list. When I made this move I had about 700 friends and it took about 45 minutes to complete the operation. From that point on it was easy because I decide for all new friends what list they go in.

At a minimum, you may want to set up a “family” list or a “work” list so you can easily exclude these groups from sensitive materials.

Once you have lists set up, it is easy to control who sees what, it just takes a few clicks.

To set a default list that you share with: Go to Account (upper right) and Privacy Settings. Click Customize Settings. You are given a list of possible items to share. Click the grey box to the right of “Posts By Me.” In the drop down menu, choose “Customize,” and THEN in the new drop down menu, choose “Specific People.” Now just start typing the name of the list you want to default to.

To specify who gets to see a particular post: There is a little grey padlock image underneath the box you type your share text in. Click it. You get a drop down that has “customize” as the last option. Choose that. Then a window opens a drop down where you can choose “specific people,” and then type in the list you want to share with.

In the screen shot below, I am sharing something with my Family list, but excluding my daughter. (It is, after all, her birthday coming.)

(Click to enlarge)

The key differences between G+ and Facebook when it comes to friend segmenting are that 1) Facebook has the feature hidden; and 2) G+ requires you to use it.

These are both things that Facebook could change easily — and I expect them to do so.

In later articles, I will look at other aspects of Google+ as I experiment with them. Let me know what questions you have and I will try to answer them.

Last night I had the good fortune (along with Cynthia Cotte Griffiths who recently launched Online and In Person) to attend the first DC-area meetup convened by Facebook + Journalists at American University.

It included a great panel discussion that included friends Mandy Jenkins (social news editor at Huffington Post) and Ian Shapira (enterprise reporter at Washington Post).

l-r: Vadim Lavrusik, Mandy Jenkins, Laura Amico, Bryan Monroe, Ian Shapira

The evening included a great deal of sharing about best practices when it comes to how journalists can (and do) best use Facebook to do their jobs. Facebook’s journalism program manager Vadim Lavrusik gave the opening remarks and to my pleasure gave a shout-out to Rockville Central as a  media organization that had moved entirely to Facebook.

One of the main take aways for the evening, as far as I was concerned, had to do with voice and authenticity.

Ian Shapira, for instance, talked about the need to appear human on Facebook so potential sources will feel more comfortable interacting (he told a story of a potential source who gave him an exclusive interview on a sensitive subject because he contacted them on Facebook and so the subject was able to check him out before responding). Other panelists repeatedly talked about the need to be “real” and “transparent.”

There is an interesting nuts-and-bolts corollary to this idea. Vadim Lavrusik reported on research that Facebook had done that suggests that status updates that get automatically pulled from other applications get 2-3 times fewer interactions than posts that are organically produced within Facebook.

In other words, auto-tweeting, or even pushing your Twitter updates into Facebook, is far less effective than crafting a post designed specifically for each context.

Many blog owners set up plug-ins that will automatically tweet their latest blog post into their stream, and then automatically pull Twitter updates into their Facebook account. This saves time, but it comes at the expense of engagement.

Vadim pointed to New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof as an exemplar of this. He organically uses his Facebook updates almost as a reporter’s notebook, and his voice there is very, very Facebook-ish.

Vadim did not go so far as to compare Kristof’s Twitter and Facebook behavior (I don’t think he mentioned Twitter once, actually, but who can blame him since this was a Facebook event) — but I thought it would be instructive to make the comparison.

Look at this recent post by Kristof in Facebook:


(click to see full size)

In the post, he talks about a nonprofit he recently ran across, describes it briefly, and shares a link.

Here is the same thing in Twitter:


(click for full size)

Much briefer, too the point.

The lesson is that the time saved by auto-linking Facebook and Twitter may come at too great an expense in terms of engagement.

My own strategy is to keep some of the auto-linkages when it comes to my blog posts, but I try to add a great deal more organic updates to my stream (mostly in Facebook, but also in Twitter). The auto-links are there (based on RSS) because I find it useful to have a mechanism to create an “archival” or “official” record in each stream of my work — I often use this as the main post I link back to when I re-share.

If you are a content creator with a blog and working in both Twitter and Facebook, how do you deal with the three worlds?

I am adding some capabilities to my professional offerings that some of my readers may be interested in:

Let Me Help Create Your Online Presence

Today, there is a consensus that there’s a bare minimum amount of online presence that any organization — whether a small business, local nonprofit, or giant enterprise — needs in order to be taken seriously and to grow. That online presence can’t just be a website anymore. It has to be dynamic, changing on a regular basis, and engaging.

That sounds daunting. Especially when you add in all the hoo-hah and cheerleading from “social media experts” who speak enthusiastically about “engagement” and “sharing,” seemingly without a sense that there is actually a business purpose that must be served.

But, it does not have to be overly complex. If you get things set up properly at the outset, it’s quite easy to maintain.

I’ll do that for you.

I can establish your website’s blog, Facebook presence, Twitter presence, and other important social coordinates and integrate them in a way that you can manage them in a sustainable way. They will work together and drive the results that matter to you.

If this is interesting to you, email me at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

Attend My Get-Online Bootcamp

My Mode of Transport by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.

This is a half-day session for people who have no online presence, or who have one but aren’t happy with it — and like to do things themselves and aren’t scared to roll up their sleeves a bit.

At the end of the day, participants will have a fully set-up and calibrated set of online “identities” and will have a clear sense of how to go about using these tools.

This is perfect for small business owners who know they need to “be online” but do not know how to get started.

You could walk in with nothing, and walk out with a complete online presence, tuned to your business goals.

The schedule for this is dependent on interest, but I plan to hold the first this summer.

This is a new offering, so I plan to make the initial bootcamp available at a reduced rate. Please let me know of your interest either in the comments, or by emailing me directly at bradrourke at gmail dot com.


  • Is this something you would be interested in?
  • Is a group setting right, or would one-on-one work better for you?
  • Do you know someone else who could benefit?

Why Am I Doing This?

These kinds of things are exactly the kind of thing people ask me about more and more. They want to know how they can take the next step online, and what they should do when they get there. As it becomes clear to people that they need to have a serious online presence, they feel a sense of urgency. The early adopters have already acted, but now the rest of the world knows they need to jump in.

I know a bit about this — especially when it comes to personal branding and online presence.

I have been innovating online for many years and have solid accomplishments. I’ve been blogging since before the word was coined. I’ve initiated and been architect of a number of online and interactive products such as Everyday Democracy’s Issue Guide Exchange, the launch the Institute for Global Ethics’ renowned Ethics Newsline newsletter (we called it Business Ethics Newsline back then), Rockville Central (a hyperlocal news source and top five local blog in Maryland — which recently made international news by moving to a Facebook-only platform), and more.

Bottom line: I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve learned a lot of lessons.

If you would like to learn more, please get in touch at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

(Boot camp photo credit: Jim Legans, Jr., Flickr)