If you are one of the many people out there who hate it each time Facebook makes a change to how you view it, each time it violates your privacy or tweaks your settings – brace yourself. Facebook is about to change things up again in a big way with two new iterations of the way you use their service. In a blatant bid to compete with Twitter, Google+ and Google Search, Facebook is introducing changes to the News Feed and adding something called Facebook Graph Search.
Facebook users are already freaking out about the potential privacy issues both changes will bring, and with Facebook’s past history of being cavalier with our privacy I think a healthy dose of pre-emptive adjustment to your settings is completely warranted before each new thing rolls out. Before I dip into settings and privacy issues, however, let’s take a look at how this will change how you see the people and pages (and ads) on Facebook.
Gizmodo did a great write up of the basic changes in the news feed, so I’ll just do a quick recap here. You can read the complete article on Gizmodo. I noticed that their post seems to view the changes in a largely positive light. Each person (and business) uses Facebook in a different way, however. Personally, I’m not looking forward to the categories being split. I prefer to get my updates in one lump feed. Frankly, I’d have been happy if they’d have just let me set my feed to “Most Recent” consistently and called it a day. However, if you are a a visual person you’ll love the huge emphasis on images and videos in each category. If you go to Facebook for music discovery or memes, or to bombard Facebook with baby and vacation photos and not to talk with friends, for example, that change will appeal to you as well; you’ll now be able to simply look at one of the four categories at a time. For the rest of us, having to switch back and forth will create extra clicks – an intentional way to force people to spend more time on Facebook, which in turn will pave the way for an increase in the number of ads you will see in your News Feed.
The biggest shift for people who hate Google+ is going to be how much they copied Google’s 2012 release of a new Google+ interface. Facebook has definitely taken a page from Google’s design book with the new News Feed. If you balk at Twitter, the speed of the News Feed they are introducing will feel quite a bit Twitter-esque to you, and may take some getting used to. If you are one of those people who don’t like sites they view in their browser to work (and look) like an app on their phone or tablet, you may struggle with the new unification in appearance and functionality of Facebook’s Mobile Apps and their web interface. Other than getting used to a new way to find your friends and family and learning where things are in the new categories, in the end the new News Feed is simply a user interface (UI) change designed to make Facebook a more visual and ad-friendly experience. In short, the UI is something you can get used to in time like all of their other many changes.
Privacy and the New News Feed
Privacy on Facebook changes so often I check my privacy settings weekly. Sometimes when Facebook flips a UI switch it changes some of your existing settings – that’s just how Facebook works. It has a long-standing cavalier attitude toward it’s users’ best interests. I recommend going into your privacy settings now if you don’t have the new News Feed yet and locking them down, then doing the same for pictures (yes – photo privacy is in a slightly different place). I also recommend reviewing all of the applications, games and third party services that have access to your account and permission to post on your Timeline and locking those down as well. Then I recommend taking time over the next fews days to adjust the granular settings of your friend’s posts as they scroll by in your existing news feed (you do know you can mute what you see from each individual friend, right? You don’t have to see their game notifications, likes or comments – but that control is up to you, not them). I discussed how to do this ina video here in August 2012, and that advice should be current until the new News Feed is rolled out to all. I’ll make a new video on settings for privacy then.
Let’s Talk About Graph Search
From a real-use standpoint, Facebook’s new Graph Search is underwhelming. Facebook is trying to bring some competition to Google Search, but if you are like me, you search for new things on Google Search, and not things that are connected to your social graph. However, the new Graph Search does make things you find on Facebook more comprehensive. More importantly, Facebook has not abandoned their partnership with Bing. This means that if the location, interest, business, place, photo or whatever you are searching for isn’t on Facebook and a shared interest with someone in (or connected to) your network, you’ll still get the Bing suggested search results popping up.
Graph Search is still in a slow-to-roll-out beta stage. Unlike the change to the News Feed, which will happen rapidly (and soon) for everyone, Graph Search may not flip on for you for a while. Even so, you need to prepare (especially if you are a business). If you upload photos, check their privacy. If you are a business, upload more photos and make them larger and more interesting. If you haven’t added location information to your business page – do so. If you are an individual user, make sure you have your location settings turned off on Facebook browser and mobile interfaces if you want that kept private when you post an update.
Facebook will now allow you to find new people outside of your existing network who share an interest in things you search for, in locations you search for, and will deliver photos as results drawn from your network on topics you search for among other things. One example: you can search for people who have their relationship status set to single in your area and find new people to connect with via Graph Search. This is going to have an interesting impact on how much people share, and could serve to quiet some of the more obnoxious noise from people (and businesses) as users notice how far-reaching their social graph is. If your friends haven’t locked their profiles down as much as you have then how they share, like, and tag information pertinent to you matters more now than ever before. Much of the “creeping” that occurs on Facebook occurs through leaks in profiles that are not connected to you. This means educating the less tech-savvy in your circles about privacy settings (see above).
What About Graph Search and Privacy?
Because Graph Search is designed to unearth shared interests and connect you to like-minded people it will, by its very nature, infringe on privacy a bit. How much is yet to be discovered because it isn’t fully available to the entire user base. I recommend viewing the video above, which tells you how to set some of the more granular controls like how you can (or can’t) be tagged, and turning off the settings for “what your friends can see about you on Facebook” as well as turn off being found in search. There are some potential benefits to people who want to build a larger network of like-minded people, but the main benefit of Graph Search lies in what it can do for businesses.
Businesses should begin prepping their pages now to be more interesting and more shareable to ensure they are showing to all potential connections in the networks of the people who “like” your page. If you don’t want to reveal your love of Glee, bad karaoke, troll pages, political rant pages, vats of wine, or any other information that you felt was heretofore more private to a larger network, comb through your “liked” pages and interests and consider adjusting what you have liked and how much can be shared with friends. Keep in mind – to make all of these adjustments now, before you the News Feed and Graph Search is activated for you, will take the better part of an afternoon. Facebook did away with simple universal privacy settings long ago.
One interesting benefit to businesses about Graph Search for Pages will be their push for better page ranking and more transparent metrics on the ranking of your pages. Double check a few things to improve your rank. First, check your page name and make sure it is not keyword heavy. Next, get a custom Facebook URL. It pains me every time I see a Page that hasn’t bothered to do this simple step. You can do this here. Make sure that all of the sections that allow you to give more information about your Page are filled out. This seems like a no-brainer, but so many businesses don’t bother to fill out their hours of operation, location or even provide a full About section, for example. Take the time – it will help you.
I can’t stress enough to be interesting if you are a business on Facebook. It matters now more than ever to create updates that compel your fans to engage with, and share, what you say. If your Facebook Page is a wall of announcements, heavy-handed sales pitches and general billboarding, the new Graph Search will start to mute how often people see you. It rewards Pages with high user activity and variety of content.
What If You Aren’t Afraid To Play?
If you are one of the early adopter types who just wants to play with all of this yourself, you can request early access to both new features. To request access to the News Feed early you can add your name to this list. If you want early access to Graph Search you can find that waiting list here (Note: that one has a longer wait for many people).
Social Media War Games
The simple fact of Facebook remains: much like War Games, “the only way to win is not to play”, especially if you are a user who wants to maintain a small social footprint behind a curtain of privacy. For many, leaving is not (yet) an option. They are either on Facebook for friends and family they can’t find elsewhere, have a business that needs a Facebook Page to reach new customers, or perhaps work in a field that requires a social presence (the fact that much of life requires a social presence now is worth a post of its own). Revisiting your privacy settings on Facebook (and elsewhere) should become a habit if you plan to stay on the service. In the meantime, explore these two new options and enjoy them – they both have benefits. It’s just a matter of getting used to something new and adjusting to change fluidly.
I didn’t have time to write a post today, finishing the next book is my main focus this afternoon, but I did quickly chat about Pinterest and Google’s new social search. I’m interested in your thoughts:
I have been thinking about Facebook for weeks now. Originally, I began to think about it as it pertained to updating a past popular post of mine with information on the new Community Pages and updates to the logistics of Fan Pages, Profile Pages and Groups. Then this past week Facebook unleashed the dogs of war (at least as far as their basic user base is concerned) with their Instant Personalization, Ubiquitous Like button, and Forced Profile Linking (All related in whole or in part to their Open Graph API). That combination of events has turned this into a very awkward post – I don’t want to do a series of posts on Facebook, but my clients, friends and family are upset and confused by the Facebook UI changes (more so than usual), and there are some big picture implications going on here. I’m going to try to touch on as many issues as I can for you.
First, the fact that Facebook is holding profiles hostage for page linking purposes. This is making many angry (including me, for what it’s worth), and rightly so. They have effectively eliminated your control over your own profile, and the price you pay is a loss of your personalization. You know, that little part of your profile that helps people decide if you really are that chick from 6th grade science class, or if you are a work associate who is interesting enough to have in their stream, or where you can list your undying love of “alt indie grunge cupcakes”, among other things.
How are they holding it hostage? If you didn’t allow them to link to Pages in your personal Info tab when they made the change, you lose your interests, work, education, hometown and current city (you know, all of the criteria people use to find you). Even worse? They’ll still link you to pages of their own choosing, even if you try this trick suggested by Corvida. So far, it also seems you can not delete them from the Info tab interface – only hide them or go to each page and manually leave it. Frustrating and time consuming. (If you are my friend on Facebook, you can see I removed or hid all of my interests and replaced them with a link to the page Facebook Give Us Back Control Of Our Privacy, just to be cheeky.)
Also of interest if you are a business: Facebook isn’t ensuring that it is linking to the correct pages. I have this website, for example, and I’ve had a fan page for a very long time. Instead of linking there in my work section, Facebook is linking to its own new Community Pages feature, even creating a new community page for businesses and things that already have established presences. Some people seem to be able to suggest an URL when it’s incorrect, but I don’t have access to that feature, and neither do many others I’ve asked at this time. If I find a solution to that issue, I’ll update this post with it, as it is happening on my work, education, and other links now, and I see it happening to others. I used Corvida’s trick to avoid being linked, so it brings up the question: Is the URL correction link others see only available to those who give in to Facebook’s forced links to Pages? If you know, comment.
Moving on to the big picture issues surrounding Facebook’s Open Graph API. This particular move by Facebook has gotten the attention of Washington. Specifically, Senator Charles Schumer is questioning the privacy issues surrounding it, which you can read more about in a write up over at Read, Write, Web.
At the crux of the matter is Facebook’s tendency to make everything Opt-In by default, something they have done with nearly ever feature launch since early days (remember Beacon?). What this means to a tech savvy user is simply checking your privacy settings once a week and after every major UI (user interface) change and toggling the switches to off if you want to. No big deal to us. However, it is a huge deal to the less tech savvy user (which are legion), to the young and perhaps under-educated about privacy online, and to the super busy user. By making sure the changes and features are set to “On” by default, Facebook is doing a huge disservice to those who just want to log in and stay connected to friends and family, or do a little basic business. They could solve a lot of their core issues with users by simply defaulting to “Off”, truly. An online privacy bill making the rounds currently aims to force that default, however; it would broaden government’s reach into privacy issues and online commerce in ways that may not be beneficial. I’m currently on the fence on whether or not to support it, but you can read more about the bill’s progress over on Ad Age.
You can read a great tutorial on how to adjust your Facebook privacy settings over on GigaOm in the post “Your Mom’s Guide To Those Facebook Changes, And How To Block Them“.
What the Instant Personalization part of things means is that you can get social sharing plus friend streaming via Facebook all over the web. The trade-offs are related to your personal information and are explained in the articles I’ve linked to in much more detail than I can give space to here. Check them all out, then come back and finish reading.
As a person working in marketing as part of their overall job and a social media geek, I think the idea of social sharing all over the web is a lot of fun. I can attest that social sharing is something I do already using Shareaholic, Delicious, Google Reader, Google Buzz, FriendFeed, Twitter and more (but not often Facebook). From a business standpoint, looking only at reach, social sharing of this Facebook level magnitude can only help you. From a user standpoint, it can be a little creepy. How so? Well, one of the biggest things you can do with the information gleaned from tracking social sharing is serve up appropriate ads to people wherever they are online. As a business, this will save time and money and be more effective as you target only those who are most likely to give a crap about your service or product. As a user, it feels a bit creepy to realize that a random website knows which product you are likely to give a crap about. Add in the terminology (it’s a “Like” button, or perhaps a “Recommend” if the web site owner has taken time to change it at all) and you get some very strange reactions from people. My recommendation for users is to use the Ze Frank recommended tool shown below to take a look at what Facebook is already sharing about you right now, adjust your privacy settings accordingly, go to your profile and make sure you are happy with what you are linked to, and then proceed to “Like” your little heart out once you’ve got your privacy ducks in a row. Just make sure to check the settings again weekly, just in case. Be proactive.
This post has a lot of information to absorb already, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of how Facebook is turning brand ownership on its head – whether it is your “personal brand”, as they say, or your business brand. If you want a quick sketch of one of the many ways this is happening on Facebook, take a look at the new Community Pages.
What these pages do is take topics (any topics) and turn them into a community generated page. The point is to make the topic, brand, person, etc be “community owned”. It’s intended for things like “cooking”, but open to anything people have a mind to add. This is scary for businesses, as these pages can be started by a business, but are not ultimately in the control of the business. They are intended for broader topics (right now) but since any topic can be made a Community Page and anyone can start one (and in fact Facebook used Wikipedia data to start several already), if you are a brand with public perception issues or problems, you could be facing some real heat, and without a traditional Wall interface for uploading content or commenting, no way to fight it on the Community Page itself. You’ll have to up your social media game and come out swinging elsewhere and hope it filters back to the passive areas online like these new Community Pages. Facebook being Facebook, I’m certain that will change at some point to something else, but for now, that’s how it’s been laid out.
With such an overwhelming amount of change happening at Facebook over the last little while, I’m interested in how it’s affecting you or your business. How are you handling it? Are you seeking out people in the social media space to come in and educate your business or school on privacy issues and branding online, on how to deal with the new frontier of connectivity and openness? Have you found a solution to some of the problems mentioned above that you can share in the comments? Let us know!
Let’s play Buzzword Bingo for a moment. The average internet user, logging on to Facebook or Twitter or MySpace to find family and friends, has no idea what “social graph”, “social leverage”, “semantic web”, “online presence”, “social engagement”, etc means in the online world. They are just so many buzzwords floating in the wind. Heck, a lot of self proclaimed social media ‘experts’ don’t know, either – not really. That lack of knowledge are what companies like Facebook who use mining your personal data as a business model bank on when they make frequent UI (user interface) changes and launch things like Beacon (from a few years ago) or this week’s “Like” feature.
Why pick on Facebook when companies like Google have similar issues? Because Facebook’s mangling of user privacy is quite intentional, happens frequently, affects even those who don’t really ‘live’ online like some of us do; whereas for Google it is more a side effect of the services they offer than a purposeful business model, I think, and one that has a severe downside for them in a variety of ways. Think back to the Buzz launch recently and the issues and outcry that caused for Google. Because it isn’t their business model, but a side effect, they were quite quick to remedy the issue.
Facebook’s launch of what I’m thinking of as the ‘ubiquitous like’ puts user apathy, lack of internet education and the need for awareness front and center for me. Why user apathy? Think about it: how many of the internet users you know are proactive about checking their privacy settings on all platforms weekly, and again with every new change like the ubiquitous like, and diligent about reading those long, boring TOS (Terms of Service) and EULA (End User License Agreement) pages regularly (or heck, even just when signing on the first time)? Not many, right?
A lack of education and awareness about common internet practices, best practices and being proactive about your own basic online safety comes into play also. So many companies and educational institutions still don’t have even a basic social media education, much less any sort of social media or online guidelines for their employees and students. It’s appalling, and it’s creating and/or reinforcing a gullible, overly trusting generation of users who can’t figure out how to protect themselves, or worse, don’t see a need to.
Not knowing how much this apathy and lack of knowledge and awareness can affect you in terms of privacy and safety is the greatest cost on the internet right now for the end user. Each time you interact blindly online, it has a potential consequence, of varying degrees of import, no matter where you are. This is no different from real life interactions, but for some reason, people have trouble making the mental leap that there is no more great divide between online and offline life anymore. There is no separation of personal and professional, and things you share actually go a variety of places and programs to be sifted, studied, archived, stored, and used.
You might wonder why someone who has a strong social media component to my job would advocate for caution. That’s just it, I’m advocating for caution and awareness, not silence or lack of sharing! The engagement you find online has many more positives than negatives, but just like anything you do, inherent risks that you can take time to minimize.
On Foursquare? I am. I love Foursquare. Don’t check in a location alone. Simple common sense. Don’t leave your home unattended if you have ever checked in there and then go on a trip (though I’d recommend against home check ins anyway for safety reasons). Again, common sense. On Twitter? Having a public Twitter fight? Talking about your drug use? Crowing about cheating the tax man? Talking about how you evade your collection agent? All of that is indexed by Google and out there for all to see (and now also by the Library of Congress). Again, this is all common sense. On Facebook? I bet you haven’t checked your privacy setting in eons. Go to this post by GigaOm and check (and change) them right now. You may be shocked at what Facebook is tracking, all because apathy makes people not go back and make sure their privacy settings haven’t changed on a fairly frequent basis.
There are hundreds of social networks out there and they all have some benefit to users and to companies and organizations. the positives FAR outweigh the negatives – many of my business collaborators and close friends are those I’ve met online through three years on Twitter and time spent cultivating relationships on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. But don’t be stupid about it, folks – just like in real life, look both ways before you cross the street, don’t take candy from strangers, etc. You learned everything you need to know to be safe online in kindergarten, I promise, you just need to be proactive about your own safety and privacy.
If you follow me on Twitter then you know I have a new book in the works with co-author Jim Keenan. It’s pretty exciting stuff, and we are so excited by the work we are doing we have a panel up for SXSW 2010 based on our research as well. Voting is still open until tomorrow (9/4/09), by the way, so please go vote for the panel and comment on it as well if you would like to hear our case studies, research and thoughts in person!
The basis for the book is the simple yet heady premise that your online profile will become your greatest asset as we march toward the future. It will be worth more than your house, your car, the status of your parents, your race, your gender, your monetary background, and more. Because of the way the online world (not just social media) works as aliving breathing resume, an extension of your whole life experience, it can be leveraged continually to direct the path of your life.
Some of the things we touch on in the book: