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.