SMUG Research Project: Facebook Professional Privacy Best Practices

As an online institution of higher learning, Social Media University, Global has two elements in its mission:

  1. To provide practical, hands-on training in social media for lifelong learners, and
  2. To conduct research that advances our understanding of the business applications and implications of social media.

In Facebook 210: Professional Profiles, Personal Privacy I offered guidance for people interested in using Facebook for one-stop personal and professional networking.

Now I’m inviting all SMUG students and others who are interested to join me in testing those recommendations so we can learn together whether Facebook’s variable privacy settings make it safe for both kinds of networking.

Please do check out that course for the full rationale, but here’s the short version of my recommendations for how you can use Facebook’s variable profile access settings to minimize the risk of having your co-workers, supervisors, customers, clients or other professional associates (such as journalists for people working in PR) stumble upon something on your Facebook profile that would be potentially embarrassing or unprofessional.

  1. Create a “Professional” friend list in Facebook
  2. For your existing Facebook friends, add any of your professional associates of the types described in the paragraph above to this “Professional” list.
  3. In your Privacy settings, add your “Professional” list to the friends who are excluded from viewing certain potentially problematic profile elements. To my mind, these would include:
  • Basic Info
  • Personal Info
  • Photos Tagged of You
  • Videos Tagged of You
  • Your Wall

If you don’t know how to create these exceptions, check out slides 11 and 12 of the Facebook 210 presentation.

I think these settings will alleviate 99 percent or more of the possible problems anyone might experience by doing their personal and professional networking on the same site.

But let’s find out! If you add me as a friend, I will do likewise to you. I’ll make you one of my Blog Friends, which is a list I have set up with the same profile limitations as my Professional friends. Then you can see for yourself if anything about me that shows up in your Facebook News Feed is potentially problematic. I’ll do the same for you.

I would really like to find out whether using these settings can prevent your personal Facebook activities (and those of your less-professional friends) from causing work-related problems, and I hope you will help.

So I’m starting a research project. Please go to the SMUG group in Facebook, and join the discussion board on this topic. Indicate your willingness to participate, and then all of us can add each other as limited access friends. Hopefully, we’ll get a critical mass of friends in this class, so we can look at each others’ profiles and watch our news feeds, and see whether we run across anything that could conceivably have career-threatening implications.

I’m betting that with these settings as I have described above, we’ll be just fine. I’m not doing a $100 SMUG challenge as I did with Secret Groups; let’s just call this a metaphorical bet. But maybe we’ll see some additional tweaking that might be necessary.

And after a month of so of not having any problems (or after having made adjustments that we find are advisable), we may have a set of Professional Privacy Best Practices that would enable people to use Facebook for both personal and professional networking.

Then you will be able to fearlessly invite your co-workers, customers, clients and other professional associates to be your Facebook friends, and will be able to use the collaboration power of Facebook to enhance those relationships and to enable you to work more effectively together. You’ll have closer relationships and provide better service.

In this way, I hope SMUG can add to the academic body of knowledge about social networking, and can practically contribute to society by helping to drive adoption of a single multi-purpose platform for networking.

My research thesis is that Facebook can be that common platform. Let’s see if we can prove or disprove that thesis.

Perhaps this could be project in which the Society for New Communications Research could participate. I also will be trying to connect with others who have an interest in this issue of personal vs. professional networking. If you know people with such an interest, I hope you will invite them to join the research project.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

0 thoughts on “SMUG Research Project: Facebook Professional Privacy Best Practices”

  1. I’ve sent you a friend request and of course your on my limited profile. I find this discussion interesting because there’s a fine line between having a personal persona and a professional persona. I go back and forth on this idea, but I believe that they are really one in the same. The way I am at work is often reflected by the way I am when I’m not at work and vice versa. The reality is, many folks create an artificial “professional” persona that masks who they are in the “real world”. It has been my experience that employers and co-workers can usually tease out trends in your real life personality and spot the fake portions of the professional persona. What’s left is really something closer to your personal persona. So why not just present that first and save everyone the time?

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