Five Facebook Foibles

Interested in using this social media tool professionally as well as personally? Here are five errors to avoid when using Facebook:

mistake #1: sending blank friend requests to professional contacts

Don't put the onus on the friendee to investigate whether or not you're a stalker. Send a line of introduction with your request explaining how and why the two of you should be connected.

mistake #2: underutilizing the bio and information boxes

Use these to introduce yourself as a writer, librarian, bookseller, editor, teacher, or general book aficionado, especially if you set your default profile privacy for basic information to "everyone." Meticulously avoid spelling and grammar mistakes in these two boxes and try to make them interesting and easy to read. By all means link to your professional website, Facebook fan page (more on this in a minute), twitter feed, and/or blog.

mistake #3: lumping all your friends into the same list

When Facebook upgraded their list function a few months ago, they kept me on the site. I took the time to divide my friends into lists like "bookish folk" or "churchy peeps" or "millennials" (between the ages of 14-21), and again into regions. I'm now able to direct a link or a status update to a particular list, which doubles the power of this tool for me professionally.

My millennials, for example, will get the free slurpee day announcement, my college buddies know I'm going to the reunion, and if I'm launching a new book in Seattle, I can target bookish people in that area with the invitation. I still send certain links and status updates to everybody, but there are times when I want to be discerning and avoid clogging my friends' news feed with stuff they don't care about.

mistake #4: being too "humble" to set up a fan page

In an over-the-top celebraholic culture, Facebook chose an unfortunate moniker for these pages, but I recommend that serious writers and illustrators set up fan pages. If you're a private person, you can reserve your personal Facebook page for real friends and family and shift your working life to the more public fan page venue. Think of it as your "professional" page instead of your "fan" page if that helps you get over the humility hurdle.

Even if you're not as private a person, a fan page is a good idea because it's an appropriate place for young people to connect with adults on Facebook. Educators use them to avoid the trap of getting too personal with their students. Booksellers can connect with customers, librarians with patrons, and authors with readers. You can link to your fan page from your personal page, and once you get 100 fans, register a personal url that's more user-friendly.

What do you post on your fan page? Status updates about your work are perfectly appropriate here. I import my blog posts to my fan page instead of into my personal FB page, for example, so I don't inundate my cousins in Calcutta with even more about me, me, me as a writer through my personal news feed. If a friend or relative subscribes to my author fan page, I figure they're signing up for news and updates about my books as well as access to my blog posts.

mistake #5: not customizing your privacy settings

This tip is last but perhaps most important. You must be a ruthless tamer of Facebook or it will run amok.

Customize your privacy settings.

Choose what people see in your profile, decide where and how you show up in searches, be in charge of what's published in your news feed and to your wall, and control each attention-grabbing application or game you use within Facebook. No offense, but I don't want to know your score in Mafia Wars, although it might interest a particular subset of your friends.

How to do this? In the top blue bar of your Facebook page, click on "Settings" and then second from the bottom you'll see "Privacy." You should be able to take it from there.

In short, if you're trying to use Facebook professionally, take a bit of time and learn how to use it well. As with all social media, your goal is to connect with others and express your voice and vision authentically. It can be a tremendous professional tool if used sparingly and smartly.

Questions? Leave them in the comments or email me.

Note: If you're a published author or illustrator of books for children and teenagers in the Boston area, you may sign up for the NESCBWI Salon on Managing Your Online Presence, Saturday, November 14, 2009, from 10:00 - 2:30, in Acton. I'm co-leading it with marketing maven Deborah Sloan.