12 Ways to Use Facebook Professionally

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Facebook has to be the most talked about, and the most misunderstood, web service/platform right now. If you haven’t gotten drawn in by the hype, it may surprise you to learn that many people have already found Facebook to be an essential addition to their web working toolbox. Why? Because the Facebook social networking experience can be precisely what you want to make of it. Think of Facebook as a professional tool, and that’s what it is. It doesn’t matter how millions of high school and college students are using Facebook to get out of doing homework. You can make it into whatever you want, even your own personal media broadcasting channel.

Let’s look at 12 ways Facebook can benefit the web worker, particularly those who are home-based. The more connected you are to your co-workers and clients without being intrusive, the better your working relationship. [digg=http://digg.com/software/12_Ways_to_Use_Facebook_Professionally]

Note: you may need to have an existing Facebook profile to follow some of these links.

Think of it like personalizing your desk. You can’t help it. When you walk by someone’s desk, your eye is drawn to the pictures and the way they have personalized and organized their space. You pick up on clues to their lives without realizing it. Mary is a Mom whose desk is filled with pictures of two young children, and there are “To Mommy” pictures pinned to the side of her cubicle. You know what her weekends are probably like. John is still dating his high school sweetheart. He likes to scuba dive and he got some great shots of his last trip to Bonaire. You can see the paperback that Bill is reading on the corner of his desk. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to read that. Can I borrow it when you’re done?” Sally has a collection of labels from her favorite wine bottles. You know what to get her for her birthday.

Only display on your profile what you’d put on your desk. Just because Steve owns a picture his buddy took of him getting sick after an all-night party doesn’t mean he’s going to frame it and put it out for his co-workers to admire. Don’t add anything to your profile that you wouldn’t display for your supervisors, co-workers and clients to see as they’re walking by your work environment.

Look for old co-workers and current connections. I found more contacts on Facebook this way than I did on LinkedIn. Former colleagues have “Googled” me, and after a few emails to catch up we don’t communicate again. By adding these people to Facebook, I feel more connected to them without having to actively maintain a conversation via email. Look for business opportunities out of shared interests.

Add friends selectively. Contrary to popular belief, Facebook isn’t about “collecting” friends. There’s no reward for quantity, and you can have a rich experience on the platform with only a handful of connections. The quality of your Facebook experience will be based on the quality of the people in your network. Create a limited profile for those people that you are on the fence about whether to include. By default your limited profile contains everything in your full profile, so take the time to edit it down.

Add apps selectively. Right now, there are over 2000 apps you can add to your Facebook profile. The temptation may be to try them all. Don’t. Just because you can add Love Quotes to your profile, it doesn’t mean you should if you want Facebook to be a professional tool for you. Pick apps that won’t waste your time when you visit your Facebook home page, so avoid those that involve playing games. Read/Write Web offers a selection of top apps for work. Read the app description carefully and know exactly what you’re getting, and what the privacy settings are before you go. It helps to see how your contacts are using the app first. But never fear, worst comes to worst you can remove an app as easily as you added it.

Think of your apps in two ways…what do you want to see (that will appear on your Facebook home page) and what do I want the world to see (that will appear on your profile)? You might consider adding an app that you don’t display on your profile at all, but it uses the collective wisdom and usage patterns of your network to provide you with valuable information. Or, if you visit your Facebook home page often it can help keep you organized having nothing to do with your friends’ actions.

Edit your news feed preferences. You don’t necessarily have to know the moment someone adds a new picture, but you may want to know when they’ve made a new connection you may have in common. Click the “preferences” button on your Facebook home page and use the sliders to give preference to the type of information you want. The more you fine-tune this information, the less time you’ll waste sifting through useless updates.

Edit your profile and security settings. Give careful consideration to exactly who sees your profile and when. Don’t take the default settings which tend to expose more information than you may be comfortable. Take the time to go through each link in the Privacy area and make necessary adjustments. Maybe you don’t want people who are casually searching to know who your friends are or “poke” you. Maybe you don’t want a public profile (accessible to people who are not on Facebook). Facebook can come back to bite you as Miss New Jersey learned. This is especially true if your primary network is geography-based. It’s one thing to share your full profile with everyone who went to the same college or high school you did, it’s another to share your profile with everyone in the New York City metropolitan area.

Incorporate the tools you’re already using into your profile. Web workers like playing with all the latest toys. Do you blog? Do you Twitter, Pownce or Jaiku? Do you read feeds? There are Facebook apps available for all these services. If you have already use these tools professionally, why not add them to your Facebook profile? After you add the respective app, you simply do what you were already doing and let the app do the work. You can see the Twitter updates from your Facebook contacts without necessarily following their updates in Twitter itself. If your blog is on WordPress.com, you can add the WordPress app and your posts will automatically be pushed to your Facebook profile, along with recent comments. If you don’t host your blog with WordPress.com, you can easily use the built-in Notes application to post your blog feed as you publish. It will let your contacts know through your mini-feed when you’ve posted a new entry. Since your friends can edit their news feeds as easilly as you can, they can control how much of your life they really want to see.

The Google Reader Shared Items app publishes to your profile those items you’ve shared in Google Reader, as the name implies. Do you think your contacts would like to read that interesting post? Don’t disturb them by emailing them, click the “Share” button in Google Reader and now it’s right there on your profile with minimal added effort on your part. The “Top Shared” panel takes a del.icio.us/popular approach to showing the most shared posts across everyone who has installed the app.

Join Groups related to your business interests. Many groups on Facebook are nonsense, but there are quite a few that can provide useful information and professional connections. Don’t miss the already existing groups for our parent site, GigaOm and sister site NewTeeVee. Each group can feature a Wall (like a guestbook…a continuous scroll of messages) and threaded discussion lists. Rather than trying to search for groups, watch the groups that your friends are joining, as often you will find them of interest for yourself. After all, they’re in your contact list because you have something in common, right? You might even think about using Facebook to virally address a business cause, as some are doing in their effort to save Business 2.0 magazine from going under. I only wish there was a way to see updated discussion threads on one screen rather than clicking group to group.

Limit time wasted on Facebook. Facebook can suck you in easily. Remember, you have work to do. You won’t help your career if you fall behind on projects because you were too busy playing in iLike. If you find that you’re spending too much time reading Facebook message boards or reading about your friends’ favorite book selections then set limits for yourself. Facebook is a black hole. In order to get the most of Facebook, you have to be on the platform. Consider the Facebook toolbar for Firefox which will notify when you have a reason to go check the home page. You can also work with Facebook from your mobile phone, so think about babysitting your profile while you’re waiting in line or otherwise bored and not being productive anyway.

Be philanthropic. And look good to your friends while doing it. Can Facebook change the world? Probably not. But you can do your part and show it off. You can add the Causes app to specifically benefit nonprofit organizations. You can join groups that stand for actions you believe in. Use your Facebook profile to show the best side of you to your contacts, and if the environment or a cause benefits from your actions then all the better.

Ask Questions. Tap into collective intelligence with the My Questions app. Don’t know the best resource for a particular problem? Maybe your network can provide some insight. Many of us have used our blogs for this very purpose. Asking your question on Facebook instead filters out the general public, and doesn’t leave a trail for Google to follow.

Look for events. It’s not all concerts. There’s some opportunity for good, face-to-face business networking if you’re open to it. If you are already use the Upcoming.org site to find and track conferences and other events you can add that information to your profile. Or you can use Facebook’s built-in events application to see what conferences and events your connections may be attending. Last week I attended a wonderful NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) webinar that I only knew about thanks to Facebook.

Are you using Facebook as part of your work day? Tell us about it in the comments.

216 Comments

Mayra

Facebook is a wonderful tool for everyone; I particularly love the easiness of keeping in touch with my high school friends and the new people I meet that I might need to speak to.

Jaikant

Facebook sounds like a neat application.
I already have a good network at orkut, I would move to facebook if my friends moved. The inertia to stick with the current application is pretty high. Also with people I have discussed this with.

BKM

I’ve read the hype about Facebook. I checked it out, and found it has not been adopted enough to be useful. Specifically:

My Silicon-Valley based High School class has fewer than a dozen members or about 2%.

My California State University class also has a low rate of participation, and since the class is so diverse, we really have little in common to connect on.

Geographic based groups also proved to be of little value to me. The nearest extant city-based group is actually in the next county.

A corporation where I am presently working has 10,000 members in it’s group, but that is about 1.5% of the total and there are no members in the same State where I am.

My conclusion is that despite the hype, Facebook is for 1%’rs.

Versatile Assistant

A great article, especially as I’m fairly new to Facebook. I actually like the fact that I can view both social and business contacts in Facebook – it saves me a lot of time and is a great way of learning more about people.

poppyfieldgallery

Like what you have here – a nice summary. I’ve started to promote stuff I’m passionate about (causes) and this links in with my professional work, so I’d realised I ought to link into my blog.

My blog’s been out of date but in a way this connection opportunity will help to boost my use of both tools.

But here’s another one, which I’m sure you’ve used too – – – YouTube. There, I said it.

Mike McGinley

Good info. It’s always important to look at things from a different perspective and your blog does just that. I’m not sure it’ll work for everyone, but it definitely worth considering.

blackatticus

damn good post. I have a printing/graphic design business and I think now I’ll actually apply these tips to my ‘online approach’ to marketing. thanks!

jurasee

I am promoting gothamgazette.com, a New York News and policy website. We are in need of readers/website traffic, and I figure one one to resolve this problem, is to make political science and journalism majors aware that we are out there. Some have responded with excitement, so I have hope that we can earn more youthful readership through facebook, since it seems every undergrad is using it.
Gotham Gazette

Judi Sohn

I think people seem to be missing is the fact that for many of us who *didn’t* join Facebook when they were in high school or college (when I was in high school the Radio Shack TRS 80 was hot technology) Facebook is a fresh slate. And this post illustrates that *if you choose* you can use it to professional advantage.

The reality is that while there is a separation between work and social *time* there is a thin line between work and social connections. This is especially true as you get older and you’ve spent more of your life out of school than you did in. In real life, my best friends are the people I work with, and I’ve discussed what I do at work with my purely-social connections from time to time.

Chacko

If you are blogger, it helps to import your blog posts into your notes. Keep those who don’t visit your blog often in the loop.

Susan

I agree that Facebook is revolutionary, but there has to be some sort of separation of your private life from your career life.

To me (and the “millions of high school and college students”) Facebook is a network ‘away’ from work, where I can connect with high school friends, University friends and work friends who I know will see past the photos of my latest holiday to Bali and be myself, not the “airbrushed” corporate me.

There has to be some line drawn between the two, and there are many other networks which are made for the purpose you describe here.

Do you think you may have had more Facebook friends than LinkedIn because you have more real life friends to connect with than business network ‘friends’? Why not encourage your business contacts to join LinkedIn?

fenix

I use facebook all the time. its become part of my life. although I am not addicted.

Phillip

It would be great if the day job let me use it too! But, yes, it’s great for everything else I’m doing outside the full-time contract work!

Dave McClure

sweet article :)

i did a related piece on Facebook privacy settings that shows some additional details here, along with my attempts to translate Facebook legalese & terms of use:
Facebook Knows What You Did Last Summer
http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2007/07/facebook-knows-.html

also, you can dial up/down the news feed articles for up to 40 friends of interest, if you want to know more/less about who your ex-girlfriend or roommate is hooking up with. not that i would know or anything…

– dave mcclure

gotbob

I have a facebook account and just don’t know about it yet. I am still experimenting with it. I am in real estate and have not used it to its fullest I guess.

storymode

This is a great article and I agree with the recommendations put out here. I recently started using Facebook as a “tool” only because of the new WordPress app, but it is still difficult for me to get integrated into the professional circle since I only work for a small company. Perhaps I haven’t put enough time in searching for others in my line of work just yet. For those like me who haven’t hit the big-time yet, it will be interesting to see if things change for them in terms of networking and applicability to their professional life after avoiding the Facebook hype for so long. I’m testing that out myself.

Ryanap

Knowledgebook is a wicked facebook app http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=2363594100 which i have found really useful…basically allows you to find people who have knowledge of what you’re looking for and vice versa. Think their tag line says it all really “Someone needs your knowledge, someone has knowledge you need.” Slick little thing it is.

Jeremy Toeman

Great article – we launched apprate.com last week to try to help people sort the useful apps from the chaff. Check it out and sort by category for productive stuff…

Amie Gillingham

I have been finding a lot of good business conversations popping up on Facebook. Jeremiah Owyang (who occassionally pops in here at WWD) has started quite a few interesting business groups, and has got me talking to people I might not have met otherwise. Since our web business is geographically isolated from the hustle and bustle of the Valley, I particularly appreciate being able to network with people in this way.

I’ll have to look for GigaOm over there the next time I log in!

Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Judi!

Nicole Simon

The reason to prefer Facebook over Linkedin is exactly that: I get a picture and better information on a person. This is why Xing is my primary tool: Full information as far as the contact has cleared them for me (goes down to nearly every field), downloadble for me. And a picture.

You may be used to not have a picture in Linked in, I am used to having one. And seriously – if you are really developing a “race bias” due to a profile picture you are kidding yourself. Assuming that you do interviews for a job in person, latest then will you start “developping” such a thing.

Elise Hines

I can’t take Facebook seriously as a work app. I don’t add business contacts to Facebook because I just don’t think it’s an appropriate forum to do work. There is too much to distract people on Facebook.

My biggest problem with using Facebook as a job seeker is that there are pictures of people everywhere. On networks like LinkedIn, there are no pictures which means that people looking at your profile can’t develop a race based bias when evaluating your profile for job placement. Obviously this is less of a concern when you are working with people who already know you, but the job seeking process is not all that Facebook friendly. Personally I keep work and fun separated. I don’t add business contacts to Facebook.

Tyred Uvew

I know this is an old post… but the fact that you would develop a race based bias is your own problem. It’s thinking like that… by people like you.. that has us in this economic funk. Can’t say light skinned… but we can say white. I hope your company a has failed, but most likely you’re one of the ones that’s been awarded a bailout of some sort.
But get ready.. this year will finish differently.

CMB

Really? Opinions are what caused the econony to fall? I mean forget all the million of actions, greed, corruption, and causes that have weakened our economy. Lets blame it on mere “opinions”.

Chris

I really don’t know how many social networks we all need like this. Professionally I use LinkedIn because it is more relevant to my line of work. Facebook is a nice application, but i think for a more social setting than professionally because there are other/better avenues. Nice article though!

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