Note: I originally wrote this post in August, 2007. Facebook has significantly improved its privacy options since then, and now you have the ability to create a better separation of your personal and professional networking. Feel free to read the rest of this post for background, but be sure to check out Facebook 210: Professional Profile, Personal Privacy for more updated information.
I’m distancing myself from some of my Facebook friends.
Really, I like you all, and if you want to be my friend friends, I’ll be happy to open up more access. Just let me know, and I’ll take you off “restrictions.”
My opacity is for the greater good. It’s my part in helping make Facebook a vibrant B2B tool. Not that Facebook really needs my help; but if I can help nudge it along the business adoption curve, I’ll take some satisfaction.
And whether I actually have any influence in helping to break down resistance to B2B Facebook uses or not, at least I’ll be on record: I believe it’s inevitable that Facebook will increasingly be used for networking in the B2B environment, and that those who start using Facebook for interactions with business partners will be leaders in a trend that will seem obvious in hindsight.
Facebook makes it easy to build or renew relationships. I’ve used it to find several former classmates, even though our age group isn’t among the highest users. And I’ve made some interesting new friends through my blog, and Twitter and Facebook.
Business is all about relationships. And so a tool like Facebook that makes it easier to create, maintain and strengthen relationships will become widely used for business relationships, sooner or later. With people increasingly spending time forming and cultivating personal relationships there, sooner seems more likely to me.
But sometimes, too much information can color perceptions and perhaps even poison a relationship. Some employers may be concerned that employees’ personal actions or beliefs may turn off potential customers.
Part of the concern undoubtedly arises from the perceived “tell all” nature of Facebook’s personal profile. After all, among the questions Facebook asks (and you’re free to not provide it) are your political philosophy and religious views. And we all know politics and religion are the discussions businesses want to keep out of their interactions, because people tend to have strong opinions and knowing that a business associate is of a different political persuasion may chill some commercial relationships.
On the other side, part of the fun of Facebook is finding people in your network who share your views, whether on deeper matters or more trivial interests such as TV shows like 24 or Monk. There are even 93 others in my Minneapolis-St.Paul Network who are, like me, fans of Raising Arizona. Some people think that by interjecting too many business relationships into Facebook, we’ll kill what’s wonderful about it.
I remember some of the same concerns about the internet when it began to be used for commerce. Just after Al Gore had his Big Idea, a significant group — and I don’t know whether it was a minority or a plurality or even a majority — thought the internet should be forever preserved as a pristine digital version of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
But as web access became democratized, people found the web was really useful for commerce. So commerce happened. The purists got over it.
The limited profile probably was first started because of kids not wanting parents to see what all their friends were writing on their walls. But it can work to limit personal information shared with business associates, too.
That’s why I’ve started using the limited profile feature on Facebook. Not because I want to hide anything, but lest I alienate potential work colleagues or journalists who viscerally dislike Nicholas Cage, I’m not letting anyone but close friends and family see my full profile.
So here’s what I recommend: Create a limited profile in Facebook. Deselect everything except Contact Info, Work Info and Status Updates, and also deselect the Mini-Feed.
Then, when work colleagues or internet strangers ask to add you as a friend, you can accept like Scoble, but instead of two clicks (accept, skip this step), you’ll have three, including checking the box so they only see the limited profile. So in this way, as Scoble says, Facebook becomes the new Business Card/Rolodex, but much more powerful because it also is the new media distribution network.
That way your business network members can know how to contact you, where you’ve worked and what you’ve last updated as your status, but other things of a personal nature will be hidden.
This gets a long way toward creating a wall between personal and professional Facebook profiles. The only sticking point is that applications in the Facebook Platform still show up in the limited profile. I can turn them off for all of my friends, but not just for those in the limited profile. So everyone who is my friend gets to see my favorite Weird Al Yankovic videos.
There is a simpler option, and that is to decline friend requests from people who aren’t your family or kindred spirits. You can still use Facebook to send them messages, and you can belong to the same groups. You just won’t see each other’s personal information.
Everything above can be done right now. For a complete and more satisfying solution, a bit of programming will be needed by someone, likely in one of two ways.
The first is for application developers to enable users to block display of the applications in their limited profiles. The better way would be for Zuckerberg & Co. to develop another level of “friend.” Then the existing privacy mechanisms could be used to block these professional associates from access to information from applications like iLike, Twitter or Mac Lover.
People could even set their defaults so that when new friends are added, they are accepted as “acquaintances” or whatever the middle-level “friend” would be called, instead of being given full access.
Just as VeriSign and others developed encryption to make credit card transactions secure and increase confidence in commercial use of the internet as a whole, if Facebook can create these two tiers of friends, or maybe even multiple levels, this will pave the way for maximum B2B Facebook use.