The media is currently rife with articles about Facebook’s various nefarious practices and sinister violations of user privacy. Against that backdrop, I would like to invite my readers to a slightly different discussion: How can we use Facebook without Facebook manipulating us?
I am interested in continuing to use Facebook. In various ways, I find the platform useful. However, I have never been big into sharing a lot of personal details on Facebook. You won’t find my birthday listed on the platform, so I do not receive thousands of birthday wishes from random followers. I don’t post a lot of family photos. I will, however, share with you how I use Facebook and my thinking behind those usage models. I am very interested in learning how each of you are using Facebook, what experiments you have conducted, and what conclusions you have drawn.
Facebook and related services have been one of the most important sociological phenomena of the last 25 years, since the Internet became a part of our lives. Smartphones augmented its usage in the last decade. It is important that we try to understand what is happening to society because of it.
My primary usage of Facebook has long been related to my business, 1Mby1M. Since we need to connect with millions of entrepreneurs around the world, Facebook remains a vehicle of doing so, although, LinkedIn is a much better vehicle for our purpose. We maintain a Facebook page for 1Mby1M and regularly post to it through our Hootsuite account. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hootsuite, it is a social media marketing service that allows scheduled posts across platforms including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
Until recently, Hootsuite posts would show up on my personal Facebook Timeline as well. But for some reason, Facebook chose to discontinue that facility.
The Facebook policy that I find terribly irritating vis-a-vis our business usage is that even though we have invested in gathering followers for our brand page, Facebook wants us to pay additional amounts to show our content to our followers.
This is one of the nefarious policies that dramatically reduced our level of commitment to Facebook as a business marketing channel.
We prefer LinkedIn.
However, if you are a consumer fashion brand, for example, you’d need to pay up and keep going with Facebook. Their targeting capabilities are of stunning precision. Consumer brands cannot afford to forego this customer acquisition channel.
When Facebook started taking off, I thought it would become a good mechanism to keep in touch with family and friends around the world. My nephews and nieces, and later cousins, followed by my father, certain aunts and uncles – all eventually showed up on Facebook, and for a few years, this usage model did hold true. But as privacy concerns started surfacing, I started thinking about how to steer my personal usage.
About a year back, I did something dramatic. I blocked most of my family and friends on Facebook, breaking all the data models that I knew, Facebook had created about me and my connections. The bulk of my personal Facebook usage stopped there, since the interactions of these people constituted a large portion of my personal activity.
I have, recently, unblocked these profiles, but I have not connected with them. I prefer not to allow Facebook to reconstruct those data channels at this point. This, by the way, includes my father.
The Political Sociology of Likes
I have a friend (and I am sure you all have some of these) who used to change her profile picture every few days. Hundreds of her friends would them put Likes on the new photo and tell her how beautiful she looked. To me, it reflects boredom and the need for attention, the desire for validation. It is a deep human need that Facebook has tapped into because the behavior I describe here is rampant.
It made me go and study the phenomenon further. You see, who will place a Like on your posts is not as simple as someone who sees the post or the picture and actually likes it. Like on Facebook is a currency of exchange. I will Like your post, you need to Like mine. And often, if it makes you wonder why a photo of an unattractive person gets numerous Likes and comments like, “You look so beautiful” – know that what they really mean is to say: “I like you, and since you Like my posts, I am happy to Like yours.”
I never really played this game. However, I watched it unfold, and just watching it exhausted me. I can imagine how exhausting it might be to participate, put Likes on thousands of posts a week, comment on them, and live this virtual existence.
Facebook has made a part of its policy an effort to facilitate meaningful groups. This is something I have found useful.
A few years back, one of my relatives invited me to participate in a secret music group. I never participate in Facebook groups, but I found this one enjoyable. There were only about 300 people, and some of them were very knowledgeable about certain music genres that are of interest to me. I have since left this group because I wanted to reduce the time I spend on social media.
Last summer, I was invited to join the closed alumni group of my school in India where I studied from K through 12. The school is approaching its centenary year in 2020. I have chosen to help with this celebration, and use the group to coordinate the planning of this event series. We’re able to bring together 2500+ alums from all around the world because of Facebook, something that would be impossible to do otherwise. This is an incredibly valuable use case.
We also have a 10-people secret group for our literary group which we often use to share photos of events, articles about literature, etc. The group meets in person, so the online version is simply for coordination purposes, and is very low activity.
In summary, I think Meaningful Groups is a reasonably valuable usage model and I plan to continue to use this functionality.
I love to travel. When I travel, I write travelogues and send postcards to family and friends. I have done this forever. Even after I started using Facebook, for a long time, I did not publish my travelogues on it.
In 2015, I started experimenting with publishing travelogues while I traveled, on Facebook. I discovered that the tools are particularly helpful and they serve many of my additional agendas besides simply telling the travel stories. I like to support entrepreneurs. Not just technology entrepreneurs, but also lifestyle entrepreneurs. I like to promote small boutique hotels, especially heritage hotels. I like to support restaurants, boutiques, arts and culture venues, museums, theaters, so on.
Facebook is perfect for all this.
So nowadays, when I travel, I post extensive travelogues with photos, tag relevant places that I have been, a cafe in Vienna for instance, or a Flamenco club in Seville. Recently, we were at a fantastic equestrian show in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain. The arena was only 20% full. I wish they marketed themselves better through Facebook. But they restrict photography and videography, limiting the impact social media could have on their ticket sales.
My travelogues, by the way, are not full of personal photos of myself, my husband, my friends and my family. Most peoples’ travelogues are. I have deliberately made the choice to focus on the places, history, art, architecture, culture, food, music, dance, so forth. As such, random people with no interest in my private life but curious about the place I am writing about would find my travelogues interesting.
Personally, I find most people’s travelogues uninteresting because they’re full of their own photos, and you can’t really tell whether they’re taken in Croatia or Cambodia. They’re not written for broad consumption. They’re ways of sharing memories with close friends and families.
There is nothing wrong with that intent per se.
However, I’m curious how people feel these days about putting so much of their personal information out there, given that Facebook isn’t particularly reliable on user privacy issues.
One of my friends posts beautiful photos of her four little daughters. I love seeing these Princess Diaries as she calls them. However, I worry about the safety of the princesses.
Arts and Culture
One of my close friends is a professional musician. I have helped her get situated on Facebook with her own Artist page. And now, she has found a good rhythm of how to use Facebook to promote her music.
This, I think, is a great use case for Facebook.
I relentlessly promote Arts and Culture on my personal timeline.
And I believe all artists should use Facebook to promote their work.
For this purpose, Facebook is as good as it gets as a marketing channel.
I have also found Facebook to be a great news reader. I follow various credible news sources like The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, etc. I also follow certain people who are good curators of news and analysis, and whose taste or judgment align with mine.
On the flip side, I don’t follow very many people for their personal updates. Kid photos, dog photos, ever-changing profile photos are of limited interest to me, unless they’re done with artistry. The Princess Diaries are an exception, not a rule.
Much as I think promoting your own art, culture, business, etc., are great use cases, I am stunned by the level of self-merchandising that goes on. A lot of bored people are seeking attention, and some are seeking engagement. A lot of minor tempests in domestic teapots are brewing because of silly behavior. And inevitably, major drama too finds its genesis as flirtations veer into affairs, and couples and families fall apart.
I will stop there and ask for your observations and experiences on use cases that are worthwhile or dangerous.
Let us brainstorm about the sociology of our time!