5 Principles for Using Facebook


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It’s difficult to give advice about Facebook because it keeps changing—in structure, functionality, and effectiveness.

For instance, I used to think accepting all friend requests for my personal profile was a workable policy, as long as I kept everyone organized in lists. But now that Facebook has a subscribe-to-profile feature, it doesn’t make sense to friend everyone. And so I’ve started the painful process of defriending people I don’t know. (This isn’t without reservation. Read my thoughts here.)

Facebook demands consideration from nearly everyone, because choosing to stay off it means stepping away from the social sharing and conversation of 800+ million people. Yet choosing to play the game as an author or marketer—and use Facebook as a means to an end—can spell immediate failure if your friends and followers feel used.

No one likes to be marketed to on Facebook, at least not in that overtly obvious “Buy my stuff” manner. And yet to approach it with no strategy at all could mean missed opportunities or wasted time.

No easy answers.

But here are five principles that I use and mention when people ask me about Facebook.

1. Like attracts like.

If you post helpful, interesting, or valuable stuff on Facebook, targeted to a particular sensibility, you will attract an audience who matches what you post—and will reward you for it through likes/shares. If you like to talk politics, or be argumentative, or complain, you’ll attract the same.

This is a critical principle for just about all online activity, but particularly important on Facebook because people tend to treat the site like their living room. They’re comfortable saying or doing anything.

If you don’t like the activity or conversation surrounding you—or you’re not getting the results you think you should—look at what you’re putting out. Don’t assume you need to increase your fan/friend count.

2. Fan pages take work to be meaningful.

One of the biggest questions I get is: Should I start a fan page separate from my personal profile?

I like to respond by asking: Are you prepared to develop a content strategy for it? Are you prepared to spend time on it? Otherwise, there’s no point.

Here are a few other questions to ask:

  • Would it make sense to allow people to subscribe to your personal profile instead? You can make any of your personal profile posts public, and your subscribers will see those posts in their news feed without being your friend.
  • Is there a huge divide between your personal friends and your target audience? If it’s problematic to make public posts on your personal profile (maybe for some reason you don’t want your friends to automatically see your public posts), then a fan page eliminates that problem. Think it through carefully, though. If your first step in developing your fan page is to blast your Facebook friends with, “Go LIKE my page!”, that tells me there’s no real divide (yet!) between your personal friends and target audience. (That’s not a bad thing—your friends are often your first circle of supporters who love to know what you’re doing and want to be supportive.)
  • Do you need the functionality of a fan page? One of the biggest reasons to start a fan page is to have app functionality and/or analytics/insights into your fans. You need to be rather advanced in your platform building and author career to benefit from the added features of a fan page (vs. using the personal profile subscribe function). As developed as my own platform is, even I don’t see the need for it in my own career.
  • Would you prefer to shut down your personal profile but still have a Facebook presence? I see this happening more and more. You may be “done” with Facebook but realize the importance of having a presence for marketing purposes. A fan page is the solution.

3. Target your posts appropriately.

For Facebook personal profiles, I’ve always advocated the use of lists, back when it was a hidden feature, and long before Facebook created automated lists.

It’s still a good idea to create unique lists, going beyond the automated list feature. While it takes time, having people tagged by how you know them, where you met them, or what your connection is becomes invaluable when you decide who should see each Facebook post.

Why should you care? See No. 4 below.

4. Reduce the noise.

A recent study asked Facebook users what they liked least about fan pages. One of the biggest annoyances: people or companies that post too often.

We’ve all done it: instead of defriending or unliking someone or something, we mute them instead. The end result is the same, though. That person or thing disappears from our news feed.

I’m a strong advocate of the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to content and social sharing. We all have too much to read anyway, so why bother sharing anything except the absolute best and most essential stuff?

What does this mean in practice? A few things:

  • Avoid automated posting, e.g., feeding in every last one of your tweets. While I’ve seen some people do this successfully (and some aren’t active on Facebook anyway, and don’t care!), it’s one of the fastest ways to get muted. Plus, you’re missing an opportunity to say something geared toward the audience you have on Facebook, such as asking a compelling question to spark a discussion.
  • There is no one “right” frequency for posting, but posting every hour, or multiple times per hour, will turn people off. (For some people, this is their shtick, and if you want to ride that personality wave, go ahead. Just accept its limitations in terms of reach.)
  • A little hand-holding goes a long way when you share links or content. Explain why you’re posting it, or share a compelling quote from it, or otherwise introduce the content so people understand why it deserves their time. Be a thoughtful curator, not a blaster.
  • Don’t practice the hard sell except during special campaigns. Facebook is a great soft-sales tool (building awareness and visibility). It is a lousy direct sales tool. Don’t try to turn it into one, though of course you should mention important events like book signings, conferences, product launches, special promotions, sales achievements, successes, etc.

5. Always take a personal approach.

I hate blasts regardless of platform, though I especially hate them on Facebook since I spend more time there and see them more often.

Do not blast impersonal messages or invites for any reason. This includes:

  • Inviting everyone to a fake event
  • Inviting everyone to an event you know only a small circle can actually attend, due to geographic limitations.  There is even less excuse to invite everyone when Facebook provides an automated list to every user based on geographic location
  • Sending a promotional Facebook message to huge groups of people
  • Adding people to groups you’ve created

Yes, please reach out to people on Facebook. But do it on an individual level, and be respectful of people’s time.

What do you think? What principles do you live by when using Facebook? And what do you wish people would START doing or STOP doing? Leave your thoughts in the comments. (And, if you like, subscribe to my public posts on Facebook!)

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  • Andi Lea

    I find I have a like/dislike relationship with Facebook.  And I think it is exactly what you pointed out in the opening sentence: “It’s difficult to give advice about Facebook because it keeps changing—in structure, functionality, and effectiveness.”

    When I first joined FB, it was in its shiny-new stage and it was a tool used exclusively by college students. I had returned to college to finish my BA and learned quite a lot from my younger peers about ‘social networking’ or what they referred to as ‘stalker web’.  I was quite internet savvy, but there was a significant change in how people online were connecting.

    Now, I feel swamped by the amount of social networking tools, and I continue to see the same people, over and over, at each one. The amount of ‘noise’ often causes me to tune out. And then, I find, I have to search through the noise looking for those posts or people who matter to me personally and professionally.

    When I set up my author page, I had no clue what I was doing and found the process incredibly frustrating. I ended up separating my personal FB account from my author account. A significant deciding factor for me was that I did not want to annoy friends and family with marketing for my career. It was a good decision and I keep the two accounts very separate, and use them in entirely different ways.

    My former life in PR and marketing often leads my thinking in matters of visibility. That said, I find I am less, and less, excited or enticed by the sparkly new toys of social applications. FB seems to be the preferred choice for most people in terms of following authors. And my less than scientific thoughts on that are because people choose FB as their first line of contact with friends/family when they only have a few moments to jump online. At least, this is what I have witnessed with my personal FB account. Several of my friends tend to send me messages through FB rather than email. It’s an interesting shift in how individuals are communicating with one another.

    I also find that FB can be an incredible time sink. Which increases my dislike factor for most social networking. The importance of utilizing all of these tools is crucial in building an audience, but if I am spending time on FB– I am not spending time writing. If I am not writing I have nothing to publish and the time spent on promoting myself is wasted because I have nothing to promote. Like a hamster on a wheel, the exercise is worthwhile, but it doesn’t get the hamster anywhere.

    As FB has just forced the Timeline change on all users in the last few days it will be interesting to see how this new design effects the functionality of ‘friend’ vs. ‘subscribe.’

  • http://thebloggingofanaspiringwriter.blogspot.com.au/ Bonnee

    I know something that will get you muted faster than posting multiple statuses an hour; posting multiple wrestling-related statuses an hour, when you have the figure of a bean pole and little to no hope in the world of getting anywhere with wrestling. I have this friend, and like… everyone, hides his posts from their newsfeed. So that’s one rule I try and follow; don’t post too often, and don’t be too repetitive. 

  • http://twitter.com/jeannevb Jeanne V Bowerman

    My biggest FB pet peeve is the blast message, where when people apply, it automatically does a “reply all,” and I’m inundated with alerts from hundreds of people. This is when I am tempted to unfriend the sender. Really, is it that hard to send me an individual message telling me your news? Like you say, make it personal… or at least give the illusion you are. 

    My second pet peeve is when you “friend” someone who met you on Twitter or another platform, and the very first act they do is send you a message promoting their book, website, or project. It’s akin to grabbing my boob on a first date. Stop that, people. 

    My 2 cents :) 

    Great post, Jane! 

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    “Grabbing my boob on a first date” … that really says it all, and much more concisely. :)  Thanks so much for dropping by, Jeanne!

  • Susan Cushman

    “Be a thoughtful curator, not a blaster.” Great stuff, as usual, Jane!

  • Caryn Sullivan

    Jane, I wish people who send friend requests (which I accept because I’m trying to develop a pre-publication platform) would be more discrete about their posts. That applies to both frequency and content. Most days I struggle to read content because I’m cruising through what I consider to be pointless posts by people who must lack another outlet to connect to people…

  • http://twitter.com/Bri_Clark Bri Clark

    Lists are great. I’ve been doing them since about 1400 friends on. I sat down for days and broke people down into lists. Another suggestion is if you use different dashboards like Hootsuite or Social Oomp don’t use them exclusively. Because Facebook will group it with others using said dashboards as well. 

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    Great insights Jane. I’ve been thinking a fan page would be way too much work, so I’m glad you mentioned that. I’ve been offer subscriptions to my profile, and that seems to work great. I got lazy about making lists of friends, and now I’m paying for it! 

    Regarding blasts on Facebook. I agree and have learned some lessons about that. I recently released a prank book for April Fools Day. Everything I’ve read suggested that Facebook shares are better for inbound links and SEO, so I tried contacting friends directly through Facebook messages rather than e-mail. I included a short personal note explaining the prank and asking for a share and a link to my landing page. Out of 15-20 notes to colleagues and friends, only one person wrote back, and I’m not sure if any actually shared the link. On the flip side, almost every person I e-mailed followed through with at least a tweet. Is it possible that personal messages within Facebook are frowned upon more than an e-mail? It also seems that shares on Facebook are much harder to get than a tweet. People don’t seem to like it when you ask for a FB share. Any thoughts on that one? 

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Jane, as of a few weeks ago, I’m trying to be more present and involved in my Facebook account. I set my phone alarm to go off at 11:45 AM so I can post a thought and a question for the lunch crowd. That’s generally the only post I make on a daily basis. When I posted more mindless stuff, my wife noted another person who had a constant presence on Facebook and how I tuned that person out. Ellen said, “You don’t want to become another [blank]. So what’s the most important info you can post?” Her advice lines up well with your last 3 points.

  • Jennifer

    My favorite line here, in a happy list of favorites, is “they treat FB like their living room.” That kind of skeeves me out, but that’s enough to give me pause. Well said.

  • Chynna

    Great advice, Jane. I am in the process of de-friending as well. For me, I openly accepted friend requests not because I was trying to chalk up more friends but more because I truly wanted to connect with others in the special needs communities I work/write in as well as writing friends and mentors. Now, I’m just not 100% sure who I’m ‘friends’ with. SO time to clean house.  Thanks for your pearls of wisdom. I’ll share this for sure. =)

  • Valorie Grace Hallinan

    Jane, every since I decided to establish more of an online presence I’ve been reading your blog articles, and they have helped immensely. They have saved me a lot of time and helped me learn social etiquette in the online world without always having to learn it the hard way.
    I started a FB fan page and now wish I’d simply used the subscribe to profile function; I do like what Andi says below about keeping the two completely separate. I will need to rethink my FB strategy and make some revisions.
    I appreciate the less is more philosophy and being respectful of others. Sometimes this gets overwhelming and I think it’s extremely important at this stage of the game for all of us to think carefully about what we are posting and why. We do need time to think, write, and create, we don’t want to alienate friends, and when we go online we don’t want to have to sift through a lot of irrelevant material. I think the novelty of social media is wearing off and we are moving toward the next stage  of its evolution, a more mature use of the tool. We’re all learning together.
    Thank you for an extremely useful post.

  • Greg Ioannou

    Everything I post on my Facebook page is a writing sample.  It is a tiny little essay, intended to amuse and to spark discussion.

    I let the resulting discussions go where they will, and play along happily when people “hijack” them. The goal is to spark conversation, not to control it.

    I don’t avoid any topic — politics, religion, sex are all fair game — but try to stay good-natured and whimsical. I’ll mention my family and my business, but usually in passing.  I never post anything that’s intensely personal, except to mourn when a Facebook friend dies.

    I celebrate other people’s achievements, as generously as I can and with no mention of myself.

    I don’t sell things — services, books, whatever. From the context of the conversation, people will eventually gather what I do. I will publicize my own achievements (such as a book I’ve published) and promotions that give things away.

    I keep in mind that my daughter and brother, the cantor and president of our synagogue, my staff, my competitors, most of my closest friends, and a large number of strangers read what I post. I have all of those audiences in mind when I post things.

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  • http://www.turndog-millionaire.com/ Turndog Millionaire

    some good tips as always Jane

    I’m in two ways about Facebook, and not 100% sure how i will approach it.

    I want to keep it separate because it’s the only social media i truly use to keep up with friends. So a fan page is for me. How i will make it worth joining though is still a work in progress. 

    I am a fan of the timeline though, so this will help things i feel

    Oh, and congrats on the new job

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  • Patricia Gligor

    Jane,
    As always, a great post. I like Face Book for two reasons.
    First, I can stay up to date on the important events in the lives of friends and family members I might not normally be in contact with.
    Second, as you mentioned, it is an excellent promotional tool for writers. I choose not to post every single detail of my day; seriously, how boring, but I always mention the weekly post on my blog and events such as my upcoming book launch. Most importantly, I interact with others, reading their posts and commenting; it’s not all about ME.

  • j jonjo

    I befriend someone and find I am swamped with tenthousand more people posting on my wall I know nothing about.
    Everytime I think I’ve cought up with FB it changes again.  I stay because of the need for ‘exposure’ not because I like it.

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Even though you mention your thoughts are less than scientific, studies back you up on those hunches!

    So far, reports I’ve read on Timeline for *business* has shown a negative impact. I do wonder what will happen once Timeline is pushed on every personal user.

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Indeed! I guess focus can be a strength as well as a weakness!

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Thanks for droppin by, Susan!

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    100% agree!

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Yes! That’s an excellent insight. Particularly for fan pages/businesses, using those dashboards will result in lower user engagement because they’re not ranked/valued as highly as Facebook. Manual posting is best (for now).

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Thanks for sharing the insight, Ed! It doesn’t surprise me that people are more responsive via e-mail. That’s been my experience, too. For some reason, it feels a little too casual and presumptuous to send a FB message with a request for FB promotion.

    I think it also helps if, when you e-mail with a request to help spread the word, you offer people a variety of ways to offer their support, whether on FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Everyone has different platforms and audiences, and it’s usually best to let them decide how to best share/promote.

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Fabulous advice, and I like that strategy!

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    I know, right!? 

    On the more positive side, that does give me a rule of thumb for deciding when a comment or a discussion is getting out of line. If I wouldn’t allow it in my living room, then it’s time to delete comments or block someone.

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Yep, I think we’ve ended up in similar situations! Good luck.  :)

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Thanks, Valorie! Your comment adds some great insight, especially the point about social media evolving and maturing. I think you’re right.

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Great philosophy, especially the point about sparking conversation rather than controlling it!

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Thanks, Matt!

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Right on.

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Sounds like you may want to tighten up your privacy controls! (E.g., prevent friends from posting on your wall!)

  • Lisa Hall-Wilson

    I wish people would stop posting in bursts to their Fan Page (3-4 statuses in an hour or two) and then copy the same statuses and content onto their personal profiles so I get some of it twice. Quick way to the mute button when one user fills my newsfeed.

  • http://www.augustmclaughlin.com/ August McLaughlin

    Fantastic post. You’ve answered questions I didn’t even realize I had! ;) And I feel much better about not posting too often. (Here I thought I was being lazy…)

  • Karenmcvanetten

    Thanks for the great information, sometimes the basics are overlooked!

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  • Gerry Wilson

    Jane, these are helpful comments. I enjoy Facebook for keeping up with friends and family. You’ve answered my question about the fan page; I don’t have a book (yet!), so I’ve felt I didn’t need to go that route, and you confirmed that. I’ve been moving my personal page to a stronger writing focus lately, and that feels right for me. I do encounter the problem of inappropriate or off the wall posts that I find myself “hiding,” so that’s an issue. I’m not sure how the “subscribe” feature works, but I’ll look into that. I do like the Timeline feature; I love using one of my own photos there–not of me, but of a place, or a nature photo–to set the tone for my page. Thanks for the informative blog! I’ll be visiting here more often from now on.

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  • http://rehunter.org/ R. E. Hunter

    Thanks for an insightful article, Jane, and the discussion too. I’m not on FB yet, and still debating what I want to do. I know I should be there. A fan page felt wrong to me at least until I have something close to ready for publication (how can someone be a fan of an unpublished writer?). I was worried about the whole “friend” thing. I didn’t know about the Subscribe option. That might be the answer I was looking for. 

    Of course that still leaves the issue of content too. It’s hard enough to keep up with blogging.

  • Alyne de Winter

    I have 2500 “friends”.  I go in and write what I want and check out people I know personally. I have to take special trips to do that and regret I miss getting to know some of the fascinating, even famous people who are on my list. It feels like a treasure trove of brilliance at times — until all I get is “Join My Cause” or “Like my Page” and I cringe away with cognitive disonance.
    Its not that I’m not sympathetic, as a writer, I don’t have time.
    Cheers Jane!

  • Alyne de Winter

     i also find twitter intimidating because you get SO swamped by marketers playing for numbers. I also don’t have a mobile phone to go jumping on there 3 times a day. I’m new to this looking for my target audience, but I am growing to  like Goodreads to find readers and the Kindle boards, plus other writers who are friends.

  • http://twitter.com/AnthonyCaplan1 Anthony Caplan

    Found this very helpful as a writer just getting used to scial media. Thanks, Jane. I’m going to have to  strategize about my Facebook presence. I’ve been treating all my platforms as glorified billboards without a lot of differentiation.
    Anthony Caplan:
    Author, teacher, homesteader:
    http://anthonycaplanwrites.com

  • http://sarah-w-bartlett.com/ sarah

    Thanks so much for this, Jane. The personal/author divide still has me baffled. Why not have an author blog/site and let like-minded readers find you there?

    I don’t understand the need for instant, uber-social interaction. While I do have a personal profile, it is for family; I don’t post, sometimes comment and rarely read what they are up to. Mostly I keep the profile to support my writing business page. When colleagues or students want to ‘friend’ me I direct them to the page, explaining that I do not use the personal profile.

    Now, in the aftermath of the Platform Challenge posed by Robert L Brewer, I am finding my fellow ‘Not Bobbers’ building FB author sites right and left. Seems to me I’d be spending all my time finding photos and tidbits to post; when I could be writing something meaty and sharing it in the calm of my blog. Which, by the way, is something I cherish  – offering a sense of oasis from the hustle and bustle of the internet. An invitation to linger a while in the gentleness of images and words inspired by nature . . . in reflective contemplation. Something quiet and off the well-worn path.

    What do others think about this???

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Well, each person has a different comfort level with social media, as well as a way that makes most sense for them to handle it.

    For me, I don’t want a split personality on Facebook, or the added work of maintaining two pages. Plus, with the subscribe feature, I can offer public posts for non-friends, and keep the friends circle (and friends posts) just to the people I really know.

    I prefer this holistic approach—plus there’s nothing private I share online, not even with close friends/family. (That’s for in-person conversation only.)

    Others prefer the professional Facebook author page, especially if they feel there’s a wide gulf between their professional activities and personal/family life. And that’s a fine path as well.

    But it makes no sense to develop a Facebook author page (separate from your personal profile) if you have no content strategy for it.

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  • Aaron Lazar

    Thank you, Jane. So glad that a friend sent me this link – my questions re. marketing on FB (especially since I have several passions) were answered here – wonderful!

  • Aaron Lazar

    By the way, I’m certain that tons of writers share my confusion and frustration, and that your many articles would be useful to all. Would you like to offer up one of these pieces as a guest blog on http://www.murderby4.blogspot.com? (we just rec’d notification that we’ve once again placed in the WD 101 Best Websites for the fourth year running!) We’d love to repost any or all of your pieces regarding best marketing techniques for FB.  Thanks! Email me at aaron dot lazar at yahoo dot com if you’re interested. ;o)

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  • ReadLearnThink

    I have a business (fan) page for my business that I started long ago. People “liked” the page, but that was before “liking” a page gave you automatic following. So, then my followers had to go back and “follow” the page. I get much less exposure, beause some of them are people I do not know, and I have no way to contact them to tell them to go to my page and click “follow.” Also, I have had reviews from people who are not my customers (I know all the names of my customers even though I do not know them personally). They probably have the page mixed up with someone else. I send them private messages to ask them to remove their review, but I know they don’t see the messages because they usually go to the “other” folder. Thinking of deleting my business page due to these two factors.