What do you mean you don't tweet?

(This article was first published in the March 2013 edition of FACE Magazine)

Since Facebook ended up so ubiquitous that David Fincher made it into a feature film, we have been force fed that social media is revolutionizing the world. Not just contacts, friendship, and networking, but the world. What exactly encompasses this revolution? What keeps people from launching a Twitter account or joining Instagram? What good have we arrived to at this point?  Many are asking (and rightly so), “what is the value of social media?”

I’ve used social media as a platform for staying updated and remaining close with friends and family who would probably have drifted from my radar. I’ve relied on various sites to build and maintain my professional network. In fact, I even built a somewhat unconventional career around the concept. 

I firmly believe that social media has been a tremendously positive force in society, having fostered the more open and collaborative environment that we have today. The platform provides a dialogue for diverse feedback, insights, and constructive criticism from a personal level to professional matters. It presents an enormous potential for good in society by bringing attention to worthy causes. Quite often, a simple picture of a cute kid or funny video can add joy to an uneventful or bad day. 

Many people remain afraid, unconvinced or suspicious of social media. They raise valid concerns, such as how we can protect kids and teens from its evils. The biggest hurdle for most is that they simply don’t understand each platform. However, if you are smart about what you post, and seek to be a good citizen of the online world, there is nothing to fear. 

Check your Privacy Settings

Instagram and Twitter accounts are both set to display publicly by default. It is your responsibility to change those settings if you don’t want your pictures, tweets, and personal profile to be publicly accessible.  Be smart about learning the particular privacy settings for each social system you enter to make sure that what shows up in search engines matches what you are comfortable for the world to see.

Facebook is notorious for changing its already confusing privacy options. Last year, even founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister accidentally shared content that she meant to only share with friends. Lately, Facebook has made improvements, and the options are more accessible and easier to understand. Still, there are several things to consider. Determine who can see your posts, check-ins, personal information, friends or connections, and pictures. Then consider if you want them all to see those items. Is everything public? Can only your friends see, or can friends of your friends also see?

Another overlooked and lesser known Facebook option is the ability to review posts, photos and check-ins tagged by others before they will be added to your profile. This allows you to filter what gets posted to your public (or friends). To access this setting, go to the timeline and tagging section of your privacy options.

Be Respectful of Others

No social media site is meant solely to be your personal megaphone. Be mindful that a lot of people are subject to everything you post. Don’t inundate them with sales messages. If your child is selling Girl Scout cookies, that’s one thing, but it’s something else entirely to post relentlessly about the skincare line you sell for extra income. Things like that can be marketed by creating a page for your business that interested parties can choose to follow. 

Though you shouldn’t hide your personality or controversial thoughts on politics, religion or anything potentially offensive, you should take note of the line and keep the personal rants to a minimum. The best rule of thumb: if it would annoy you, it will probably annoy your friends. Even better, if you know it’s inappropriate and wouldn’t be caught dead saying it in person, you really shouldn’t say it digitally either. 

Beware of Third Party Apps

Third party apps are one of the biggest sources of spam on Facebook. Often, users don’t even know that these apps are flooding their friends’ newsfeeds with incessant updates. Games like Farmville and Bingo or music apps like Spotify are a few repeat offenders. They’ve even been known to use the pictures and personal information of their own members to recruit other users through e-mails or ads. 

Still, these apps can be fun and useful. To avoid trouble, make sure that when you add these apps you disable their ability to post to your newsfeed. It’s an option that comes up in the process but often gets overlooked. It’s also another decision you can make about what kind of information you’re broadcasting and at what frequency. Look at it like this— do you want to be the friend who shares clever insights and anecdotes, or that friend who shares her entire life on multiple digital channels? 

Be Mindful of the Future

2013 marks the ninth year that I’ve been on Facebook. When I joined the site as a freshman in college, the last thing I could imagine was that nearly a decade later I’d be a young entrepreneur with a business and brand that’s basically indistinguishable from my personal image. It’s important when using any online medium to realize that what you post now will stay with you forever. What may seem harmless in the moment might not be so innocent in the future. Remember those drunken declarations of love (or hate) to friends and significant other turned ex? How about the Mardi Gras status updates from a few years back? Are you remembering them fondly or cringing because you know they still exist somewhere out there while you sit in your corporate office or PTA meeting?