Most people use Facebook for personal reasons: to maintain contacts, stay in touch with friends who live far away or to stay on top of one’s social life. Only 15 percent of us use it to maintain professional or work contacts, according to a 2010 survey by ExactTarget. Some people turn to professional networking sites like LinkedIn or A Small World for professional networking.
But for many of us, our professional and personal lives intersect and blend in deep ways — and this is the new multidimensional public identity we display to the world. That mashup of the professional + the personal is likely to grow, as Facebook rolls out new communications features and now lets you segment your friends into lists and groups, like family, co-workers or professional colleagues.
How can you get more mileage out of your Facebook presence? As it routinely does, Facebook declined requests to comment about how its EdgeRank ranking system for news feeds works. So a parlor game of sorts has emerged — a distant cousin of Kremlinology that combines rigorous analysis with a fair amount of guesswork. Whether you call it Facebookology or News Feed Optimization or “building edge,” it’s more art than science.
Let’s play, shall we? Here are our recommendations on how to become more visible in your friends’ feeds — helping you gain greater traction, influence and clout on Facebook:
1. Find the right vehicle for your professional voiceOn Facebook, you need to find the right balance of business and personal and decide what works for you. Several of my friends have created Pages for themselves — not their businesses, but their personal brands. For example, nonprofit strategist Beth Kanter has a Profile page and a public figure Page for her writing and work in the field, while Chris Brogan manages to do both on his Profile page. Note that personal Profiles are limited to 5,000 friends while Pages have no limit. You should decide what’s right for you. If you use Facebook for personal interactions with your family, you’ll want to create a separate Page for your professional identity. Remember: Creating a second personal account violates Facebook’s Terms of Service and, if you represent a business, nonprofit or organization, you should be reaching out to people with your Facebook Page, not your personal Profile.
2. Segment smarter
You needn’t be captive to Facebook’s two main news feeds, Top News and Most Recent. Create Facebook Friend Lists and browse updates from contacts you target in your industry or sector. Create a Friend List by following these steps, then head over to the Most Recent link (pictured above), click it, then click the down arrow to reveal the feeds of the lists you’ve created. (Can this be any more well-hidden?) Your Friend List updates will appear with most recent posts at the top — a subset of your Most Recent feed. Although Facebook’s Home page remembers whether you chose Top News or Most Recent on your previous visit, it doesn’t remember the Friend List you chose, so you must choose it each time you load the Most Recent view.
3. Choose quality over quantityOne or two strong Facebook updates per day is better than a half dozen scattershot updates that fly by and don’t have the staying power to attract people’s feedback. One social media “expert” at a recent Barcamp said you need to have at least 20 updates a day per Page to get into a News Feed — that’s patently false (though it may be good advice for Twitter). Dan Zarrella, author of “The Facebook Marketing Book,” even suggests that posting just once every other day may get the best results. You want your updates to be sticky so that you jump-start conversations. Quality doesn’t mean an essay-length post. Save that for your blog — and write a short update linking to it. Or if you don’t have a blog, you can write a Facebook Note. Be selective about what you post: Don’t post a status update every time you mow the lawn. Include links to stories that are interesting, remarkable, sexy, funny or newsworthy, and include an image if possible. By stoking user engagement, Facebook will reward you for making people spend more time on Facebook.
4. Say it with the right mediaHere’s the most important secret about building up more authority on Facebook: A lot of it has to do with what tools you choose. Upload videos, check in with Facebook Places, share some photos — hitting the Like button isn’t enough. It appears that Facebook assigns the most weight, or value, to these kinds of content types, roughly in this order:
To embed a video on Facebook, enter the url, attach, then add a description and share.
- Video. Facebook puts its finger on the scale whenever you share a video that you’ve uploaded to Facebook. With Facebook members sharing than 10 million videos a month (as of mid-2010), the company believes that multimedia increases engagement and time spent on the site. With options to record video with a webcam or upload a video from your computer, Facebook makes it super-easy to post a video. YouTube viewing is robust as well. A YouTube group product manager wrote the other day: “over 150 years worth of YouTube video is watched on Facebook every day.” (See above for how to embed a Vimeo or YouTube video on Facebook.) Does sharing a link to a YouTube video or embedding a YouTube video bump up your visibility? Yes. Does it count as much as uploading a video to Facebook? Nobody outside of Facebook knows — and Facebook isn’t saying.
- Facebook Places updates. If you’re a mobile power jock, you already have gotten into the habit of checking in with Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook Places. You can use Places on touch.facebook.com or the Facebook app for iPhone, Android, CrackBerry and other smartphones. Facebook sometimes tweaks its algorithm to give more weight to updates in its newer services, and so it’s now awarding extra juice to members using geolocation updates — a wise business decision given our increasingly mobile society. Chad Wittman, founder of social media management firm SBN, says, “Facebook Places definitely has a heavier weight than competitors” such as Foursquare and Gowalla, whose members’ check-ins carry little weight on Facebook.
- Photos and photo tagging. The next best way to elevate your Facebook juju is to upload photos to the site. Facebook members today upload more than 4 billion photos per month, making Facebook by far the largest photo sharing site on the Web. Does cross-posting to Facebook using an app like Posterous, Tumblr or Flickr bump up members’ visibility as much as uploading photos directly? Probably not. Says Facebook strategist Wittman: “We see more interaction with true Facebook applications such as Photos. We definitely see a bigger EdgeRank value for Facebook Photo uploads as opposed to Flickr uploads. Photo albums most likely experience on average higher EdgeRank values due to three times more exposure on the feed — three thumbnails vs. one.” One thing’s for certain: Adding a photo tag will immediately get your photo noticed, assuming the person is one of your friends or you have her email address.
- Share. Fascinating as you are, it’s not all about you. Use the Share button to share interesting updates from friends and Pages you follow. But don’t overdo it, and be sure to add your own personal twist or insightful, provocative observations. “An object created in Facebook — that is, sharing another user’s update — should weigh at least equally to, if not greater than, linking externally,” Wittman says.
- Link. Use the Link option to share content from the open Web, adding your own distinctive take on the subject, of course. According to an experiment by the Daily Beast, there was no practical difference in results between directing users to an external site vs. embedding YouTube videos on your Facebook Page. So Facebook doesn’t reward people just for staying within its walled garden. But does Facebook prefer links that you share directly on the site over links posted via third-party apps like Tweetdeck, Ping.fm and HootSuite? Facebook won’t say! But Wittman draws this conclusion: “Recently I’ve started to believe that links posted via third party apps inherently have lower weight. I just don’t see how they couldn’t. One thing naturally working against third party apps is the Top News feed auto-hiding updates in close proximity to each other from the same app. I find this to be direct evidence that the Top News feed ultimately punishes third party apps.”
- Status updates & Wall posts. What riveting things are you up to? Be sure to let your friends know.
- Comments. If items you post attract comments from a few friends, it raises your visibility overall, particularly mutual friends. Comment in a helpful, friendly, engaging way. Add value. Just remember, it’s a process — you build up authority a little bit at a time, not overnight.
- Likes. Like away — it’s an incredibly powerful tool. Use it for news articles on outside sites that sport a Like button, on updates, even comments. Using lots of Likes doesn’t mean you’ll appear in others’ news feeds, but it will begin to solidify your reputation as a peer and supporter. Don’t be stingy about passing out Likes in your own comment threads. When you Like the comments of the people who chime in on your postings, you potentially draw them back to the thread (by sending them a notification), helping to keep it alive and growing, and you also encourage them to comment on your postings in the future. Adds Dave Awl, author of Facebook Me! (new second edition): “Although I can’t prove this, my sense is that Likes in the comment thread count as edges [EdgeRank juice] for the posting itself — so passing out those warm fuzzies may also be an easy way to add edges.” AllFacebook reported in July that 65 million Facebook users Like something every day, and the numbers have doubtless mushroomed since then. By the way, you’re ostensibly limited to a total of 500 Likes, though Facebook doesn’t enforce this rule.
5. Interact!It’s not all about creating great content. Facebook rewards interaction. If there are certain friends or brands you’d like to see appear in your Top News feed, post comments on their Profile or Page and Like their updates and soon you’ll see their updates appear in your feed, regardless of whether they respond. To lure them into interacting — so that your updates appear in their Top News feed — use a wide range of conversational techniques: Educate, inform, entertain, be funny and engaging, say “thank you.” Be patient, this can take some time to show results.
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