The three keys to positive social media management

First of all, apologies for the fact that I was unable to post this yesterday as usual.  My internet was down all evening making it impossible to do anything online.  I’m now back and hope that you enjoy this post.

A couple of months ago, I bought a new phone (which I genuinely needed) and even though it was one of the cheapest models around, it could still do a lot more than my old phone, so, naturally I went ahead and filled it up with everything I could think of, including a whole batch of social media apps.  I’m actually getting a whole lot better at minimalism, or at least restraint, in the real world, but I’m still horrendous at it in the digital one.  As I should have realized my shiny new phone promptly started bleeping and blooping at me like R2:D2 on a sugar rush and I quickly realized that I needed to get to grips with my social media before it drove me to distraction.  On the plus side, this turned into a useful exercise in thinking about my use of social media in general.  So, based on that experience, here are my thoughts on the three keys to positive social media management.

Focus on the platforms, which matter to you and be aware of why you are using them

For me, Facebook as a convenient place to post quick updates and fun stuff and see what other people have been doing.  Google+ and YouTube are the places to go for information and discussion, Instagram and Pinterest are for inspiration and Twitter is for entertainment.  LinkedIn is a hub for professional networking.  I use these sites with different levels of frequency and engagement but I can honestly say that they all serve a meaningful purpose in my life.  If you have accounts on sites you hardly, if ever, use, I strongly suggest you just close them.  Each of these platforms contains your personal details, which means that it provides a slightly-open window into your life and that slightly-open window can be exploited by people who are quite prepared to harm you.

Decline to accept notifications

Web and app notifications are a current hot trend in marketing; frankly I’d suggest you decline them (or turn them off), unless you have a compelling and specific reason to accept them.  If you feel that you need a prod to remember to check something, set an alarm you control.  Be aware that these days a lot of apps will have push notifications turned on by default so you have to take that step to turn them off.  This, literally, worked wonders for my peace and quiet and my ability to focus.
Understand the importance of privacy and how to maintain it

In the real world, there are probably some people you trust completely and to whom you feel you could tell any secret and other people with whom you would never trust anything remotely confidential.  The latter might be perfectly nice people, just unable to keep quiet about anything.  You probably also know lots of people, who are somewhere in between, from the ones you with whom you would happily chat about minor issues over a drink to the ones you like but don’t necessarily feel you know well enough to trust with anything important.  There are also lots of people who float in and out of our lives and a few people you’d go out of your way to avoid.  The digital world is much the same, but the big difference is that the real world usually has some degree of in-built privacy if only because of the limited number of people around us at any given time; whereas anything you put online is visible to everyone unless you actively make it private (and even than it can often still be shared if someone is determined enough).  This means that you absolutely must get to grips with the idea of the concept of privacy and part of this is making sure that you proactively and positively managing your online relationships, especially your social media connections.

My personal belief is that there are three reasons why people fail to manage their social media contacts effectively.

They fail to realise just how important it is to do so.
They feel guilty about the thought of “unfriending” people.
They don’t actually know how.

Let’s look at these in turn

They fail to realise just how important it is to do so.

If you still need convincing about the importance of positively managing your social media contacts, then here are three points for you to consider.

Trimming away people who add very little value to our lives leaves us more emotional space to grow and nurture relationships with people who really matter to us.  If your Facebook feed is continually rammed full of updates which mean little to nothing to you, then you will find it more challenging to pick out the updates from the people who do make a positive difference to your life.

Reducing the number of “extra” people in our online lives actually improves our safety both online and in the real world.  All your contacts may, genuinely, be perfectly well-meaning people, but as the old saying goes “careless talk costs”…  Just ask footballer John Terry, who had his house burgled after he posted to the world that he was away on holiday (and hence his house was empty). 

Limiting who can see your content, helps to reduce the likelihood that it will be seen by people for whom it was never intended, such as current and potential employers (or clients).  People have been fired for content they’ve posted to social media.  In the UK, (former) Argos employees Tom Beech and David Rowat were dismissed for making negative comments about their employer and in the U.S. charity worker Lindsey Stone was fired as a result of a prank photo she posted to social media.  Who knows how many people have lost out on interviews and/or job offers as a result of their social media posts? 

They feel guilty about the thought of “unfriending” people.

I think Facebook and its idea of online “friends” has made it difficult for some people to take ownership of their online contacts.  The idea of “unfriending” someone can have many negative connotations and perhaps bring up memories of rejections you’ve experienced.  Ignore it.  Mentally change it to “contacts” and remind yourself that with a bit of common sense, tact and knowledge of profile settings, you can take charge of who gets to see what, if anything, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

They don’t actually know how.

Different social media platforms have different ways of managing contact lists, but a lot of them work along similar lines.  I’m going to talk about managing contacts on Facebook, mainly because I think it’s the place which creates the most challenges, but the basic idea is much the same.

Start with a general clean-up

On the desktop version, look on the left-hand menu bar and you'll see "Friend lists".  Click on this and you'll see the lists Facebook has created for you.  Choose "Create list".  Give your list a name and click create.  The names of these lists are private to you so you can call them what you like, just make sure whatever name you choose makes sense to you when you look at it later.  Let’s say you call your (first) list “Family and close friends”.  These people are your “inner circle”, the people you love and trust more than anyone else.  On the next screen, click "Add friends to list".  Go through your friends list and click on the profile pictures of the people you want to include.  The save your list by clicking “Finish”.  Once the list is saved, you can add and remove people on an individual basis any time you like.  Just go to the individual user, mouse over them, choose “Edit Lists” and make the change.
Now you’ve captured the key people, go through the rest of your friend list and sort the rest of your friends into meaningful lists.  This gives you a good opportunity to go through your contacts and think about the current state of your relationship.  If there are people you think you’d like to remove from Facebook you could create a separate list for them or include them in the closest group and commit to managing them as part of an ongoing process.  If there’s anyone you are comfortable unfriending now then do so and decide whether or not to contact them to let them know about it.

NB: If you unfriend someone they will still receive notifications about any public content you post as they will be classed as a “follower” (more on this later).  Hence, all you are doing is stopping them from seeing content you wish to keep more private.

Separating your friends into lists allows you to exercise a higher degree of control over who sees what content.  You can set default privacy settings for each group and also for individual posts.  You can even create sub-lists, so, for example, if you want to post content you think some of your nearest and dearest will appreciate and some not, then you can do so.

Move people to other platforms if appropriate

Facebook is generally the place for exchanging personal news and gossips and jokes.  There may be people with whom you wish to keep in touch but for whom another platform would be more appropriate.  For example, if your relationship with someone is essentially professional, then LinkedIn is probably a far better choice.

Decide who to (un)follow

Your privacy settings allow you to control who gets to see what you post.  You decision as to who to (un)follow allows you to control what pops up in your news feed. 

Here’s a very brief guide to friendship versus following

Friends have the automatic right to see all content posted to the friend list of which they are a member.

Followers have the automatic right to see all content posted as being public.

All friends automatically follow each other but either or both may choose to unfollow the other and stay friends.  Unfollowing a friend means that you stop receiving their posts in your news feed but can still access them if you want to.

If you unfriend someone, they still stay as a follower unless they choose to stop following you.  This means that they will automatically see any content you post as public but private content will be hidden from them.

Unfollowing can be used in a couple of ways.  First of all, you can use it as a test to see how much you’d miss someone if you unfriended them.  Secondly, you can use it to limit the amount of content you receive from people who overshare (in your opinion).  This can clear up your news feed without you actually unfriending them.  You’ll still be able to see all their content but you’ll have to go and check for it rather than having it sent straight to your feed. 

Likewise, anyone who follows you is notified of any posts you make which you mark as public.  If you want to change this, you can do so in Account Settings>Public Posts.  Personally, I don’t see the point, given that you’ve marked the post as public anyway, but what you may wish to do is control who can comment on public posts, which can be done from the same place (your options are Public, Friends of Friends and Friends).

Block users if you really need to

I’d recommend only blocking users as an absolute last resort.  If someone’s online behaviour to you is really unacceptable then fair enough, block them, if, however, you just wish to disassociate yourself from someone perhaps because you’ve realized they hold opinions of which you can not approve, then unfollowing or unfriending them may be better options.  In blunt terms, you may find you could use that person’s help some day or that you could use the help of someone they know; hence you generally want to avoid burning bridges if you can help it.  You should also remember that any user you block can simply create a new account and view your public content in the same way as any other follower.  I would suspect this would probably be against Facebook’s rules but realistically I doubt there would be much they could do to stop this.

Keep the ball rolling

Once you’ve reached this point, make a commitment to keep reviewing your friend lists on a regular basis, at the very least once a year, maybe November 17th, which Jimmy Kimnel declared National Unfriend Day.

A few general tips on social media management

Some people like to send out mass mailings or status updates before they clean out their friend lists, personally I think it’s a bad idea.  If you use this process carefully and considerately, the chances are that very few people (if any) will actually notice and if anyone does, you can always address the matter with them individually.  It’s up to you if you leave an alternative means of contacting you on your Facebook profile, personally I’d suggest you just make a point of remembering to check the “other” section on your messenger.

If you are asked about why you made a change aim to be both honest and positive.  If you’re managing your social media lists in a mindful and positive way, this should be fairly straightforward.  For example, you could just say: “I’ve decided I really need to reduce how much time I spend on Facebook and for me that means reducing my friends list to a bare minimum” or whatever other, honest, reason was behind the decision.

Finally, know that you are informed about privacy settings, remember to use them.  To be honest, I personally like to double-check the settings for each post before I release it, which I think is good practice.

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