Actual advice on utilizing privacy settings in Facebook for personal and professional use

Thursday, 08 January 2009

While reading a recent CareerBuilder article on Facebook and the how and why of friending a boss or coworker, I realized there are a ton of articles warning college students, recent grads and young professionals of the dangers of social networking as they venture out into the workforce, but none of these supposed job experts ever give any real advice on what to do that goes beyond “be careful, people are watching.”

Well, no duh people are watching, that’s the whole point of these sites. I’ll admit, I got the speech in several classes when I was finishing up at BU, but that was almost three years ago and a lot has changed since then. My policy has always been to untag or delete unflattering pictures of myself and I try not to curse online; that was good enough at the time. Now, there’s a lot more to think about.

Yes, employers really will check these sites (or have someone else do it); they will Google your name, and since Facebook profiles are indexed now (not when I graduated, man I feel old), you will be found. Everyone knows this is happening, but what do you actually do about it?

Use Facebook as Both a Professional and Personal Network

I’ve heard people recommend setting up two separate profiles, one for friends and one for colleagues; too much hassle and too many problems, in my opinion. It will be obvious you have two, the potential to get confused about which one you’re on is high, and the constant switching will get on your nerves. Inevitably, one will suffer, and my bet is that it’s the professional one.

You want to have one profile that shows your serious, professional nature as well as your fun loving side. An employer looking at Facebook is probably relatively cool, and you can get a leg up by showing a bit of your personality. Employers and recruiters are starting to use Facebook as a screening tool, and one of its standout features is the personal peek it allows outsiders; this helps them decide if you are a good culture fit, someone they would like to work with. A resume can’t do that.

The Addition of Personalized Privacy Settings

Privacy settings were added and adapted as Facebook gained more and more functionality. In the beginning, pretty much all you could do was upload your own photos, write on a wall and poke someone. Not a lot of ways to look bad, unless you wrote a horrible profile or had friends posting stupid comments.

Applications, photo tagging and commenting functionality for everything expanded the potential for information about you, but not from you, getting online. Remember when the news feed changed? People were angry that break ups would be broadcast. So Facebook gave users control over each part of their profile, allowing individuals to choose who saw what instead of making blanket changes to the site.

Adjust Your Facebook Privacy Settings for Friends vs. Colleagues/Employers

If you play around with the settings, you can almost create two versions of the same profile, one for friends and one for work or networking contacts. You can also adjust what someone unconnected to you (like a potential employer) can see, effectively making three profiles controlled from one. Privacy settings can be adjusted by hovering over “Settings” in the upper right corner of Facebook and clicking on”Privacy Settings.”

People You Don’t Know

First, adjust how someone you aren’t connected to views your profile. I like to allow them to view some parts of the profile, in case a potential employer or networking contact is searching for me. To do that, make your profile available to “My Networks and Friends” and your search visibility to “Everyone.” You should also make sure that the “Public Search Listing” box is checked off so your profile can be indexed.

Once you’ve done that, decide what information you don’t want an unknown to see. Then change the settings accordingly, allowing “Only Friends” to see that information. This also sets up the all-access version of your profile for your friends. Me, I allow outsiders to see my Basic Info, Personal Info, Status Updates (mine pull from Twitter), Education Info and Work Info. That means no photos, no videos, no wall. I also have select applications, like Blog RSS Reader and Twitter, available to everyone, as they have a more professional focus.

I allow potential employers and networking contacts to see my favorite books and my personal interests because it gives a better picture of who I am outside of work and provides another way to connect. Perhaps we are both alumnae of the same sorority, or grew up in the same town; these are small details that can make me stand out.

Your “Real” Friends

My friends get the full version of my profile (with some exceptions; I’ll get to them next). Things reserved only for actual friends are Photos Tagged of Me, most of the Photo Albums I upload, Videos Tagged of Me, Wall Posts and the ability to post on my wall. Most applications can only be viewed by my friends as well.

Coworkers You are Friends with on Facebook

I don’t differentiate between coworker friends and “real” friends on Facebook, but I work in a pretty laid back place. However, if you want to connect with a coworker but limit how much of your profile they can see, you can make it more like the public one by limiting coworkers individually or creating a group of all your coworker friends and blocking them from certain features.

You can create a group from the Friends page, or choose them individually by name on the Privacy Settings page. Simply choose a feature you want to block, like Your Wall, and select “Customize” from the drop down. Then enter the name of the person or group you want to keep from seeing that feature.

Final Tips

No one will know you’ve changed settings, either for them or in general; these updates will not show up in your news feed, so block people with abandon. Also note that photo albums settings must be changed individually, either when you set up a new album or by going to the Photos section of the Privacy page. However, any photo you use as a profile picture goes in a separate album called “Profile Pictures” which the settings cannot be changed for. So don’t make an inappropriate photo your profile pic. But you knew that.

If you liked this post, friend me on Facebook and see which version you get to see!


  • What of the bigger, core problem: people who don’t share their lives and thoughts online tsk-tsking people who do. Do you think that’s something we can hope to affect? Will there ever be a point when most people feel like they don’t have to hide legal, innocuous parts of their lives?

    Comment by Dave — January 8, 2009 @ 3:13 pm
  • Great article. I recommended it to my Facebook friends too.

    Comment by Charles Papp — January 8, 2009 @ 7:13 pm
  • Dave-

    It’s true that some people (particularly older and less familiar with social sites) can be wary of oversharing and frown on those who seemingly have no boundaries or illusions of privacy. I think by using social media and social networking effectively with proven business results, we can show that there is merit to putting yourself out there.

    I’ll admit that I keep some aspects of my legal yet personal life hidden; perhaps I’m on the older end of the sharing generation. Think of it as celebrities who try to protect their children from the paparazzi; there are some things that are just private. And while there may be nothing wrong with wedding, baby or bachelorette photos, I can see why it’s nice to keep them reserved for “true” friends.

    Great question. Thanks for reading!


    Comment by alison — January 9, 2009 @ 8:53 am
  • Great advice, Alison.

    Earlier this week, I somewhat went the professional profile way… but created a page, so people can become my fans and see my RSS feeds, future photos and videos, etc., in one place. Sort of like my own FriendFeed or Plaxo feed on a core Facebook “page” and not requiring one to go all over the place.


    Comment by Ari Herzog — January 10, 2009 @ 12:20 am
  • [...] Actual Advice on Using Facebook Privacy Settings [...]

  • [...] like my Privacy Settings Guide, I’ve created a three part series on Facebook promotions using SEO techniques. This step-by-step [...]

  • this was awesome info, some I knew some I am glad I now know
    Thanks Alison

    Comment by James Collins — March 6, 2009 @ 11:43 am
  • [...] draw for the average, everyday user is, or should be, that they can “label” their friends for easy adjustment of Profile Privacy Settings.  Creating Friend Lists may sound harsh or judgmental, but this categorization happens every day [...]

  • [...] does this mean for you? If you haven’t gotten the hang of Facebook privacy settings, you can breathe a little easier; this makes it harder to see what you have posted online. But if [...]

  • Thanks for the revised privacy settings!

    Comment by Mary Martin — December 9, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI