Political

How to make the most of Facebook

May’s edition of Total Politics carries part one of a two part series from me about how people in politics can get the most out of Facebook.

I have covered many aspects of Facebook in the past, including tips for keeping on top of your notifications, but what are the basics you should get right? And if you think I’ve missed out something crucial, the comments thread awaits…

How to make the most of Facebook

Finding out what’s going on, communicating and getting feedback are essential parts of the job of any politician or would-be politician. Facebook offers great opportunities for all three, but it can also suck up huge amounts of time. So how can a busy person ensure they get the most from both Facebook and their precious time? A good starting point is to ensure you don’t fall into the trap which others have before.

If you flick through the media stories featuring the words “politician”, “Facebook” and “gaffe”, you will find that nearly all involve something which in a pre-Facebook world would have been kept private, but was put on Facebook and then leaked. Like it or not, you must assume that anything you put on Facebook will end up being seen by journalists and opponents. Act accordingly. Keep your genuinely private life away from your political Facebook presence.

Get your Facebook privacy settings right

Whilst this is good advice for anyone in politics, it can cause problems for someone who has been using Facebook long before they thought of standing for public office. Must they really axe their private use of Facebook and remove past private information before going in to politics?

There is one way to avoid this, which is to have a profile that you use for non-political purposes, with a limited friends list and tight security settings, and then to use a page or group for your political activities. Brian Paddick (the Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor in 2008) did this successfully.

For it to work you have to be very confident of who your friends are and take care over your privacy settings. If however you are using your profile for your political presence, then you want to go to the other extreme – being very relaxed about who become your friends (though say no to Saddam Hussein and similar impostors), and having minimal privacy settings so people can easily find you and your news. Facebook’s defaults, which give users a reasonable degree of privacy, are therefore too restrictive for political use.

Log in to Facebook, go to Settings in the top menu and then select Privacy Settings. Generally you should set the different options under Profile so that Everyone can see information, as that’s the way to reach the widest audience. The most likely exceptions are Profile / Contact Information where you might want to restrict access to some of this information. Indeed, Facebook does not provide the everyone option for some of these.

Under Search make sure that Create a public search listing is ticked as this means people will be able to locate your Facebook profile via Google and other search engines. Under News Feed and Wall, ticking all the options means other Facebook users are more likely to notice you, so tick away.

The Applications setting is where some of the more controversial Facebook behaviour is controlled. In essence, it is about how much of your Facebook information and activity can be accessed by other websites and software. For personal Facebook use this can be of real concern, but if you are using Facebook for public political purposes, then it makes sense to enable widespread sharing.

The Privacy Settings page also has an option to let you block someone, which is useful for those very rare occasions where someone has a serious problem with a stalker or similar. It may be appropriate to report someone to the police and/or to the Facebook team, but whether because you are waiting for them to act or because the actions are not quite serious enough to warrant those steps, it is good to know the block feature is there.

Use the notifications tab in your Facebook inbox

Now that people can find out what you are up to, it is time to make sure you get the news you want about what other people are doing. Facebook pulls together in one place the main notifications you might be interested in: it’s the notifications tab in your Facebook inbox.

Click on Inbox in the top menu and then Notifications. Here you will find a concise and clean list of activities you might want to know about, such as people commenting on your wall. You can customise what appears in the list by using the tick boxes on the right.

In particular, watch out for Facebook applications appearing in the list on the right with their box ticked. It is easy to end up with a lot of notifications coming through from applications that you aren’t really that interested in. Just clear the tick box next to their name and their notifications will stop.

A good basic list to have ticked is Show notifications received, Show notifications sent by me, Friends, Links, Photos, Feed Comments and Likes. (One or more of these may not appear for you if you don’t have those features enabled.)

Useful though this notification page is, it still requires you to go to Facebook to check it. For some events getting an immediate email alert is useful, such as when someone sends you a message via Facebook. Facebook provides a set of email alert options for such situations. Used well, these are very powerful, but receive too many alerts, and you’re likely to suffer email overload.

So click on Settings in the top right and then click on Notifications. It’s a long page! But a few minutes spent getting the settings right will repay themselves many times over. If you have any applications installed, their notifications options appear at the bottom of this page. If you add applications subsequently, you may want to come back to this page to adjust your settings.

Pull content automatically into Facebook

Website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr – the list of different ways you can reach the public builds up quickly, and unless you have a large team helping you it quickly becomes necessary to share content efficiently between these different places if you want to make use of them. Facebook provides some powerful options for doing just this.

Facebook’s Notes feature lets you write short postings and share them with people. It’s a great way of letting people know what you’ve been doing, but if you are also writing stories for a website or blog, you can save time by having them automatically imported into Facebook as notes.

Click on Applications in the bottom left corner of the Facebook screen, then on Notes in the pop-up list and then on My Notes. There is a blue box on the right that lets you set up your import settings.

(If Notes didn’t appear on the pop-up list, click on Find more in the pop-up list, type Notes into the Search Applications box, click on Notes by Facebook and install it.)

Once done, all your future new pieces will be automatically imported. The importing can take up to a few hours, so don’t rely on this feature to get news quickly on to Facebook.

If you mention in your notes people who are on Facebook you can ‘tag’ them on the note. This means that they are more likely to notice your piece, e.g. because they get a notification. Other friends of theirs may also notice that they’ve been tagged. This way your news can spread to a much wider audience.

You can tag people by going to My Notes as above and then clicking on the title of any note. On the page that comes up there is a tagging box on the right. If you are automatically importing content as notes, you unfortunately cannot have people automatically tagged. You need to go to your notes to manually do this.

You can only tag people who are your Facebook friends, so if there is anyone who you regularly mention and who you think might be on Facebook, it is a good idea to hunt them out and become their friend.

If you use the Flickr photo gallery site, you can also have your photographs from their automatically displayed on Facebook. Again click on Applications, then Find more and search for My Flickr. This application will display your photos on your profile page, though photographs added this way can’t be tagged with the names of other Facebook users. If you are regularly uploading photos that feature people on Facebook it may therefore be best to put in the extra time to upload the photos separately.

If you use Twitter, you can make your tweets automatically feed through to Facebook and update your status. Search for the application Twitter, install it and start saving time straight away.

If you post up films to YouTube, you can make them appear on Facebook too with the YouTube Box application. Again, you can find it by searching the applications list. This application is not laid out that clearly when it comes to adding or removing films, but the side of it which other people see works very well. (The top tip to remember is that you have to both add your latest film to the list in the application and then also say that you want to have it displayed on your profile.)

In all three cases there are other applications that do a similar job, so if you have any very specialist needs it may be worth taking a look at some of the others. There is also a vast range of other Facebook applications, so keep an eye out on what colleagues and rivals are doing on Facebook and you may discover some other useful applications to use.

Armed with the right privacy settings, notifications and Facebook applications you can now set off to make the most of Facebook – including polls, quizzes, tagging, campaign groups and more, which I’ll be covering in the next issue.

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