I do a lot of networking. I’m talking about social networking or business networking — people networking. (If we add in technology networking then my whole life is some form of networking.) I’m not a big fan of MySpace, but LinkedIn and Facebook have proven to be great ways for me to meet (and re-meet) people. LinkedIn is my professional networking tool of choice and Facebook is more social. One thing that these sites are great at is helping you research potential customers and prepare for sales calls.
Despite the popularity of these networking sites (or perhaps because of it), a lot of people are concerned that social networking is going to cause a violation of their privacy. While it’s important to maintain boundaries about what information you share on these sites, another important concern is how you share even the basic information that you post. For example, you shouldn’t start downloading all kinds of photo uploaders and Facebook applications. Those can be bad news. I know of more than one person that has had her identity stolen by a Trojan placed on her PC by a rogue photo uploader.
Follow these guidelines to social network safely:
- Prepare. Before you join, talk to your colleagues and peers to see what their experiences have been with social networking. Find out the scams and the ripoffs and also find out what’s worked. Know what your goals are. I mentioned above that there are different social networking sites. Facebook is social and LinkedIn is business. MySpace is sort of a mix of both but if you’re over 30 you don’t belong there. Decide what you want to get out of joining and then tailor your profile for that. For example, LinkedIn helps me network within technology and Facebook helps me find high school classmates.
- Share appropriately. Each site has some sort of preferences or options to let you decide how little or how much you want to share. Profiles can be fully public or fully private — or somewhere in between. Contacts can be public or private. Some sites even let you control whether you appear in searches or not. Use these settings to find the right combination of protection and exposure.
- Be careful when linking. Please think before you link. Many people will spam out a bunch of friend requests. If you link to such people they may be able to learn all about you. I’ve read about criminals using social networking sites to learn about victims and then using that information to steal their identities or other information. Think about it. Once you write that you love your dog Fido, you had better change your password so that it is no longer “Fido.” Don’t link to people you don’t know. Exchange a few emails to make sure they’re on the level. You wouldn’t run around handing out business cards — you talk to the person for a few minutes first. And don’t be afraid to revoke links. If someone lies and cheats and steals then you can cut your ties.
- Avoid divulging everything. You know what I mean. Mother’s maiden name would be a bad thing to start telling strangers. We also don’t need to know that the hot dog you had at lunch didn’t agree with you. (That’s more of a courtesy thing than a security thing). Don’t post that you’re out of town, and don’t post your home address.
I look up people before I’m going to meet them and take some time to learn about them. If we’ve got a hobby in common then I’ll mention it at some point and we can bond over it. After all, the whole point of social networking is getting to know each other, isn’t it?