I frequently find myself in the middle of a conversation on some forum about Facebook and how one might include that particular social media site into their writer's platform. There are a lot of things to consider.
Unlike Twitter, where you can have as many accounts as you do email addresses, on Facebook, you are meant to have only the one account. Yes, there are some writers out there who have two accounts: one for personal use and the other for their writing persona. For those that get away with it, good on you. However, for those considering doing this themselves, be warned. There have been reported cases where writers have been locked out of their accounts by Facebook because of this. This is a standing policy of Facebook: one account per user. If they discover that you have multiple accounts, they can and will put you in Facebook Jail. It's a real thing, people. Considered yourself warned.
So let's carry on and assume that you've joined the masses in Facebook with only one account. So now what?
Your standard Facebook account is also known as your personal profile. You will interact with Friends through your news feed and your wall, or their wall. You can tag your Friends in photos or other posts. You can join discussion groups and make new Friends. It's all about getting you name out there.
Here's the deal. Unless you change the default settings on Facebook, only your Friends can see your personal profile. To make matters more interesting, your Friends can post on your wall so your other Friends can see the posts too. Yes, you can delete them, but you have to know they're there in the first place. Friends' posts to your wall are NOT moderated. You could be rather unfortunate and have someone post something rather obscene to your wall, and it might be a day or two before you catch it, meanwhile, that post has gone around the world. This is probably the Number 1 reason why you don't want to make a personal profile public. The Number 2 reason is that it's against Facebook policy for someone to use a personal profile for commercial use. If you're a writer trying to sell your books, this falls under commercial usage.
So how does this help a writer who is trying to develop that public presence? Well, it doesn't. Instead, you want to use another Facebook feature called pages.
Pages have a similar look and feel to the personal profiles, but they can be used for a variety of different of reasons. You might be involved with a community group and want to shout out to the world about your fundraising efforts for that new hall. You may have your own business and want to promote specials. And for the writers, you'll want to be able to shout out about all those new releases and great book reviews you're getting.
A person can have any number of pages, and by default, all pages are public. This has multiple advantages, the biggest of which is that the public at large can find your page. You don't need a Facebook account to see a public page. As a consequence, there are many who will use their Facebook writer's page as their primary information portal for their readers. (Not exactly what I would do, but I've seen it done.)
Other advantages of pages include the fact that you can restrict those who can post something to just a small group of nominated people (i.e. page administrators and editors). You can also appoint moderators to help you field messages and deal with any comments. (On a personal profile, you're it, baby.)
So... How would this work for a writer? Well, you have a personal profile and a public page. Your fans can easily get all the updates about your upcoming projects from your page, but you maintain a level of control and privacy over your personal account. You can generate ads from your page and you can do all the promotion you like. Fans can still send you private messages to your page, unless you disable that feature. Regardless, messages sent to pages don't get lost. (For those of you not sure what I mean about hidden messages on Facebook, check this video out on YouTube.)
(UPDATE (Jan 21,2017): Because of recent changes in the web-based Facebook messenger system, the video indicated above is no longer valid. Now, to find your hidden filtered messages, select the cog icon in the top left, go to Message requests, then select the See filtered requests link.)
By having a personal profile separate to a public page, if you write under a pseudonym, or multiple pseudonyms, you can have different names on each. Personally, I would recommend this anyway. When someone performs a Google search for your name, you want to them to find your page, not your personal profile.
Let us temporarily leap to delusions of grandeur. You want your crazed fans to like your page, not send you Friends requests. Having a different name on your page to your personal profile will help you generate a level of separation between your private and writer personas.
Now for the serious down side: if you want to participate in a discussion group, you must do that using your personal profile. You can't join groups as your page. This means that you have a choice to make.
- You could risk Facebook jail and create a separate profile. (For reasons I've stated above, I don't recommend this. Facebook jail is very real.)
- You could have the same name on both your personal profile and public page. Other writers would know you as the name you write under, but crazed fans could find both and get confused.
- You could refuse to take part in any groups, using Facebook solely for the page. (I do know writers that do this. Personally, I feel they are missing out on the supportive writing community.)
- You could join writing discussion groups and just face the reality that some people will know you by both names. Fellow writers are likely to be understanding about your desire to use a pseudonym and not spread the information around. (This is what I personally do. And for those that get a sudden influx of Friends requests from fellow writers... Don't feel pressured into accepting those requests. You are entitled to your privacy.)
But what about your platform. We are constantly told that we need to maintain a public profile. Well, your pages are part of your platform; your personal profile is not, simply because it's not publicly accessible. Yes, any activities you have on your personal profile, be it via your wall or your participation in groups, could have an additional impact on your presence, but as a whole, it is the public page that people, such as prospective agents, publishers and fans, will see.
There is no need to risk Facebook jail to develop your writer's platform. The choices and personal policies that you develop are entirely up to you and you should never feel guilty about wanting to maintain a level of privacy.