I was reading recently that there are 400 million people on Facebook, which of course, includes me. It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and as I get more connected on LinkedIn and other social sites, I started having a true dilemma. How do I keep Facebook personal, but not let out too much personal information to total (or even partial) strangers?

What’s A “Friend”, Really?

You may have faced the same dilemma: Who do you accept as a “friend”?

  • High school classmates who you haven’t seen in 30 years?
  • Someone you met once at a Chamber mixer?
  • A client?
  • Someone who you’ve never met, but you’re connected to on LinkedIn?
  • Anyone around the world?

If you’re like me, you have personal information that maybe you don’t necessarily want the whole world to see, like pictures of your family, your e-mail address, phone numbers, and so on.

On the other hand, I want to connect with people who might do business with me, so I can either:

  • Not have any personal information on my Facebook profile
  • Segregate the people I connect with into groups, and give the groups different levels of permission

The former choice is OK, but friends and family want to see pictures and things that I’m up to. I could set up a second profile, but that just gets really confusing to manage.

Instead, I chose to separate people into groups and give the groups permissions that I think are appropriate.

Step 1: Create A Bucket List

You need to create a list of “buckets”, but not what you want to do before you die. Instead create buckets that you can easily segregate people into that make sense for you. I have essentially three buckets:

  • Former high school classmates
  • Professional connections (people I do know or have done business with or met at mixers)
  • People I don’t know

Classmates and professional connections, I don’t mind them having my personal contact information. However, I don’t necessarily want them to have access to photos of my children or other personal information. The people in the “People I don’t know” group are literally people I don’t know and have never met, or haven’t seen in many years. They don’t get access to my personal information, most photo albums, and have various other restrictions (which I’ll explain in a second).

If you’re a Facebook friend who hasn’t been included in any of these groups, you therefore get access to all my information, because you are someone I know and trust.

So far so good?

Step 2: Create Your Lists

In Facebook, choose “Account”, then click “Edit Friends”. At the top, is a button “Create New List”. Click that, and give it a name like “People I Don’t Know”. Click on all the people that you want to include in that list, then click “Create List”.

Create another list if you want, and include more people in that list. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, in case you want to have permissions for different groups. Someone may be in more than one list.

Step 3: Set Your List Permissions

Now you have to take away permissions for each of the groups of people (“lists”) you created. In Facebook, choose “Account”, “Privacy Settings”, then click the “Profile Information”.

Even if you don’t set up any lists of people, you should review this page anyway. Facebook recently changed your default permissions to give more access, which is a change you may not have wanted.

From this page, you can change the settings for each level of permissions, including allowing something like this:

Who can see this: “Friends except ‘People I Don’t Know'”

Be sure to choose “Custom” for those settings that you want to exclude a group from. Choose who you want to hide it from and add as many groups as you want.

Step 4: Manage Your Lists

It’s critical to maintain these lists or what you’ve set up won’t work. Fortunately, Facebook makes it really easy. When you send a new friend request, be sure to click the “Add To List” drop down and choose which group they should be included in before you send it. If someone sends you a friend request, click the same “Add To List” drop down before you accept it.

You can always (and should) go into your “Edit Friends” list to see who you might have forgotten to include in a list. One occasionally slips through, so check it frequently.

Final Thoughts

If you want to completely separate your private persona from your business, you can create a Facebook fan page. People can become a fan without being your “friend”, and you can still tell them all the cool things going on in your business. But that’s a post for another day.

In the mean time, please comment here and tell me how you’ve implemented this security plan and how well it’s worked for you.