linkedin-bannerIt always amazes me the number of people who just go onto Facebook and Twitter and try to use it without familiarising themselves with the pitfalls and dangers that can be inherent in this type of public network.

It's vital that you learn about the privacy settings and methods of keeping yourself safe in a culture that encourages sharing but which can leave you dangerously exposed if you don't know the rules.

Social Media Training

People say, oh I don't need any social media training, what is there to worry about? I only post to my friends.

Well, yes, but did you know that nine out of ten social media users have received a friend request from someone that they didn't know - and over half have accepted such a request - often because they thought it was rude not to. But, the most common reason for considering such an action is that there appeared to be mutual friends in common. So several of your real friends had already accepted this person, which seems to give them some credence.

According to a recent report on digital safety by Legal & General, the average Facebook user has around 160 friends. On Facebook the acceptance figure of friends who have never actually been seen face to face is 42%. That means that there are around 66 strangers viewing their daily activities, comings and goings.

Digital criminals are now using fake profiles to send out these friend requests in the hope of gaining acceptance from those who do not have the knowledge that this happens and who then have access to all that new friend's friends - with the added bonus that they now have the approval of someone who really is a friend. That's an awful lot of individuals who could know when you are regularly out of the house, when you're going on holiday, when you're going to a wedding or a funeral and leaving the house empty. And who will also have seen images of the inside of your home and any expensive goodies that you might have paraded on Facebook - known as FaceBragging!

The Virtual World is not a safe place. You cannot trust everyone that you meet on the internet who says they are a friend.

Worse still, you cannot always trust the gurus who are giving out some of the training. I heard recently about some who were encouraging their students to set up fake profiles - something that is completely against Facebook's rules.

But, for the life of me, I cannot think of a social media strategy that would benefit from misinformation and, bearing in mind the activities of the digital criminals mentioned above, I would say it was a very risky plan.

A Social Media Plan

Many business owners go on to create a Page from their personal profile but their social media plan is to continue to make as many friends as possible on their profile so they can forward them on to their Page. Usually because they don't understand how to use their business page to network effectively.

It's the same with Twitter. The general idea seems to be that you have to gather as many followers as you can by accepting anyone who asks - whether they are related to your business or even in the same country.

So it's not surprising that the weirdos and stalkers are congregating on social media in full force.

I heard the tale of a man from abroad who was harassing a woman in the UK on Twitter and Facebook. The police told her that she should block the man but all that happened was that he kept opening new profiles and following/friending her all over again - because she kept accepting strangers as friends and followers.

When told that she should change her privacy settings on Facebook so that only friends of existing friends could ask to connect with her and that she should investigate follow notifications on Twitter before following them back - they can only direct message you if you done that - she was horrified.

"But how will I grow my business if I restrict who can friend and follow me?"

Well, in the real world, you wouldn't let a complete stranger - even one that you just pressed the flesh with at a networking breakfast - have access to your personal routine and other private information - so why would you let that happen on Facebook or Twitter? You need to have some protective boundaries in place and both platforms are working hard on their privacy to facilitate that goal.

And the "gurus" who are insisting that everyone and anyone is a potential customer have a lot to answer for.

Again, when you meet someone in person at a networking meeting, you get a business card which gives you a few clues about where they are based, what industry they are in and whether there will be a synergy. You also get a feel for whether you actually like that person or not - your own natural instincts, pheromones and hormones come into play in a way that they just can't online.

I agree that even those real life connections who don't seem to have any synergy may go on to provide you with some great leads in the future, but sufficient trust to recommend will have been built up by regular interactions over a period of time. It's one of the great features of Women In Business Networking, that sense of community which is built up through regular lunches and one-to-one meetings to help develop relationships.

Now, the gurus say this can also happen on Twitter and Facebook - but not if you have thousands of messages passing through your feeds and streams. How can you possibly build relationships with all those people?

Social Media can put networking on steroids - but in doing so, it can also dilute it.

If you want to learn how to use Social Media safely and effectively, you need training and a proper plan - otherwise, it has the potential to become just a dangerous waste of time.

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