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Back to May 2013 ITS Newsletter

Sharing is Caring, Except When It’s Not

By Ryan Coyle

Using Facebook Lists to Create Better Communities

Sharing is a big thing in my house.  With four small children, sharing is important, whether it’s the TV, food, or a binkie.  It is a mantra we preach daily and we’ve had some good luck with it.  It helps us keep the peace in an otherwise hectic household.  In the online world, people like to share as well.  Perhaps, too much some would say.

Let’s take for example sharing on Facebook.  It’s a giant online community designed for sharing. Many would say it is the core business of Facebook, for without it, it has no reason for being. 

That said, some people like to share things.  Some people like to share lots of things.  Things that perhaps other people don’t have a lot of interest in.  Pictures of your breakfast, cats, that cool bug you saw on the sidewalk, your high score in Candy Crush, etc.  While you may think that all of these things are interesting in their own right, not everyone in your friends list may think so.

Facebook Newsfeed is Born

Back in 2006 when Facebook originally introduced the news feed, it was a big deal.  Before then, the site was really a giant list of names, interests and directory info.  Once the news feed was created it took the guesswork out of trolling your friends’ info.  It added intelligence to a fire hose of information.  Facebook understood who you interacted with and added their stuff to your news feed.  People you don’t interact with, their information falls off your feed.  There’s a complex formula that Facebook uses called EdgeRank that looks something like this:

It’s a complex formula for sure, but it condenses into three main components: 1) How well you know someone? 2) How are you connected to them? and 3) How old is the story?

Getting back to the sharing idea, Facebook identifies how and with whom you interact.  For your content to show up in another person’s news feed, you have to interact with that person in some way.  Every interaction that you post on Facebook is competing with 500 other interactions that are happening at any given time for a spot on someone’s feed.  To make sure that your content hits the right people you have to share it with people who might be interested in it.

The Power of Facebook Lists

To this end Facebook created lists.  Lists are ways for you to organize your friends in specific ways.  You can organize a list any way you want.  The lists are not mutually exclusive, so you can have a person in your games list, and also on a family list or any other list.  By creating lists of specific friends, you can publish certain updates to certain friends and hopefully create better engagement with those friends. 

For example, if I’m a gardener, I might like to share pictures of my garden, what I’m growing, tips for gardening, etc with my friends on Facebook. If I share my gardening updates with my entirety of Friends on Facebook, chances are, the friends of mine that are gardeners probably aren’t going to see my updates.  Now, if I whittle my gardening updates to my friends that I know are gardeners chances are much greater that the update that I put out will land on their newsfeed. 

Facebook knows which of my friends likes gardening, and it knows how they know me.  As I produce content that is of greater interest to my gardening friends, they have a greater likelihood of interacting with it, further increasing that content’s affinity score, or chances that someone would find the content interesting.  As you can see this behavior is cyclical.  The more that I share to a targeted audience, the greater the chance of them seeing and interacting with it, which in turn enhances the communal effect of sharing it in the first place.


Editor's Note: I'm not one to share much on Facebook, but couldn't resist the opportunity to do it here! Here is a picture from the Butterfly House at the Cornell Cooperative Extension. I'm a Master Gardener!

 

Create a Facebook List

  1. On the left side of the screen, click on MORE next to your FRIENDS section.  If you mouse over FRIENDS, you’ll see MORE appear. 

  1. Next you’ll see the option to Create List, along with some predefined lists, e.g. Close Friends, Acquaintances, and Family. 
  2. Click on Create List, give it a name and start adding some friends. 

  1. To share with that list, the next time that you go to update your status or share pictures, etc, select the list from the Friends tab.  Easy peasey, lemon squeezy.

Protecting Your Privacy

There’s another side of creating lists that will also help you to stay safe when using Facebook.  One of the side effects of sharing content with specific lists is that you’ll avoid sharing content with the Public on accident.  Most of the things that we share online are fairly benign.  However, sometimes there are things that we don't want to share, even with people we trust.  Going away on a long vacation?  Airing some dirty family laundry?  When you’re more cognizant of whom you’re sharing with more often, you’re less likely to avoid embarrassment or worse.  Call it the ‘reply-to-all’ theorem.  You certainly don’t want to send everyone you know all your email correspondence, so don’t share everything you do with everyone in your Friends list, or worse yet, publicly.  You’ll find if you target your updates to select people, you’ll have better engagements with those people whose interests closely follow your own.  I, and everyone on your Friends list who could care less about your Farmville exploits, will thank you.