WG2E Guest Joanne Phillips on “Privacy and Social Media – How to Control Your Personal Information”

TGIF, WG2E-Land!!!

Need to learn how to control your personal information, while also building your public presence online?

Here are a bunch of fabulous tips from WG2E Guest Contributor Joanne Phillips…

Privacy and Social Media – How To Control Your Personal Information

When I offered to write a post about social media and privacy, I was thinking specifically of Facebook. What was once just a neat way to keep up to date with friends and family has snowballed into a major player in brand marketing. Is FB still the place to be posting pictures of your kids’ nativity play or first day at school? What about those photos of you and the girls on a night out last week? Or the fact that you’ve just ‘liked’ a special offer on hold-it-all-in pants from Marks & Spencer? (I made that one up, honestly!)

Facebook Pages

In theory, Facebook’s ‘pages’ should have solved this problem. Keep your personal page personal, and use your fan page for readers and fellow authors, right? The problem is that FB won’t allow you to join any groups via your page. You have to use your personal account to interact in various essential ways. I made the decision a while back to link my personal page to my author persona, and deal with the consequences. Which are? Well, I have to think twice about the above mentioned photos now. And I don’t want to be marketing my book to my friends all the time, either.

I asked some pals of mine from the Alliance of Independent Authors (Alli) how they handled the tricky problem of privacy on FB. Here are some of their comments:

“I’m aware that I have writer “friends” on Facebook whom I don’t know overly well, though I don’t really increase my security because of that – I would never put my real date of birth online, nor a phone number, and I would never activate the location-specific software various social media sites use, nor would I ever announce I was going on holiday or post pictures from a holiday location whilst still there or anything else that indicates I’m out of the house.” Dan Holloway, writer and poet.

“I don’t even attempt to keep my 2 IDs separate. I only have a personal page on FB because you can’t have a business page without one, but I only post on my author page. I assume everything I put on FB is potentially public and post accordingly. I tend to assume anything I post online is public, especially since discovering that a forum in which I was posting about mental illness, was viewable by the public, though only members of the forum could actually post. I naively assumed that if you had to be a member to post, you had to be a member to view! Then I found one of my very personal posts via Google… I tend not to post anything I wouldn’t be happy to see on the front page of the Guardian.” Linda Gillard, bestselling indie author.

A good idea is to make use of lists. If you add close friends and family to a list, you can then choose to post personal photos or status updates only to the people on that list. You can also deselect the list if you don’t want friends to see yet another promotional post on FB.


So, what of Twitter, the other big social media giant right now. (I say right now because we all know how these forums come and go. MySpace anyone? Which is why some of the best advice I’ve ever read is to not put all your author eggs in one basket. Have your own hub, such as a blog or website, and maintain your own email list. That way if any of the social media sites go down for whatever reason, you haven’t lost access to readers in one fell swoop!)

Here is what author and book promotions expert Debbie Young has to say about Twitter:

“I have a Facebook page for my book and my book promotion work, but prefer to use Twitter to keep in touch with (and find) people I don’t know. Interestingly, practically none of my personal friends use Twitter unless they have some marketing need for it. I’ve been dithering about the potential crossover between my personal blog and my book-related blog, and they are increasingly converging. I don’t think you can make hard and fast rules about these various media.”

Great advice, and a good distinction – whereas FB started out as repository for personal information, Twitter is a more accepted medium for promotional or business-related interaction. That’s not to say you shouldn’t interact in a personal way on Twitter, but when it comes to privacy, it is easier to hide behind a public persona here.

A final thought before I end with a few Dos and Don’ts – following Instagram’s sudden decision to make use of its members’ photographs for its own marketing purposes, it’s wise to remember that when you upload content to a social media site, they own the content, not you. In a world where sharing information is easier than breathing, we should take a moment to consider what we are sharing, and who we’re sharing it with.

Do keep your locations private. Disable location-specific apps on your phone and computer.

Do check out the privacy options on every social media site you use. Facebook has them, and most of us don’t even know what they are.

Do use Facebook lists to choose who sees personal information or photos.

Don’t post anything, anywhere, that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. Or, as Linda Gillard said, that you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of a national newspaper.

Don’t post about other people without getting their permission first. This include photos, quotes, or other any other information.

Don’t ever post dates of birth, phone numbers, addresses, bank details (!), even via Facebook messages or Twitter DMs.

So, over to you, WG2E-Land Peeps – what are your thoughts on social media and keeping private?

About Joanne:

Joanne Phillips lives in rural Shropshire, England, with her husband and daughter. Since leaving school she’s had an eclectic career, working as a hairdresser, an air hostess and a librarian. She now writes full time, and her second novel, The Family Trap, is due for release on February 14 2013.

Find out more about Joanne’s writing and books at http://www.joannephillips.co.uk

Twitter: @joannegphillips

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/joannephillipsauthor

Can’t Live Without links

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cant-Live-Without-ebook/dp/B0083SJB4M/

US: http://www.amazon.com/Cant-Live-Without-ebook/dp/B0083SJB4M/

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  1. Very good post, Joanne! When my husband and I traveled to Asia in 2010 I did post pictures when we landed in Hong Kong and from our time in Bangkok. I was new to Facebook then and didn’t have nearly the amount of “friends” I have now. In the interim it occurred to me that that wasn’t wise, so now I never announce I’m away until after I’m back. I don’t have that thing that gives away my location, so if I do post from out of town no one should know (and I absolutely *hate* that “map” feature that shows on my page, but apparently there’s no way to get rid of it). I’ve never been the type to post a lot of personal information, like that I’m not feeling well or what I’m worried about or asking for prayers for a sick family member or that I won’t be online for X amount of time. Finally, controlling who can view my page helps, particularly my pictures.

    You can never be too careful!

    • Hi Bettye, I don’t do that personal stuff either – it always seems a bit icky – but I guess it’s OK if you really are only posting to family and close friends. I was astonished the first time I realised that I had to make my pictures private, that even friends of friends could view them. All sorted now, of course!

  2. I’m fairly careful with what goes on FB and Twitter, it’s a direct feed from my blog but I try to be mindful of what I’m posting. It’s nice to know that I pretty well had most of your tips already in hand. I like the lists idea though, might need to do that.

    Great tips – thanks

    • Thanks Fi, it’s good to know we are doing what we can to stay safe online. I find lists help me to focus in on the news feeds of various groups of people – writer friends, or local friends, for example. :)

  3. Glynis Smy says:

    Interesting post. I have two accounts. One private with family and friends, this has an author page that I keep fairly simple with a post pinned to the top warning them it is a public page, so be aware. The other is purely for contact with writers, and also has a public page. I share personal bits that are not too personal, but enough to be shared with friends. Now I am using Hootsuite, I am finding it easier to follow them all! :)

    • Hi Glynis,

      I’ve just set up a separate account for personal use too – this has overcome the worry about marketing to friends. I must check out Hootsuite – I’ve heard of it, but wasn’t sure what it did. Thanks for the tip :)

  4. Sibel Hodge says:

    Thanks so much for posting, there’s a lot of info I didn’t know there! :)

  5. Talli Roland says:

    Great tips, Joanne! Since I use a pen name, it’s pretty easy to control what goes where. I keep my personal account under my real name. But for those who write under their real name and want to keep their privacy intact, this is very helpful info indeed.

    Hope you had a fantastic holiday season!

  6. Ansha Kotyk says:

    Using a pen name has caused me to curse on more than one occasion, but it definitely helps to keep my personal life separate from my work life. Thanks for the advice on FB, I’m still surprised when people post their whereabouts on social media. I also like your suggestion about asking someone’s permission before using their photo or information on FB. Great post! Thank you!

    • Hi Ansha,

      Glad you found some useful stuff here. When I asked for thougths on this topic on the Alli website I made sure I checked the authors were happy to be quoted too – the last thing I needed in a post about privacy was to abuse someone else’s privacy :)

  7. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Welcome! Great post:)

  8. Alison Pensy says:

    Great advice, Thanks!

    I have come across one problem with not posting if you are going away. I’m always very secretive before I go away and don’t post anything until I get home, then I post pics etc. But in this ever growing fb world I found that those precautions don’t always work and by the time I found out, it was too late. Let me explain. On my last trip home to England, I didn’t post anything, but my friends and family were taking pics and tagging me with locations etc. It wasn’t til I checked my fb page, which I don’t do as often on vacation, that I found out and by that time it was too late to ask people not to tag me until I got home. Unfortunately you can’t control what other people do on fb and it seems that everyone is more closely interlinked than ever.

    It is an amazing media to chat with readers and keep them updated on your next project etc etc.

    • Hi Alison,

      I can’t stand tagging – and like you I’ve yet to find a setting that says Do not allow! As far as I can see, the most you get is the option to not have the tagged item show up on your timeline – but you can’t control where else it shows up. That is a problem, as you’ve described. There might be a work-around – I’ll have to keep looking!

  9. SK Holmesley says:

    Because I’ve worked in IT for over 35 years, I don’t trust anything to do with computers. I’m paranoid and always have been, partially because it has frequently been my job to clean up accounts after other employees have left whichever company. In separating out business information to retain and personal information to delete, it has amazed me, even pre-social media mainframe days the documents that people left in their personal accounts on company computers. I also knew that if I could see their information, that someday, when I left the company, someone on staff would be making the same pass through my account. So my FB account, is under a purely fictional name that I only use for that purpose (social media) and then mostly only family and very close friends even know that. My pen name lists on sites like this or GR. My real name occurs only on business sites, such as LinkedIn and various job banks. I know that because of the failings of security features, anyone who was very interested could connect all the persona’s, but I try to be so boring that no one ever is interested enough to want to put forth the effort.

    My son and his wife of course come from a more digital generation. They always use their own names, and share much more information than I typically would. At the same time, my son tells me that if you inundate the airways with information, it’s makes it just as difficult in some ways to sift through what’s there to find anything useful.

    Two different approaches. I’m still paranoid.

  10. Hi, S.K.,

    I think a healthy level of paranoia is useful! We have all become a bit complacent on the internet, trusting the websites themselves – banks, social media sites, etc – to do all the work for us. Mostly when posting personal stuff we fear revealing too much or embarrasment, but as you’ve so rightly pointed out, there are worse consequences of not taking privacy seriously. Some good advice here, thank you :)

  11. I agree (and mostly follow) the front-page-of-the-Guardian approach for things I post, but I don’t let privacy concerns hold me back from anything I want to do online.

    The biggest niggle I have ~ and I do understand why they insist on this ~ is the MailChimp requirement (I think because of Can Spam legistlation?) to put your real address on the bottom of your author newsletter. That feels a little scary… and unfair to those of us who really don’t want to fork out for a PO Box.

  12. Kiru Taye says:

    Great advice. I definitely agree about keeping some things private such as DOB or location trackers. And I never post anything I don’t want visible in public.