While a lot of people (it seems) view me as some sort of social media expert, since I use a lot of technology, blog constantly, and teach classes all over town on using the LinkedIn website — I’ll confess, I’ve completely avoided (as in: like the plague) getting involved with Facebook until very recently, as some of you discovered the other day via an announcement I ran in my monthly newsletter.

My reasoning for being a Facebook holdout?  For starters, I was concerned about the potential privacy issues that using such a site might create between my personal and professional lives.  Secondly, unlike LinkedIn and some other tools, I didn’t really know how to use Facebook — or control it.  And lastly, I was afraid (and still am) that it would become addictive, as it seems to be for so many people, and that I’d end up spending even more time than I already do each day staring at a computer versus playing with my son, hanging out with my wife, practicing guitar, hiking in Snoqualmie Pass, etc.

Oh yeah, and one other thing.  I also didn’t want to join Facebook because I despise conformity — and for the past several years, Facebook has been just about the most “trendy” thing going and been the website everybody kept saying you JUST HAD TO BE on.  So my pride got a little bit in the way, on that score, I’ll admit.

All of this being said, however, Mama Youngquist didn’t raise no dummy — and it’s become eminently clear that I need to know a lot more about Facebook so that I can advise people on its usage for job hunting and personal branding purposes, in addition to the benefits it presents from a small business marketing standpoint.  Plus, I was recently pig-piled by several wise and web-savvy mentors of mine who counseled me, in unison, that a huge community of potential connections/prospects now exists on Facebook whom you simply won’t be able to reach anywhere else, by any other means.

So last week I took the plunge, engaged in a crash course of research about the site, and within a relatively short period of time (2-3 hours?) created a workable personal profile along with the Career Horizons Fan Page you’ll find here if you care to view it.  Time will tell how this experiment works out and whether Facebook lives up to the hype, at least in terms of business development purposes.  But before that time comes, I wanted to capture a few observations about the site from a “newbie’s perspective” while they’re still fresh, in case somebody out there might be able to benefit from them.

So here are the things I’ve gleaned about Facebook during this week-long “honeymoon” period:

1)  Setting up a Facebook business fan page is a piece of cake. After following the step-by-step instructions on Facebook itself, as well as the zillion free web tutorials out there, I was thinking “there must be more to it than this — it can’t be this simple.”  But unless you choose to get carried away with some advanced splash pages and plug-in applications that only huge Fortune 500 companies seem to care about, or use all that much, setting up a small business presence on Facebook is shockingly simple to execute.  I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more to it.  Heck, even Twitter and WordPress (the blog platform I use) let you customize your background screen and deck your page out in many more ways than Facebook, from what I can tell.  And my acceptance of this reality only came after I double-checked the fan pages of numerous larger, more established companies and realized that their page layout looked, well, pretty similar to the one I’d thrown together.  Who knew?

2)  You’ve got to REALLY think about privacy issues. As I’m sure you all know, Facebook receives more flack than any other site on the planet in terms of concerns about privacy, security, identify theft, and the nagging fear that those embarrassing photos of you might somehow get seen by your next prospective employer.  In part, I think Facebook is just an easy target to pick on, given their hundreds of millions of users.  But there also seem to be legitimate concerns about how Facebook has handled their privacy settings, both recently and in the past.  Luckily, my web research gave me lots of advanced warning about this issue — and the best practices to follow in dealing with it — so I could keep my business contacts (and activities) totally separate from my private/social activities.  The key to doing this is the “lists” feature –so if you’re thinking about setting up a page, make sure to Google this topic and read about it thoroughly!

3)  Lots of Facebook advice on the web is now obsolete. This particular issue drove me bonkers.  During my research efforts, I’d turn up dozens of articles offering advice on how to configure Facebook for business purposes and providing step-by-step instructions, with photos, on how to do certain things.  The problem?  Apparently, Facebook changes its interface constantly, so many of the “helpful” instructions you’ll find out there are now completely irrelevant and out of date!  For example, I must have spent an hour trying to figure out where people could go to “become a fan” of my new business page, since every article I read said that this was a key part of success, but there was no place on my page that seemed to relate to the “fan” terminology in any way whatsoever.  Eventually, though, I stumbled on a more recent article that said Facebook totally scrapped the whole “fan” concept a few months ago — and decided to add a little button on each page, instead, where you could simply “like” a certain page.  This tiny adjustment on Facebook’s part has now rendered HUNDREDS of Facebook books, articles, and tutorials utterly obsolete!

4)  Facebook is cool, but LinkedIn is MUCH more professional. I’ve been claiming this for years, but am now happy to report that I can actually back it up!  While Facebook definitely has a larger membership base than LinkedIn and CAN have useful professional applications, it’s painfully obvious that the site wasn’t originally designed for this purpose.  LinkedIn, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to facilitate business networking, which is why I believe it’s still infinitely more important as a tool for most people to have in their professional arsenal.  On LinkedIn, you’ll find 80 million people who are professionally-minded, hold positions of influence, and are looking for ways to connect and do business.  On Facebook you’ll find, well, a mish-mash of folks who are on the site for…whatever.  Big difference.  Then again, who says you have to choose — or can’t use both?

5)  The old saying is true — you can never have enough friends. Lastly, my recent foray into Facebook has convinced me that as much as somebody might not personally be into this kind of stuff, there’s a pretty good chance your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other business contacts are into it — so avoiding this channel of communication automatically cuts you off from some powerful potential networking avenues.  The size of the membership on Facebook alone, after all, would make it the fourth-largest country of the world — and that stat was from over a year ago!  So as much as you may be “part of the resistance” and fighting the urge to join Facebook, keep in mind that most other people in your network (as well as your competitors) are connecting on this system every day, sharing information, and finding ways to assist one another.  The question, therefore, is whether you can any longer afford NOT to be on it in an age where relationships are king and thousands of trusted referrals (including job leads) are getting facilitated by these types of sites, every day?

This last question is the one that finally tipped the scales in my own mind — and why I’ve now dipped my own toe in the water and decided to get involved in this final major piece of the social media puzzle, despite years of conscious avoidance.  Hope some of these initial impressions are helpful to some of you other “nervous newbies” out there, and if anybody (new users or veteran Facebookers alike) has anything to add on the topic, please comment away!