It’s a popular pastime these days to savage Facebook, to index the seemingly endless ways in which this globe-spanning service has contributed to social corrosion, become a fertile host for malignant memes, and acted as a platform for bad actors sowing discord and division. While these criticisms all, sadly, have merit, Facebook remains the globe’s most trafficked virtual town square, daily newspaper, and backyard fence for billions of us.
Besides posting wacky pet pics, silly memes, and sketchy news items like everybody else, for nearly a decade, I have used Facebook daily as an integral part of my workflow. As a writer who mainly focuses on science, technology, and online culture, I spend most of the day with my eyeballs glued to my cinema display searching for compelling content and doing research for articles that I’m working on. The Internet is where I work—and Facebook has become an indispensable tool in that work. I have basically figured out for myself how to use Facebook as a workplace. When I tell other people how I use it as a work tool, they often seem shocked and amazed. So I thought it was time to unpack my Facebook bag o’ tricks so that others can possibly benefit from these same platform features, tips, and workarounds.
Posting With Myself
I talk to myself on Facebook all day long. It’s amazing how many people seem unaware of this key Facebook feature. As you likely know, when posting something to your Facebook feed, you can choose whether to share it with the world (“Public”) or only with your network (“Friends” or “Friends except…”). But there’s also a choice of “Only Me” (and even other choices under the “More” arrow that allow you to choose from customized share lists).
This function can be a very powerful tool. There are a few ways in which I use “Only Me” posts.
Facebook doesn’t allow you to schedule posts on your private wall (although you can schedule posts in Pages). But you can at least write (or forward) a post to your wall ahead of time and set it to “Only Me.” Then you can set an alert in whatever app you use. When you get the alert, change the post’s “Share with” setting to “Public,” “Friends,” etc.
One way I use this: If I’m up way past my bedtime and don’t want the world to know I have insomnia, I write or forward posts to my wall set to “Only Me.” In the morning when I get up, the first thing I do is publish my previous late-night ramblings and serendipitous search results to my wall.
As a Notepad
If I have an idea during the day, especially if it’s something I may include in a future Facebook post or plan to tag or save and later retrieve, I toss it into an “Only Me” post and add appropriate hashtags. At the end of each week, I go through and process these notes. In my case, I distribute them to other documents, such as moving those tagged #Book_Ideas and #Article_Ideas into the respective Word documents I keep.
Tip: One thing you have to be mindful of if you use “Only Me” a lot is to switch back to “Public” or “Friends” mode when you want others to see your posts. I’ve posted something and begun pouting over receiving no responses before realizing I have the post set to “Only Me.”
As a writer, I’m constantly doing online research related to whatever I’m working on. Throughout the day, I encounter videos, news and technical articles, academic papers, blog posts, and social media shares that I want to gather together and save.
While there are services, like Evernote and Pinterest, specifically designed to collect and organize online content, I mainly use Facebook. I figured that since I’m already there most of the day (I keep a browser window in the corner of my screen tuned to the platform all day), I might as well aggregate my research and other saved content there.
So how do I do this? First, I send whatever I find online to my Facebook wall. Most web and social media applications allow you to send content to Facebook. Here, for example, is what Twitter’s “Share Tweet via…” command looks like on its mobile app:
By clicking on the Share icon on the Twitter mobile app, this menu will pop up:
Choose Facebook from the list of available locations that pops up when you click on the “Share Tweet via…” link.
When the Facebook box pops up, select “Only Me” from the menu of posting options. If you tag your “Only Me” items like I do (see below), you’ll want to add those hashtags now too:
If you are using Twitter or Instagram from a web browser, there are no “Share Tweet” options. Instead, click on the little v-shaped icon in the upper right corner and choose “Copy link to Tweet” like this:
Once copied, you’ll have to manually go to your Facebook page and paste the URL in a “Create Post” window in Facebook, again with “Only Me” selected and whatever tags you want to include.
Most other social media and web applications have a share-to-Facebook option that will pull up a window like this that will let you add tags and save your content in one step:
Tagging, Storage, and Retrieval
When I send content to Facebook (or to my wall from within Facebook), I add hashtags to anything I think I will want to retrieve later … which is most of what I post to myself.
Hashtags are the main way that I organize the content aggregated on my wall. For instance, I do a tips column every Friday on Make:’s website. As I root out possible tip candidates all week, I send them all to my FB wall tagged with #tips. At the end of the week, I simply do a tag search for #tips, limited to posts from me, to see them all. Then I go through what I’ve collected and build my column from there.
I also write book and game reviews for Boing Boing. As I see potential books and games I might want to review, I tag and send them to “Only Me.” Once a week, I also scoop these up and send review copy requests to their publishers.
While I’m doing my gathering up of #tips, I also expand the search to look for other tips posted by “Anyone” (and “Your Friends”) during the week. That strategy frequently yields great content on subjects I’m writing about or interested in. I do a regular search through all of my circles on Facebook using my most active tags. On subjects related to some of my main interests (like making/DIY, tips, music, and gaming), constraining the searches to my friends often yields the richest results.
Note: One drawback to this method is that if the item you are saving is a saved video or an image or video that came from Twitter or Instagram, you will only see the tag and any other text you might have entered—not the image-based content itself. To see the content, you have to click through to the post. This is annoying when the post does not contain anything to jog your memory regarding its content. The bad news for me is that I collect a lot of image- and video-based content, so I have to click through a lot. The good news is that most everything I collect is something I already know I want to use—so I don’t waste time sifting through content I don’t ultimately want or need.
Using Saved and Saved Collections
Facebook has a feature that far too few users seem to know about called “Saved.” When you see a Facebook post someone has made that you might want to return to later, you can tap or click the three dots at the top of the post and choose “Save post”:
When you save a post, you’ll see an option to add it to a “collection,” which lets you organize posts by topic.
To see the posts you’ve saved, go to your Facebook home page. In the list of items in the left column, you’ll see the heading “Explore” and the option for “Saved” under that, which will take you to a list of your saved items.
The “Saved” area of Facebook looks like this; note that any collections you’ve created will appear in the left column here:
From here, you can see all of the contents of your collections (by default), or you can view “Saved” content by clicking on any of the collections you’ve created (left-hand column). By clicking on the “All” button in the upper-right corner of the main collections feed, you can refine your search by content type (videos, photos, places, products, etc.):
Building Brain Trusts
Throughout my career, I’ve been big on the idea of creating “brain trusts,” quickly assembled groups of friends, colleagues, and experts on a subject that I am investigating. When I put together The Maker’s Notebook, a project notebook for Make: magazine, I went through my Facebook “Friends” list and picked out 25 people who would have good advice about project notebook design and use.
At the time (2007), I didn’t know how Facebook could be used to organize such a trust, so I simply used an email group list. But today, there are a number of Facebook tools that I use to assemble brain trusts. Here are three methods I’m aware of, from the quickest and most casual to the more permanent.
Creating Groups for Wall Posts
Again, most people seem unaware of the fact that you can highly control who gets to see content on your Facebook feed. By creating custom lists, you can create a quick group of people to be the only ones to see (or not see) posts.
To create a group list for your wall, all you have to do is go to your “Friends” page—the easiest way to get to this is to click on your own profile photo to get to your profile and then click “Friends” at the top:
Then click on the “Friend” button of the first person you wish to add to your new group. A menu will pull down, and at the bottom of the list you will see “Add to another list…”:
That will open up a field (“+ New List…”) in which you can add a new list name.
Now, for every additional person you want to add from your Friends network, you simply select “Friends” next to their name and add them to the new list that will now be available from the pull-down menu.
When you want to create posts that only this group can see, just create the post as you normally would and then, under “Who should see this,” click on “More,” and you’ll see all your groups listed. Choosing your group makes the post visible only to members of that group.
Creating Groups in Messenger
You can also create a group for quick brain-trusting via Facebook Messenger. You start by creating a Facebook post (not by launching the Messenger window). When you click on the “…” in the bottom right of the “Create Post” window, you’ll see this pop-up:
Click on “See more” to reveal options to send the post in Messenger.
From here, you can scroll or search through your list of Friends to add members to your group. You can either create a one-shot group list by selecting individual members or a permanent group by using the “Create Group” link (at the top right, across from “Send in Messenger” in the bottom section of the box in the screenshot above).
Tip: Personally, I’ve found that my friends tend to find group messages a bit annoying, and many people will quickly use the option they have to leave whatever discussion you’re trying to create. I prefer talking to such select groups on my wall (via the first method of creating a wall group list as discussed above).
Using Facebook Groups
There’s also the Facebook feature officially called “Groups,” which can be public, closed, or secret. This is a popular feature on Facebook, and you’re probably a member of Groups. They allow you to have focused discussions on every imaginable topic and to connect with all sorts of Facebook users.
Groups give you the additional ability to post and store media and files, and to create in-group event announcements. Given that they are communities, little walled domains within Facebook, many users think about them as if they were permanent or semi-permanent. But you don’t have to.
Groups are quick and easy to set up, you can create as many as you like, and you can control their exposure (public, closed, or secret). And unlike creating quick groups on Messenger, which many people perceive as annoying, Groups convey more permanence and gravity, so people take them more seriously.
You can use Facebook Groups to pick the brains of friends and colleagues around a specific problem or question, or you can convene a group to nerd out over a very narrow subject. Here are some examples:
Let’s say I want to figure out how to mix acrylic hobby paints so that I can get a full range of paint colors from only primary and secondary hues. I could go through my Facebook Friends, select everyone in my network who I know is a game miniatures painter like me (or otherwise knows paints), and invite them to a group I’ve created called “The Paint Mixing Lab.” From there, I can access their collective knowledge on the subject, trade paint mixing formulae and tips, and so on. Or let’s say I’m a huge fan of the Vac-u-Form, a 1960s building toy by Mattel, and I know I have a few other vintage vacuum-heads in my network. I can quickly create a group and invite them to join so that we can all nerd out over the vacuuming toys of our youth.
It’s also useful that your Group can include people you haven’t friended on Facebook. For example, a small conference could use a Facebook Group to have discussion and do work before an event. Chances are, people will friend each other during or after the event, but there’s no requirement that they do so to have relevant interactions.
Facebook Groups can be used to create quick-response brain trusts or as a means of focusing the attention of specific members of your network (and beyond) onto a specific topic. Groups are unlimited and free. Don’t be afraid to utilize this useful Facebook feature.
Tip: One caveat about Groups: it’s bad netiquette to sign people up for Groups without asking first. So one drawback to this method of creating “pop-up” brain trusts is that it adds an extra step of asking people if they want in before you sign them up. Alternately, you can use the “Invite” feature you see at the top left of your Group page.
You’ve likely built a network of family, friends, and colleagues who share a lot of your own beliefs, interests, skill sets, and so on. This network can be used as a valuable resource when seeking help in solving problems, looking for recommendations on products and services, answering quick polls, and other instances of what’s been dubbed “lazyweb searching.”
I use lazyweb all the time to ask my network (or Facebook at large) questions related to articles I’m researching, when I’m looking for local service recommendations, and the like. I almost always get useful information this way, and a fun, fascinating, and informative conversation usually breaks out that everyone benefits from. It’s not really about laziness; it’s more about going to sources that are more informed and aligned with your needs than a generic search engine.
Don’t forget, you can combine custom “Friends” lists with lazyweb searching to ensure that you only send lazyweb queries to a specific group of friends (e.g., techies, gamers, metalheads, makers, etc.).
Diving Even Deeper into Facebook as a Workspace
There are a number of apps for both Facebook and Facebook Messenger that can be used to increase workplace productivity.
Facebook even has a team collaboration suite called “Workplace.” Mainly what “Workplace” does is integrate groups, chats, live streaming, and other common Facebook features under a company account with multiple users.
I see very little here that appeals to a lone wolf like me. I simply use all of the individual account features in a similar way to that offered by “Workplace.” However, this feature does include unlimited file and media storage, which you may find attractive. The standard account is free, while the premium version, which includes “Enterprise” features (group admin, single sign on, monitoring, etc.) is $3/person/month.
Messenger with Blink the Bee
One of the free apps for Messenger that recently crossed my radar is Blink the Bee, or “Blink,” for short.
Most of us already have numerous calendar, device alert, and to-do list options, but if you spend as much time working within Facebook as I do, “Blink” might be worth checking out.
Given all of the heat that Facebook took in 2018, resulting in something of a member exodus, who knows what the future holds for this beleaguered platform. I’m not even sure what the future holds for me and Facebook.
What I do know is that so long as I continue to use it as my community hub and town square, I will also continue to use it as my research library, my discussion forum, and my collaborative workspace. If you’re a Facebook user yourself, I hope you’ve learned some things to help you make more productive use of the site!