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Social networks: To stay in touch, more turn to Facebook

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

With 10 brothers and sisters, a host of nieces and nephews and friends miles away in south Florida, Facebook is Jinny Pizzuti Wilson’s new megaphone.

“Facebook is a great place to get the word out to everyone instead of a certain group,” she said.

The Pawleys Island area resident is just one example of how the world’s most popular social networking Web site is attracting users above the age of 21.

At the beginning of 2009, the typical Facebook user was between 26 and 34, according to the independent blog Inside Facebook, a Further research found women 55 and older are in the fastest growing demographic of users.

When Facebook started in 2004, the majority of users were college students, staff or faculty members.

But when Facebook opened to the general public in 2006, the user demographics began to change.

Now, three years later, entire families are on Facebook, co-workers become “friends,” and old friends are reconnecting.

Annette Fisher, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, said she stays in touch with her family and friends more since she got on Facebook.

“I got on there and started stalking my nieces and nephews,” she said. “It’s actually been a lot of fun. I’ll catch them online, and I’ll catch up with what they’re doing.”

She also found a friend she hadn’t talked to in 10 years and made plans to meet.

Other area residents and visitors get on Facebook to exchange information.

On the “I Love Pawleys Island” group page, members ask about the best places to eat and golf. Locals and frequent visitors respond with tips and opinions on their favorites spots.

Others talk about their island memories and discuss how the area has changed since they were children.

While Facebook is becoming a way for people to connect with one another and share information, Fisher said Facebook can be used for business too.

On April 24, the Chamber will host a marketing breakfast seminar that will show others how to advertise and market inexpensively.

Social networking sites are one area the seminar will cover, Fisher said.

In the Pawleys Island area, some businesses and organizations already have a Facebook presence. They include Carolina Wings, the Coastal Observer, Island Bar and Grill, the Pawleys Island Litchfield Business Association, Surf the Earth and the Pawleys Island Women in Business group.

In Georgetown, Front Street Businesses can join a page where they can share ideas and the River Room, a restaurant, has a page.

“Our leadership group and young professional group has a page,” Fisher said. She’d like to see the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce get on Facebook.

“It’s just not the same world it was so you have to be open to embracing new ideas and finding out more about them,” she said.

While Fisher thought some might hesitate before using a social networking site for business, being on a site like Facebook “makes the world smaller.”

Dawn Marie Curtis, creator of the Pawleys Island Concert Band’s Facebook page, said members of the band are connecting to one another, fans can contact musicians, and future musicians can contact the band.

“We are able to post on our page and be seen not just by the group members, but also their friends,” Curtis said.

This networking strategy increases the number of people on the band’s contact list so when they have an event, more people can read about it on Facebook.

“The “events” tool is also great way to spread the dates for our concerts,” Curtis added. “The event page can be passed on from one person to the other if people they think they might be interested.”

With 175 million users worldwide, privacy is a constant problem for Facebook users, and the company.

As Facebook expands, more people connect with events, group connections and company networks; but if privacy controls are not activated, anyone can get access to a person’s complete profile.

For job hunters, that access is an issue.

Approximately 22 percent of employers use Facebook to check on possible new hires, according to a 2008 CareerBuilder’s study. Hiring managers said they looked at pictures and messages on Facebook and MySpace to see if people did or said things that would not make them, in the employers’ opinions, good employees.

If they couldn’t access the person’s information directly, they found pictures or notes related to the person on their friends’ pages.

While information is accessible, with a click of the mouse, profiles and pictures can be available only to “friends.” Even among their “friends,” users can limit what each “friend” sees.

For further privacy, they can hide links to their friend’s list and keep non-friends from seeing pictures or posts attached to friends’ pages.

Privacy issues for the company arose whenever it tried to change its policies.

In February, the company updated user terms and changed a provision that allowed users to delete their content. Additional changes allowed Facebook to do whatever it wanted with users’ deleted content. Even if users terminated their accounts, Facebook still had legal rights to their information.

Protests followed, and Facebook announced it would not retain user content.

In November 2007, the company also endured another controversy that united Facebook users when it started to use a new advertising system, Beacon, to track users’ purchases and activities on partner sites and make the history available to the users’ friends.

More than 70,000 members joined the Facebook page of MoveOn.org, a political action group saying the company didn’t warn them about the new feature. So Facebook gave users the opportunity to decline Beacon access to their pages.

Since the social network began at Harvard in 2004, in addition to privacy issues, finding a balance between freedom of speech and decency has become a constant challenge for the company. Disputes about pictures being pornographic and arrests for publishing pornography continue to make national headlines.

While local users said that these are not reasons to terminate their accounts, Fisher said she tells people to just be smart about what they put on their profiles.

“It’s just a matter of education and knowing what it will do and what you can do with it,” she said.

“I think the fear factor is something people have to get over because [Facebook is] a lot of fun and entertaining.”

Surrounded by an increasingly Internet-heavy world of publishing, the Coastal Observer decided to increase its Web presence last month and started a Facebook page.

It also updated its Web site, coastalobserver.com.

Fans of the paper can contact reporters on their Facebook pages, and get a sneak peek at pictures and stories before they go to press.

Discussion boards are also available, and fans can click on a link to the paper’s Web site for more information, including a community calendar, real estate advertisements and advertising rates.

To become a fan, log in to Facebook, search for “Coastal Observer.” Then click on “become a fan.”

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