Bridget's Relationship Pyramid (c) 2014 Bridget Willard
Bridget’s Relationship Pyramid (c) 2014 Bridget Willard

Do you leave your front door unlocked and let just anyone walk in? No. That’d be ridiculous. When your friends come for dinner, do you give them access to every room? Can your neighbor look in your underwear drawer? Then why do you let everyone in all of your digital spaces?

The key to your online privacy is common sense.

In every other area of our lives, we have levels of intimacy and certain people are never allowed to have our most private information.

Dinner guests don’t get access to our tax returns, so why are you letting some person you just met on Twitter be your friend on Facebook?

Define your Safe Place

The first thing you need to do is decide which network will be your safe place. This is the place where you allow yourself to be the most open. For me, that’s Facebook.

Back in my Mafia Wars days (yes, I got wrapped up in that), I let every Tom, Dick, and Harry be my friend. In fact, I needed them to be my friend so I could advance through the levels. After I quit that (and subsequently the rest of the social-obligation games), I slowly by slowly unfriended my former mafiosos.

Define Your Gateway

This is the place where you decide you’ll meet new people, deepen relationships, and maybe take them to another level, possibly offline. For me, that’s Twitter. My primary personality on Twitter has over 12,000 followers. On Facebook (my safe place) I have around 500. I can count on one hand the people I’ve “met on Facebook.” Twitter is my gateway.

If the relationship progresses, I may allow them on other networks, but they’re always on a trial basis. If there are any red flags, they get unfollowed or unfriended. That’s why the filtering works.

People use direct messages for many reasons. Some people I’ve talked to think it’s a time-saving “thank you” device. More often than not, I’m sorry to say, it’s perceived as too-much-too-soon, rude behavior, and/or spam.

Sending an Auto DM telling your new follower to friend you on Facebook, connect on Linkedin, and/or sign up for your blog is like expecting to shake a new person’s hand but when you hold out your hand, they push their business card right in your face – an inch from your eyes.

Seriously, reconsider.

Social Oomph is one of the primary Auto DM platforms. You can opt out by following the directions in this tweet.

Define Your Intimacy Progression

This step requires introspection. While thinking about my own subconscious filters, I made the Relationship Pyramid (no, I have not included EVERY social network, but you get the gist of it).

The Relationship Pyramid is like a funnel. The widest part at the top is the gateway; the bottom is the safe place. In between are the major networks and where they lie in this funnel of friendship.

This intimacy filter is my main reason for not auto cross-posting to every network. My Twitter followers, for the sake of convenience, are not going to see my no-makeup photos with my dogs. That’s too intimate for the general population.

Your Posts – Your Reputation

Yes, we are more savvy and more open these days with the invasion of online marketing and peer pressure to share. In many ways, privacy is dead. You, however, still have a choice over both your actual behavior and what you share online, both in text and in photo. With every comment and every share, you are marketing yourself, setting up your reputation, establishing your personal brand.

If that isn’t enough, bad people like Terry Rantula, as Carol Stephen calls him, are out there, too, lurking.

Photos can be made public, people can screenshot almost anything, even Snapchat. Be aware that if you’re looking for a job, future employers will Google you and they will look at your public photos.

Common Sense Usually Wins

Use your best judgement. If you don’t have good judgment, ask your friend or your aunt from Kansas.

Online behavior is public. Filter your networks based on intimacy. I think you’ll find this to be a natural way to test online friendships.

Disclaimer: “usually” Just like in real life, people can just suck. You can have a friend for 15 years and they can turn on you. The same can happen online.

Sound Off:

Do you have a safe place? Have I truly lost all of my bearings? Leave a comment or send me a tweet.