FacebookFrom its humble beginnings in a Harvard dorm room, Facebook attracted more than 1 million college students in its first year. Now, five years later, Facebook reaches 175 million users from all walks of life throughout the world.

Facebook is a social networking site designed to help friends, classmates, colleagues, family members and others connect and stay in touch. People in your Facebook network may live far away or next door. Either way, it provides a great way to share small and big life events, get advice, gather voices, or just have fun. Whatever your original reason for setting up a Facebook profile, you’re likely to find many more reasons to stay active and involved with your Facebook community.

If you think you’re too old for Facebook, think again. The fastest growing demographic is people 35 years and older. Faraway grandparents have never had such an easy way to connect with their grandkids, and class reunions are happening “virtually” every day!

Getting Started

If you don’t already have a Facebook account, it’s easy, and free, to get started. Go to www.facebook.com to enter your name, email address, sex and birth date. You’ll also be asked to create a password. To complete your sign up, Facebook will automatically send a verification email to the address you provided. Click the link to login to your new account and set up a profile.

When creating a profile, you can include as little or as much information as you want. However, keep in mind that taking the time to add a profile picture will greatly enhance your experience by building trust with other users and helping them visually identify you.

As you decide what information to share on your Facebook page, think about how you plan to use the site. If you primarily want to connect with old classmates, be sure to include all your alma matters. Want to grow your professional network or attract customers? Describe your current and past work experience in your profile.

The Friendly Way to Stay Safe

The next important step to creating a Facebook profile is choosing privacy settings. The settings you choose will determine who can see your profile details, photos and records of your site activity. It’s usually best to give full access only to friends.

Facebook Privacy Profile

Making friends on Facebook is easy. The site will help you get started by finding accounts that match information in your email address book(s). As you add friends, activities and interests, Facebook will start suggesting people you might want to befriend. It may be someone who is also friends with some of your friends or someone who attended the same school as you.

You’ll have the opportunity to invite people to become your friends, and others can send you an invitation, too. No two people can become friends without a mutual agreement. As your friends, people will have access to categories of content and activities according to your privacy settings. As in life, choose your friends carefully. Avoid adding people whom you don’t actually know to prevent sharing the wrong information with the wrong people or opening your account to spamming.

Embracing Facebook

Avid users will tell you how addictive Facebook can become. You’ll discover new ways to use it with each visit, and you may find postings by your friends as engaging as your favorite reality TV show.

Each time you login, the Facebook homepage invites you to share what’s on your mind. People use this tool to ask questions, describe life events, share links, rant, rave and more. These are often referred to as “status updates,” and your homepage will include a chronological list of these updates added by your friends. Each update also allows you to comment back or indicate that you “like” the posting. There are endless ways to use these conversation starters. For example, posting your desire to take the kids to see this weekend’s box office hit might evolve like this:

Facebook sample conversation

Have something more private to share? Facebook has a direct message option that sends your note to only one person. If you don’t mind being transparent, post your message to someone’s “wall.” A wall is kind of like the dry erase board you hung outside your college dorm room. Anyone could walk by and put a note on it, and everyone else could see it too. So, if you post on a friend’s wall, then all their friends can read about the fun you had at last weekend’s barbeque. If your friend responds back that he wants to plan another barbeque, then that response will appear on your wall. Only people who are friends with both of you can view the “wall-to-wall” conversation and get both sides of the story. They may get just enough information to invite themselves over!

Another way to build your Facebook profile is by uploading digital photos. In addition to your profile photo that will appear next to each of your comments, consider sharing pictures of your family, pets, vacations or other interests. Photos are an excellent way to demonstrate the social networking power of Facebook. For example, if you upload photos from the family reunion and all your cousins are on Facebook, then you can share the photos with them by “tagging” their image with their name. As a result, the photo also will appear on their profile page where all their friends can see it. Before you know it, your cousin’s friend’s friend may see your picture and realize you were his high school math teacher!

Choose your Facebook activities carefully. For every interesting and useful tool out there, you’ll find a game or quiz that is a complete waste of time. Don’t fall victim to peer pressure. Chances are your friends are wishing they had never started collecting lil’ green patch plants or throwing snowballs.