Even if you've spent the last six years with no Internet access, and avoided media altogether, you've probably heard of Facebook. And if you're one of the 400 million users of the social networking tool, you might already have an idea of how big a role Facebook plays in everyday life.
Online social networking is not a new idea, but somehow Facebook has made it a better one. It's like a phone book, year book, planner, blog -- and more -- all in one. What seemed like just a fad for college kids turned out to be a phenomenon for everyone.
Welcome to the Facebook Revolution. The online social life supplement no longer tailored for college students. With more than 400 million users, there's a good chance your mom is on it.
As Shelly Joseph scrolls through her Facebook newsfeed on her Blackberry smartphone, she sees a comment left by her daughter.
But young people -- not to worry. Most moms have better things to do, like actually use Facebook to catch up with friends, just like everyone else.
"I do have a girlfriend that I was in her wedding probably 18 years ago and I have reconnected with her since she lives in Arizona. We had lost touch through the years," said Katie Paulson, co-owner of Blu H2O Salon.
In fact, according to Lee Aase, the "Chancellor" of the tongue-in-cheek SMUG University, moms and other ladies over the age of about 50, make up the fastest growing group of Facebook users.
"Not teenagers. And part of the reason it's the fastest growing is because when you already have 85% of college students, that can't be the 'fastest growing' anymore," Aase said.
While kids are away at college, Facebook may be one of the best ways for mom to keep in touch. Maybe she has a little more time on her hands, or maybe she has Facebook IN her hand.
"I use mine mostly on my phone now. Keep track of my kids, keep track of our business," said Joseph, whose phone was beeping with Facebook alerts as she spoke.
While mom updates her status from her mobile device, more and more businesses are catching on to the Facebook hype.
With nearly 200 fans on his Facebook page, Realtor Aaron Jones couldn't imagine networking without it.
"I actually have 2 pages," said Jones. "I've had several people that I've known in other circles that have contacted me specifically by Facebook by sending me an inbox message or something else, maybe just a message on the wall, just saying 'Hey, we'd like to talk about selling our house.'"
From business, to personal information, to finding long lost elementary school friends from around the world, the Facebook network is like a Mafia War you can bet the Farmville on.
"My dad who's 78, he uses it to play Farmtown on," said Brenda Hammons, who was visiting Rochester with her husband.
It's how Jones found out his friend passed away. "He died of a heart condition, he was like 30 years old. And I didn't know about it until I looked on Facebook."
And how Joseph's husband might meet another important woman in his life. "My husband is adopted and he's in the process of looking for his mom."
"You can reach out and share with people in ways that you otherwise wouldn't do," said Jones.
But how does a website on your computer help you to actually connect with people in real life?
While not a big Facebook user herself, Heidi Mestad, of the Rochester Downtown Alliance uses the tool to get people away from their computers.
"As a business it has been a wonderful marketing tool that can really reach the masses," said Mestad, who took pictures of the set up for the "Social-ICE" event. She later posted the pictures on Facebook, where nearly 250 Facebook friends of the Rochester Downtown Alliance have already agreed to attend. "So friend us, and we'll get all the information to you."
It's her word of text against the typical word of mouth -- and it works.
It's all fun and Facebook games until someone threatens to take a weapon to school, compromises the comfort level in the work place, or violates a user's privacy in any way. While there are steps you can take to protect your profile, in extreme cases, law enforcement is prepared to keep you safe as well.
"We have people that are versed in Facebook, how it operates, what we can obtain, what we cannot obtain, how long stuff is retained," said Scott Behrns of the Olmsted County Sheriff's Department.
While they don't have the funds to monitor Facebook on a regular basis, they do investigate threats and harassment as thoroughly as any normal crime. And don't be surprised if your mom "friends" the Sheriff's Department in the near future.
"We are excited about the possibility of starting our own Facebook page. It's a great way to get information out to the public," said Behrns. "But if you have a problem with somebody, Facebook is not the place to solve it."
Playing it safe normally involves common sense, but how can you learn about a tool that's still relatively new, and constantly evolving?
"When I find the time. I'm a teacher... how 'bout summer?" Hammons joked.
Maybe you DO need to go to school for it.
"Suus non ut difficile, which is translated as 'It's not that hard.'" Not that hard, said the SMUG Chancellor. He said whether or not you use it, whether or not you like it, Facebook is here to stay. When he noticed his daughter posting Homecoming photos to Facebook and tagging her friends, he realized they don't want to leave their high school memories behind.
"If the girls don't leave Facebook, the boys won't leave Facebook," said Aase.
And that may be the root of all social networking.
For more information on Facebook tips and features, as well as other social media sites, check out Lee Aase's blog at http://social-media-university-global.org.
To see what Aase has to say about Facebook etiquette, or to see a clip of how this story was made, go to Lauren's Facebook page.
KTTC, By Lauren Hardie, 2/11/2010
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