Making Facebook a more useful online community and resource {including how to create Interest Lists}

Ah, social media. I'm sure many of us would say we have a love/hate relationship with it.

We all know about the complaints that flash up in our news feed every time Facebook changes something. It's very predictable, and usually a bit over the top in my opinion. The truth is though, many of us have come to rely on Facebook for one thing or another, whether that's staying connected to family that's afar or connecting with prospective customers or readers.

As a blogger, I want to reach my readers and connect with them through Facebook, otherwise what's the point of my being there? When the powers that be decided to change their algorithms or whatever, preventing Facebook pages from reaching all their readers without promoting (ie paying) their posts, many of us noticed a change-- my "reach" on the Simple Homemade page went from thousands (we have over 8,000 fans on that page) to mere hundreds. It's a bit discouraging.

This all brings me back to what I want out of Facebook, why I use it to begin with: it's another avenue to seek out community and resources that will benefit my family and me. 

So here are a few ways that I feel like I'm making the most of the network, or rather, making it less of a time suck and more of a tool to connect, learn, and well, be entertained. 

1. Secret Groups

One of the best features of Facebook for me has been secret groups. These are closed groups. Unlike other things that are public (such as "So-and-so just became friends with Someone-I-Don't-Know."), know one sees the activity of these groups except the members. 

Now we now know that nothing is truly sacred (or private) on Facebook so I wouldn't go starting a secret group where you share personal banking info with your husband or anything, but for general stuff, it's great. I have one for the girls in my community group and it's an easy way to check in with one other, share prayer requests, and plan get-togethers. It's a great 21st-century way to engage in community.

I have another one that I just started with my Simple Homemade contributors and another work-related one that cuts down on so much email traffic (it's quite remarkable!), while again at the same time, boosting the sense of community.

2. ShowMe

Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed at your number of Facebook friends? When you look at all the phases of life in which one makes connections, whether that's various schools, jobs, church, etc., we have a lot of "friends." Before Facebook introduced their default lists such as "Close Friends" and their smart lists based on things like location (which I never use), I created a list called ShowMe.

Basically, these are the people whose updates I actually want to see, as in "Show me your updates." I'm sorry, but I might not want to see every update from the random elementary school friend I'm connected with. I want to be friends with them, because it's nice to be connected with old friends, but I don't need to see all their updates.

Some people go through and un-friend people they don't regularly connect with. I take a less agressive approach. I can always change who's on that list. It's nice because it's very easy to switch from News Feed to my ShowMe list.

On the left hand side of your home page is your "bookmark bar," which lists categories like Favorites, Groups and Pages.

You'll find your friend lists you create under Friends. If you hover your cursor just to the left of the list name (or any other "bookmark"), you'll be able to click the edit button and move that up to the Favorites category. Now you can easily access your lists.

You'll able to do the same thing with Interest Lists.

3. Interest Lists

That brings us to the last thing I've been playing around with. Since I mostly check my ShowMe list, I only see the friends I put on that list, so that means no pages. I do sometimes check my main news feed, but it seems like half the time the pages I want to see updates from, I don't, and the things I don't care much about show up there (so much for Facebook's brilliant algorithms).

Now that Interest Lists are available, we can create lists similar to friend lists, but for pages. If you are on Twitter, you can think of these, and the friend lists, as being similar to Twitter Lists, or in a way, they are also similar to Google+ circles.

I love being able to categorize things (I do the same thing with my feeds in my Google Reader). So far I've created Interest Lists for Blogs (that I like to follow or "like" on FB), Local stuff, and pages relating to Babies, Kids & Motherhood. I'll be making more to categorize things farther in the future.

According to Facebook, these lists still won't show everything, but I'm hoping that as a blogger, more of my content will show up in people's Interest Lists and as a reader, I'll see more from the pages I want to see updates from.

You can move your favorite Interest Lists up to Favorites for ease of checking, too. And, as a bonus, the mobile app is updated to have the Favorites match the ones you put there in your web browser version of FB.

It took me a while to figure out how to create an Interest List. (Your bookmarks bar won't show an "Interests" category until you've created your first list). 

Here's how it's done-- creating a new Interest List.

1. Go to a random page you like (such as my husband's cousin's beer company-yum.). Either under "subscribed" or under that little down arrow next to Message and settings, click "Add to Interest Lists."

2. Select "+ new list" -- in the future when you like a new page, just choose one of your existing lists. When the new window opens, click "Pages" in the top left, to add more pages to your new list.

3. Now you should see all the pages you like. Choose whichever pages you want on that list by clicking and selecting them. Then click Next in the bottom right corner.

4. Choose a name for your list and click Done. Voila! FB will now take you to your new list. Go to your home page and you will now see the Interests listed in your bookmarks. Move it on up to Favorites if you so desire.

So that's how I'm making Facebook work for me, and making it more enjoyable. If it doesn't work for me, why would I waste my time there? And hey, there's always Twitter, and Instagram (my true social medial love)...

Do you use Facebook? How do you make it work for you?