5 Ways to Stay Safe on Social Media

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day I dedicate to giving you guys tools and tips to make your social media experience more enjoyable, efficient and productive…and now SAFE. Most of these blogs are based off my book, We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. Today we are going to discuss a very important topic. Operational security. What is operational security? In a nutshell…understand your enemy and deny him access.

When it comes to social media, I see a lot of writers on both extremes of the spectrum. On one side of the spectrum is the writer who creates an entirely new identity. Let’s call her Paranoid Peggy. She doesn’t want her friends or family to know about her writing, so she generally does one of two things.

One approach is that Paranoid Peggy creates fan pages and Twitter accounts using cutesy monikers and an avatar. She feels that once she gets published then she can let people know she is a writer. This approach very often is driven by fear of failure and will destroy a platform. To understand my point better, read The Single Best Way for Writers to Become a Brand.

But Paranoid Peggy also is known to take a second approach. She uses a picture (maybe) but she builds all her social media pages completely separate from her personal life and under a pen name. This is an entirely acceptable approach, but not a wise one. This approach will cost Peggy a lot of duplicated effort that will cut into her writing time. To expound on this point, I recommend reading two of my earlier blogs, It’s a Pen Name, Not Witness Protection and Three Steps to Fan Page Awesomeness.

Paranoid Peggy also frequently has another behavior that can be harmful to building her platform. This type of writer often doesn’t divulge anything personal and social media is all about business. The problem with this approach is that social media is, above all else…social. Take this approach and a writer risks being perceived as little better than a spam bot.

Tweeting or posting about mundane things like, “My dog ate my shoes” is important. Now if that is all you tweet about then you have a problem. But, posting about mundane occurrences is like mentioning the weather. It makes it easy for people to approach you and strike up a conversation. Conversations are the foundation of relationships, and relationships lead to relationship sales, which is why we writers are here in the first place. 

My nature, believe it or not, is to be a Paranoid Peggy. I even hate those little stickers on the back of mini-vans. You know what I am talking about. The stick figures? Mom, Dad, three kids and a dog. So a robber knows exactly how many people he has to subdue when he breaks into the house. Oh, and hamburger full of sleeping pills for the dog. See? I told you I could be dark.


Today we are going to look at the other side of the spectrum…the Loosey-Goosey Lucy. On social media it is very easy to get a false sense of security. I see information all the time posted on Facebook and Twitter that predators would looooove to get their grubby too-good-to-work-like-the-rest-of-us-hands on. So, some tips to keep you social, yet safe.

1. Just because there is a box, does not mean you are obligated to fill it out.

Facebook in particular collects a lot of personal information with the intent of making social media more enjoyable. Okay, fair enough. But we have to be prudent what we put out there and cannot blindly trust that Facebook is above being hacked or phished. Facebook recently found itself in hot water for selling private information to retailers for the purposes of direct marketing. So, let’s just say Facebook is fallible.

Oh, but Kristen, we can set the security protocols. Yep, and you are fallible too. All it takes is one mistake and suddenly your cell number and address are out to God only knows who. I know Facebook means well when it provides you little boxes for all your e-mail addresses and home address and cell number. But, just leave them blank. The Facebook police will not show up and make you do detention because you didn’t finish your social media homework. If someone really needs your cell number they can message you and ask like a normal person.


Yes, I get really picky about this one. My first job as a writer was to write manuals for a lab that did Questioned Document Analysis. Basically they analyzed handwriting and used all kinds of gadgets to detect forgery. It is shocking how easy it is for someone to steal an identity. What is even more shocking is how easy it is for us to prevent them from stealing our identity. Thieves love to get a hold of birthdays. And I know it is kind of a bummer because now you might not get as much digital birthday cake on your Wall, but tough tookies. If people are really your friend they will know your birthday. It stuns me how many Facebook pages I see with the person’s full name and the day, month, and year right up under the picture.

Please understand; these are easy mistakes to make. Most of us are not evil identity thieves and so it isn’t natural for us to think like one. So don’t feel dumb if you have to minimize this blog to go take down your birthday. I have made all the mistakes, too :).

3. Avoid specific information.

On all of my sites, you will see that I live in Dallas, TX or in DFW. I actually live in one of the satellite communities, but DFW is close enough for government work. Never post pictures of your home with identifiable landmarks or addresses. I have posted pictures of my garden, but I make sure that there is nothing in the image that could help some weirdo locate my actual home.

4. Have a separate page for personal stuff.

Do you have to do this? No, but it does make life easier. Sometimes you just want to talk politics and about the kids and your time at church or synagogue or Wicca Camp without it adversely affecting your platform. Facebook is not going to mind you having more than one page so long as they are active and you are using them. Facebook just frowns on having lots and lots of pages that people are squatting on the name/domain without interacting in the community. I have a separate page under my married name and if people want to see family pictures, they have to know me. This is the page where I talk to all of my friends from grade school and third cousins and writers who are my personal friends. All the security protocols are set to default to the strictest setting so I don’t have to worry that pictures of my family Christmas are being looked at by everyone on the Internet.

5. Never tweet or post a status update announcing you or your home is vulnerable.

Now, if you followed the above rules, this becomes less critical, but it still is just a bad idea to feed predators real-time intel. I see friends announce things all the time like, “Yay! We are finally leaving for Florida for a week. So glad to be on the way to the airport!” Um, they just told every potential burglar that they will be gone, how long they will be gone, and that their house is potentially unattended. I tend to get paranoid on this point. I will announce activities…but only retrospectively. For example, don’t post, “Off to the gym.” Rather, post something like, “Whew! Just got home from the gym. I feel so much better.” This way, you can get the benefit of the personal interactions without opening your home to potential threats.

Now that I have you all scared to death to use social media, calm down. These rules are just common sense. Paranoid Peggy and Loosey-Goosey Lucy are two extremes that we want to avoid so we can make our social media time effective for building our platform. Social media is a friendly place and it can be easy to let our guard down. It is imperative that we be social and friendly, but by employing a few checks, we can do so in a way that is prudent and safe.

Happy writing!

Until next time….


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Great blog on writing for children by Ingrid Hedlund. LOVED this post.

Wordpreneur had a page of great links for authors to help you guys improve in all areas of your craft.

Author Terrell Mims has a really fascinating blog about the possible origins of the Vampire Myth.

Michael Hyatt has an interesting blog on why agents may be opposed to self-publishing.

Chuck Sambuchino’s blog has geat advice for getting permission for copyrighted material.

Here is the Formula for Great Writing…literally. All fiction authors MUST READ!


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    • Terrell Mims on September 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm
    • Reply

    Good stuff. More advice. Turn off Facebook Pages and disable the stat to allow people to post where you are.

  1. Great post! I definitely fall into the Paranoid Peggy camp, but like you said, I also let my personality out. It’s tricky line but doable.

  2. The link to Hyatt’s blog is interesting. That blog is a repeat of one he did over a year ago. The most interesting line is one where he talks about authors ripping off publishers. When I commented on that, Hyatt permanently blocked me from his blog and then sent one of his editors around to every blog that commented on it and spam their sites with promotion for Westbow, which is rather childish and unprofessional. Apparently it’s his way or he’ll go after you. And no dissenting voices on his blog. So I’d take his advice warily.
    The concept of authors ripping off publishers by a publishing house that has a vanity arm is sickening and unprofessional. If he wants authors to stop ripping him off, he can stop publishing them. The fact his company has to start a vanity arm indicates business isn’t good. So writers, beware of what the ‘experts’ say. Always understand the point of view from which they say it.

    1. I didn’t realize that was the same one, LOL. I just thought there were valid points. Not all business models are great for every author, which is one of the reasons I believe that authors are wise to know as much about the idustry as they possibly can. There are some kinds of books that would fare better with small press, university press or even the new micropresses. If you happen to have a great platform, self-publishing might be a wise business decision. But all great decisions come from looking at all the angles ;). And I totally agree…always apply critical thinking skills. Thanks for the comment!

    • Texanne on September 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm
    • Reply

    Good work, Kristin.

    Excellent point about the birthdate–I’ve heard that with your zip code and birth date a thief can get any info they want about you. Some of it by search and some by pretext, but still. Grin. Do you think Facebook ever gets suspicious of all the users whose zip code is 20081 and the birth date of April 1, 1910?

    Thanks for the valuable heads-up.

  3. Having worked in e-commerce/e-payments for 10 years, your advice here is spot on. I always tell people if they can only remember one thing it’s NEVER put your birth year on anything when it’s optional.

    By the way, thank you so much for your shout-out to my post on The Hearts of Children. Your lovely comment there made my day!

  1. […] can use your real name and yet still be safe. And if you are worried others will “find out” about your writing…um *scratches […]

  2. […] you, Kait! For some additional tips, here are my 5 Ways to Stay Safe on Social Media and still build an authentic […]

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