If you don't use it correctly, Facebook's new subscription feature can lead to a social networking mess: private posts and comments shown publicly, a cluttered news feed and spam.
Subscriptions, which launched last week, lets you see people's public posts in your News Feed, without having to friend them. And while Facebook Subscriptions is an interesting way to broaden your network and connect with people you otherwise wouldn't have contact with, some critics have panned it for its complexity.
If you decide to opt in to Facebook Subscriptions, you'll need to understand some key concepts. Here are five caveats before turning on the subscribe button on your profile, or subscribing to people's profiles.
1. Is This Post Public?
In your new privacy settings is the default privacy setting, which you can set to either public, friends or customize it. But the word default is misleading here.
Whichever you choose will not be the privacy setting for everything you post on Facebook, it's just the default setting for when you use a Facebook app that doesn't have the drop-down menu with privacy options, such as the Facebook BlackBerry app.
Say, for example, you want to open up your profile to subscribers. In order for them to see something you post, you need to choose the "Public" setting from the drop-down menu in the status update field.
Warning: The next time you post something to Facebook, it will automatically be posted publicly since that was the last setting you chose. Unless it's a post you want shared with everyone, remember to select the desired privacy setting from the drop-down menu.
Similarly, if you post something publicly to Facebook from your computer, then post again using the Facebook iPhone app, the iPhone post will also be public unless you remember to change the privacy setting. You will be unable to change who can see that post until you are back at your computer.
[Want more Facebook tips, tricks and analysis? Check out CIO.com's Facebook Bible.]
2. Public Post, Public Comments
When you subscribe to people's Facebook posts, everything they post publicly will appear in your News Feed. What's important to remember is that since their posts are public, so will any comments you add to their photo, link or discussion.
Also, keep in mind that the person you're subscribing to may have set their profile to be searchable on Google. This means that your comments can be visible to everyone on the Web when a search for them is performed. So it's wise to keep your comments on public posts professional.
3. Polluting the News Feed
When you subscribe to a Facebook user's profile, most everything they share publicly will appear in your News Feed. This can quickly lead to clutter. You can, however, put them into a list.
To do this, click "Lists" then "Create a list." Once you name the list, select "Manage List" in the top right corner and select "Add/Remove Friends. From the next drop-down menu, click "Subscriptions."
If you don't want to create a new list, cleaning up the clutter is going to take a bit of work. While a default setting for all your subscriptions would be useful, right now you need to adjust each one individually. Here's how to do it.
On the page of the person you've subscribed to, click the "Subscribed" button at the top of the page. This drop-down menu will display subscription settings, such as how many updates you want to see (the default is "Most Updates"), and the types of updates you want to see, which include life events (such as moving to a new city or new jobs), status updates, photos and videos, and games. By default, you'll see all four types of updates. From here, you can also unsubscribe from a person's posts.
4. Subscriptions or Spam?
Last week, I decided to open up my profile to subscribers to test the feature—and bam! I was hit by an influx of what appeared to be spam or fake Facebook accounts subscribing to me.
When you opt-in to subscriptions, you don't have the option to remove or block individuals subscribing to you. Your only controls are managing whether or not your subscribers are allowed to comment on your posts, and whether you receive notifications about new subscribers. (This notification setting doesn't appear to be working properly yet; I've only received one e-mail alerting me of new subscribers.)
To edit your subscriber settings, click the Subscribers link on the left navigation under your profile picture, then select "Edit Settings" at the top right.
**Update: A Facebook rep says that you can block individuals that subscribe to you by clicking on the gear icon on their profile and then selecting "block."
5. Update Profile Privacy
While you may think you have done a good job at maintaining your privacy settings, be sure to use the "View As" feature to fine-tune your profile before opening the flood gates to subscribers.
To view how your profile appears to the public, click the "View As..." button on the top right of your profile.
While you can enter individual friends' names into the search bar, you won't be able to search for "Public." Instead, click the "public" link that appears in the text above. This will show you how people not on your friends list will view your profile.
When I did this, here's what I found: Most of my profile was private, but my Likes, education and email address were all visible to the public. Additionally, if you choose to opt-in to subscribers—which most people do for professional reasons—you may want to be sure your profile picture is also professional.
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org