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Authors and Social Networking: Part 4 (Facebook Disaster!)

In Parts 2 and 3 of this blog series, I described some of the ways in which authors can use Facebook to promote their books, including posting to groups. Within a few weeks of establishing my Facebook identity - as "SimoneFreierAuthor", I ended-up with more than 1800 Facebook friends. I had joined more than two dozen groups, on which I was posting regularly. And I made sure that my personal profile had the same consistent artwork, style, and information as my website, author bio, and books. At one point, I was 'communicating' with up to 400,000 people (!).

Then, disaster! Facebook required me to "confirm my identity" before I could access my account. Unfortunately, it is not easy to confirm a pen name. As I mentioned in Part 2, Facebook DOES allow pen names to be used ... as long as the real name is also shown in the profile name. However, in my case, I did not want to share my 'real' name - as I write erotica and erotic romances, and do not want my name associated with these publicly (i.e., opened to view by my family, friends, and work associates). In addition, my real name is identical to that of another famous author, and I do not want to mislead my readers.

So, one day, as things seemed to be going well with regard to my social networking activity, I went to sign in on Facebook, and was requested to "identify some of your friends, to confirm your identity". I would expect that for most people on Facebook - with perhaps a dozen or two dozen 'friends', who they recognize by sight - this will not be an issue. However, the SimoneFreierAuthor Facebook account now had more than 1800 friends, and I could not recognize more than 1% of them.

My friends are primarily other authors, literary agents, publishers, and various vendors to the publishing industry. While I 'know' who some of these people are, and have spoken or communicated via e-mail to a few of them, I certainly could not recognize most of them by sight. Furthermore, many of the avatars used on Facebook are not images of the person, but some random image (perhaps the beach, or a flower, or maybe a cover of one of their books). Therefore, it is virtually impossible to 'recognize' people, when their face isn't even on the picture being presented by Facebook.

The procedure for "face recognition" as a way to confirm your Facebook identity is to show you three pictures of 'friends', below which are the words "This appears to be:" and then a choice of six different names. You must select the correct name for 6-7 of the images sets; while you may skip up to 3 sets of images, all of the ones you answer must be correct: There can be NO errors, or Facebook will not confirm your identity. Needless to say, with 1800 friends, not recognizing virtually any of them, and with random pictures being presented, it is nearly impossible to pass the identity confirmation.

I didn't mention that there is a time limit for the face recognition test, so taking too long - for example, by looking up each of the people and trying to find their matching image - will result in failing the test. After a couple of tries and failures, Facebook locks you out of your account for some hours; you may try again, but enough fails and Facebook will lock you out for a day.

There is an alternative to the face recognition test to confirm your identity: You may submit a scan of an 'official' government document (birth certificate, driver's license, passport) that contains your birthdate. Facebook says you can cross out information other than your name and birthdate (such as your address). If you do not have a government ID, you may submit TWO other IDs that show your name - such as a library card, student ID card, etc. However, short of forging documents, there was no way I could submit an 'official' ID for my pen name. Thus, I was locked out of my account for nearly two weeks, as it was obvious that I would not be able to pass this test.

At some point, I thought I had a clever way to pass the face recognition indentity confirmation: I had assumed that one of the names provided as a choice was my 'friend', and the others were random names. As most of my friends are authors, I could just quickly search the name (not worrying about the image); if I found an author, then I could select that name. Good idea, but unfortunately, the six names Facebook presents as choices are ALL friends! Thus, nearly all of them are authors, and my 'clever' technique did not help.

At this point, I began a 2-week attempt to contact Facebook. After the lockout occurred, I read-up on Facebook and found that the 'correct' way to promote a product is via a Facebook "Page", NOT a Facebook personal "Profile". I learned that it is very easy to convert a personal profile to a Page ... assuming you can log in to your account, which I could not do! As some of you probably know, it is IMPOSSIBLE to contact Facebook: There is a phone number, but it refers the caller to the "Help Center". There are various ways to supposedly leave feedback for Facebook (to "Report a Problem", to "Report Abuse", etc.) ... but these are only notifications to Facebook, and Facebook says they cannot respond to every notification.

Amazingly, I DID receive one response from Facebook - a 'real' person, who actually read my e-mail and responded. Unfortunately, my publisher had sent the e-mail, and Facebook asked that I send an e-mail (as it was my account) to them. So, I did that - using the return e-mail address of the "Community Support" person who had contacted my publisher. Unfortunately, I got back "You've reached us at a channel that we don't support. Please visit the Help Center." Over two weeks, I tried numerous ways to contact Facebook. The most direct way - from my Facebook account - was not possible, as I could not log in to my account. Therefore, I was 'stuck'!

I was upset with Facebook and the entire situation, and my publisher was nearly frantic, as we were releasing my novels (one each month), and had no way to reach people on Facebook. I went from a reach of 400,000 people to zero people (except for my followers on Twitter). One 'solution' was to create a Facebook Page from scratch (or have my publisher do it, as Pages can be created and managed by anyone with a working Facebook account). The two problems with this approach were 1) I would have zero "Likes", rather than 1800 (Friends of a personal profile are converted to Likes of a Page); and 2) it wasn't clear that I could secure my "SimoneFreierAuthor" personal Facebook URL ... which was already published in the back of all of my books, on my website, etc.

There were two reasons why we may not have been able to regain the SimoneFreierAuthor name: First, you must have at least 25 Likes on a Facebook Page before the Page can request a personal URL, and second, the personal URL was still officially held by Simone Freier and, without being able to confirm my identity, I could not transfer this to a new Page. I was REALLY stuck!

Just before I was about to commit Hara-Kiri, and after two weeks of incredible stress, I decided to try the face recognition test again. While some of the images are virtually impossible to recognize (not having anything to do with a specific person), a few actually gave-away the person's identity - for example, by showing a book with that person's name on the spine. After another couple of tries, I was - MIRACULOUSLY - able to get through the test, and access my account. Amazing! While two weeks had been lost, I could potentially have lost the use of "SimoneFreierAuthor" (and "SimoneFreier" had already been taken). I immediately converted my personal profile to a Page, which started with more than 1800 "Likes".

Social networking is still very new to me, and I am still learning the protocols and courtesies, as well as the tricks and techniques that can help promote my books. There are some DISADVANTAGES of having a Page; for example, a Page cannot join a Facebook Group and, as far as I know, it is not possible to post to a Group without first joining it (although I have seen some articles and videos on the web that purport to show how to post from a Page to a Group).

There are several lessons to be learned from my recent Facebook experience. It is best to learn the details before establishing your social networking presence, if feasible. Even better may be to enlist the assistance of professionals. If you are going to use your Facebook account to promote (or sell) your work, you should be using a Page, rather than a profile. And, unless you want to waste a lot of time, don't bother trying to contact Facebook for help: They refuse to help individuals, and they specifically say "unfortunately, we cannot respond to your emails individually."

After this fiasco was over, I did a quick search on Facebook for profile names that include "author". Within ten minutes, I had compiled a list of at least 140 names that were obviously fake; it would not be difficult for Facebook to target these for identity confirmation. Or, if you post to a large number of people via Groups, you may be considered by Facebook to be promoting your work, and they may require an identity confirmation. A lot of people are evidently 'getting away' with using an obiously fake name - and I'm sure many others are using what they consider to be a 'legitimate' pen name. But all of these people are at risk of Facebook requiring confirmation of identity before allowing access to the account.

Recently there was news of Facebook relaxing their rules regarding 'alternate' names for LGBTQ individuals - who do not want to also share their real names. However, I guess Facebook doesn't consider a 'profession' to be as legitimate as a 'lifestyle' regarding alternate names. Also, Facebook obviously does make exceptions for famous people. For example, "E.L. James" has a Facebook personal profile which promotes her books (not via a Page, as Facebook requires). Everyone knows that name is a 'pen name' ... but Facebook obviously discriminates against authors who may not be as famous (i.e., virtually all other authors).

I would be interested in hearing your feedback and personal tales of Facebook experiences in the comments, below.

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