Laura Creekmore is an experienced, award-winning content strategist and information architect. After a dozen years in digital media, Creekmore founded Creek Content in 2008. The firm helps clients with content strategy and management, search application optimization, taxonomy and information architecture, and online communities. Creekmore developed, and her team now implements, the content strategy for a private personal health improvement site. She also manages the content development and community engagement strategy for a software company’s private customer community, working to improve service and drive down costs. Creekmore is married, has 3 children, and is president of the board of Friends of Shelby Park, a board member of the Information Architecture Institute, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and the Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association, and a long-time Junior League of Nashville volunteer. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and a master’s student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Q: Why should I use social media sites? For that matter, what IS social media?

A: Social media is a catch-all term for technology that allows us to personally connect — with friends, family or strangers, depending on the service and how you use it. Lots of websites and mobile apps now incorporate some kind of social media — you can fill out a profile, identify friends and share information with them.

Social media can be a really powerful way to keep in touch with friends and family, and also to make connections with others you may share interests with, but would otherwise never meet.

Popular social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, FourSquare and more.

Q: I just want to stay in touch but I’m worried about privacy. What can I do to protect myself while still using sites like Facebook?

A: Many sites — but not all — give you a decent level of control over your profile and personal information. When you start out, you should assume that everything you post online is visible to everyone in the world, and that it will be until the end of time. You can begin to investigate the privacy controls available at various services, but keep in mind, the only real defense against other people reading something embarrassing you say online is not to post the embarrassing item in the first place.

Facebook does allow members a significant amount of control over their privacy, but the controls are pretty complex and it will take a while to do if you decide to change the default settings [which will leave your information available to the public]. For more information, visit the privacy help section at Facebook:

In addition, be very cautious about using geo-location-enabled websites and apps. These apps use data about your current location — usually for a benign purpose like recommending nearby restaurants, for instance — but they can collect an astounding amount of personal information.

If you have children, it is essential that you learn about managing your digital profile so you can teach them to be savvy about these issues as well. Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents helping to guide kids and teens through the tricky scenarios we all face online every day.

Q: I have a small business. What social media should I be using and how?

A: There’s no one right answer to this question. Start by thinking about your customers… Where do they spend their time online? What do they expect to be able to do there? Many, many retail or consumer-oriented businesses should start with a solid website and then a Facebook page. Twitter is very popular for businesses, but judge your audience carefully — for a lot of companies, this is still pretty bleeding-edge. However, even many local businesses are successfully using Twitter. If you don’t need to use Twitter to reach your customers, it still may be one of your most valuable research and professional-connection tools; it is for my company.

LinkedIn is very valuable for many professionals, not just those actively searching for a job. And, depending on what kind of content you have to share, YouTube and Flickr [photo sharing] can be great tools, as well.