Every day, we read more about the growth, opportunities, and risks of social media. Without fail, three of the largest social networks make headlines: MySpace.com, Facebook, and, more recently, YouTube. For a while, MySpace was front and center. Then, YouTube was the story of the week. Now, it’s Facebook’s turn in the spotlight.
Facebook is a social networking community for college students and alumni. Many things distinguish it from MySpace. It has 9 million members, compared to MySpace’s over 80 million. Although Facebook is smaller, it’s more exclusive. The admission ticket into Facebook is a valid .edu e-mail address. In addition, individual member pages are less customizable than MySpace pages. The last two characteristics make Facebook a more comfortable place to advertise for many brands.
Last week, Facebook made a very public misstep. On Tuesday, it added a live news feed that displays changes and activity on your friends’ pages. If a friend in your network adds a photo or a friend or changes her relationship status, you know instantly. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a major change and might even be a useful, time-saving new feature. But many in the Facebook community were instantly up in arms. To them, the new functionality felt as if every move they made was captured and on display for all their friends to see. Tens of thousands of users joined protest groups, declaring the Facebook news feed an invasion of privacy and “big brotherish.”
Two days after the announcement, Facebook chatter in the blogosphere more than doubled. It became the number two search term, according to Technorati.
The community, vocal by nature, began an online campaign that included online petitions and thoughtful discussions on personal blogs. Here’s a sample of each:
We all know who has dumped who, who is doing what, and who doesn’t like something anymore. This is invasive, and while it is displayed for others to see, it is not meant to bombard their homepage. The Facebook has become a perfect tool for stalkers to gain access to their prey, easily.
Despite the fact that this does not “violate the privacy policies already in place,” we feel that it is invasive and directs us to information that we are not normally interested in. —Robert Venezuela
The problem is that facebook assumed that the privacy settings as they are would be sufficient to deal with any concerns that would arise from the new interface. However, this interface REQUIRES much more granularity in the privacy settings than is currently provided. For instance, just because I want people to be able to find my relationship status profile doesn’t mean I want to everyone to be notified if I break up with Linda. What I want to make available is not necessarily the same as what I want to notify others about. Also, what if I want people to be notified about changes to my notes but not my wall? There’s no way to pick and choose what classes of data are to be fed. What if I only want to get wall feeds? What if I only want total feeds from five people? The default is basically all or none, and in the face of that people are scrambling towards none. —Dima’s Blog
By Thursday, Facebook made it clear it would put this new feature under individuals’ control so they could determine what changes others would see. The members prevailed. How? And why? Members used this powerful medium to connect, assemble, and make their voice heard. Fortunately, Facebook listened and responded.
The takeaways for marketers:
- Listen carefully. If you target connected customers, have a mechanism in place to collect feedback before taking major actions (product changes, new product launches, etc.). Don’t act in a vacuum. Use social media to engage customers and solicit their feedback. Then, make their input an important part of your strategy.
- Be ready to act. Social networks and many Web 2.0 tools make it very easy for people to assemble around a cause. Major brands should have a rapid action plan in place to identify and address these situations before they get out of hand. In the old world, this was called public relations or crisis communications. In a new, networked world, it’s good community relations.
- Respect the community. What I wrote in an earlier column about five best practices for marketers who venture into social networking still applies: “Respect the Community. It’s a club and you don’t really belong. Most social networks aren’t about advertising or commerce per se… As an advertiser you’re a guest in the club. Understand the environment and respect the unwritten rules: don’t intrude on conversations or connections in a way that irritates members; don’t divert users from the network to other sites; and don’t disguise yourself in a dishonest way.”
If this advice doesn’t resonate with you, close your eyes and imagine this scenario:
You’ve just spent six months developing a new campaign for a major new product launch that’s a line extension in a very popular, somewhat dated product line. You and your management team have high hopes for this product. You need to invigorate the product line and generate a big bump in sales. You’ve carefully researched the product and launch strategy. The focus group results indicate you’d add new customers without alienating your core franchise. You launch.
Within a week of launch, 126 groups have formed, all calling for a boycott because you spoiled the product with this line extension. The revolt started in the U.S. and is now moving to Europe. Angry customers are filling your inbox with hate mail. Your boss calls and asks what the heck’s going on, how significant the damage could be, and what you’re doing to respond. You tell him you’re going to change the campaign messaging and heavy up on PR. Then, you realize that strategy won’t fly. These people want answers and action — now. You have hours. Not weeks.
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