Facebook – Like It or Not?

One of the biggest compliments anyone can receive is to be considered “connected.” In the old days – before 2006 – being connected to thousands of people would have been considered pretty special, something that you might aspire to.

The rise of Facebook changed the notion of “connection” for everyone, forever.

We’re far enough into the so-called social media era that by this time you already have an opinion about Facebook. Not as a user, but as a publisher.

What you think about Facebook is serious business. If you’re an online publisher, what you think about Facebook is no laughing matter. Because, to a publisher, you have an important choice to make: whether to adopt Facebook Connect as your sign-up and sign-on system, or not.

For the uninitiated, Facebook Connect is, according to current Path CEO and former Facebook Engineer Dave Morin, “the next iteration of Facebook Platform that allows users to ‘connect’ their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site.”

What got publishers really excited was that by using Facebook Connect, “Facebook users represent themselves with their real names and real identities. With Facebook Connect, users can bring their real identity information with them wherever they go on the Web, including: basic profile information, profile picture, name, friends, photos, events, groups, and more.”

It’s easy to see the reaction in hindsight: basically the collective reaction was: “Wow. That sounds awesome. Sign me up! Let’s use that so our users will sign up with their real identities!”

It’s easy to see why this might be considered an easy decision. For one, with 850 million users on Facebook, the prospect of connecting with them seamlessly and increasing engagement is almost impossible to ignore, and maybe stupid to avoid. And then there is the ease of implementation.

But almost four years in, and with billions of connects served, some publishers beg to differ. I polled a couple of them about their opinions and you might be surprised.

Todd Sawicki, chief revenue officer of the awesome LOLCat site Icanhascheezburger – aka ‘Cheezburger,’ would seem to represent a Facebook-friendly demographic of people who enjoy sharing. But he has a different take:

“Facebook is a powerful source of traffic – to many publishers now the largest. The challenge with Facebook is being very conscious of the deal you are making with Facebook every time you publish into Facebook and every time you integrate a Facebook feature. They get engagement and you get traffic. Note the last part ‘and you get traffic.’ Maniacally measure how much you get in return and if it’s not a very powerful ROI, then don’t do it. At the same, beware of the crack dealer that Facebook represents, meaning they can easily get you hooked and if you become hooked, then you will be without any other recourse if/when Facebook tilts the rules in their favor, as they just did with brands and likes, you will be stuck paying the dealer.”

Nicole Delma, chief data officer of RCRD LBL, the premier online destination for free, curated, and legal MP3 downloads from the hottest marquee and emergent artists, concurs with Todd.

“With businesses acquiring more data than ever before, it’s critical that marketers address the real costs of holding on to and managing irrelevant data. Particularly in email, maintaining a large database of unengaged or poorly qualified leads can be painfully expensive when you add up the costs associated with deliverability challenges, reengagement marketing efforts, data storage and the manpower needed to manage each of those processes. Before businesses jump at the chance to add a very passive email acquired to social sign-in because it seems like a ‘cheap and easy’ acquisition strategy, they should carefully consider how much time and money it is going to cost them to manage that poorly qualified and disengaged lead and how much data they’ve sacrificed from their proprietary database to obtain it.”

Both of these data- and user-focused publishing leaders agree on one thing. You are striking a devil’s bargain when you “connect” with Facebook. Ask yourself this question: “When I use Facebook Connect to sign up and sign in visitors to my site, what am I getting in return? Are these my subscribers, or are they Facebook’s? Is that iFrame on my site a data leak? Is it a fire hose of irrelevant data that will pollute my database?”

Should your site stick to a good old email sign-up so your users know what they’re signing in to? Or should you do what all the cool kids do and just add Facebook Connect? It turns out that “being connected” is kind of complicated.

Of course, I know there are differences of opinion. I invite you to discuss in the comments section your views on the effectiveness of Facebook Connect, or contact me here.

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