I have been thinking about Facebook for weeks now. Originally, I began to think about it as it pertained to updating a past popular post of mine with information on the new Community Pages and updates to the logistics of Fan Pages, Profile Pages and Groups. Then this past week Facebook unleashed the dogs of war (at least as far as their basic user base is concerned) with their Instant Personalization, Ubiquitous Like button, and Forced Profile Linking (All related in whole or in part to their Open Graph API). That combination of events has turned this into a very awkward post – I don’t want to do a series of posts on Facebook, but my clients, friends and family are upset and confused by the Facebook UI changes (more so than usual), and there are some big picture implications going on here. I’m going to try to touch on as many issues as I can for you.
First, the fact that Facebook is holding profiles hostage for page linking purposes. This is making many angry (including me, for what it’s worth), and rightly so. They have effectively eliminated your control over your own profile, and the price you pay is a loss of your personalization. You know, that little part of your profile that helps people decide if you really are that chick from 6th grade science class, or if you are a work associate who is interesting enough to have in their stream, or where you can list your undying love of “alt indie grunge cupcakes”, among other things.
How are they holding it hostage? If you didn’t allow them to link to Pages in your personal Info tab when they made the change, you lose your interests, work, education, hometown and current city (you know, all of the criteria people use to find you). Even worse? They’ll still link you to pages of their own choosing, even if you try this trick suggested by Corvida. So far, it also seems you can not delete them from the Info tab interface – only hide them or go to each page and manually leave it. Frustrating and time consuming. (If you are my friend on Facebook, you can see I removed or hid all of my interests and replaced them with a link to the page Facebook Give Us Back Control Of Our Privacy, just to be cheeky.)
Also of interest if you are a business: Facebook isn’t ensuring that it is linking to the correct pages. I have this website, for example, and I’ve had a fan page for a very long time. Instead of linking there in my work section, Facebook is linking to its own new Community Pages feature, even creating a new community page for businesses and things that already have established presences. Some people seem to be able to suggest an URL when it’s incorrect, but I don’t have access to that feature, and neither do many others I’ve asked at this time. If I find a solution to that issue, I’ll update this post with it, as it is happening on my work, education, and other links now, and I see it happening to others. I used Corvida’s trick to avoid being linked, so it brings up the question: Is the URL correction link others see only available to those who give in to Facebook’s forced links to Pages? If you know, comment.
Moving on to the big picture issues surrounding Facebook’s Open Graph API. This particular move by Facebook has gotten the attention of Washington. Specifically, Senator Charles Schumer is questioning the privacy issues surrounding it, which you can read more about in a write up over at Read, Write, Web.
At the crux of the matter is Facebook’s tendency to make everything Opt-In by default, something they have done with nearly ever feature launch since early days (remember Beacon?). What this means to a tech savvy user is simply checking your privacy settings once a week and after every major UI (user interface) change and toggling the switches to off if you want to. No big deal to us. However, it is a huge deal to the less tech savvy user (which are legion), to the young and perhaps under-educated about privacy online, and to the super busy user. By making sure the changes and features are set to “On” by default, Facebook is doing a huge disservice to those who just want to log in and stay connected to friends and family, or do a little basic business. They could solve a lot of their core issues with users by simply defaulting to “Off”, truly. An online privacy bill making the rounds currently aims to force that default, however; it would broaden government’s reach into privacy issues and online commerce in ways that may not be beneficial. I’m currently on the fence on whether or not to support it, but you can read more about the bill’s progress over on Ad Age.
You can read a great tutorial on how to adjust your Facebook privacy settings over on GigaOm in the post “Your Mom’s Guide To Those Facebook Changes, And How To Block Them“.
What the Instant Personalization part of things means is that you can get social sharing plus friend streaming via Facebook all over the web. The trade-offs are related to your personal information and are explained in the articles I’ve linked to in much more detail than I can give space to here. Check them all out, then come back and finish reading.
As a person working in marketing as part of their overall job and a social media geek, I think the idea of social sharing all over the web is a lot of fun. I can attest that social sharing is something I do already using Shareaholic, Delicious, Google Reader, Google Buzz, FriendFeed, Twitter and more (but not often Facebook). From a business standpoint, looking only at reach, social sharing of this Facebook level magnitude can only help you. From a user standpoint, it can be a little creepy. How so? Well, one of the biggest things you can do with the information gleaned from tracking social sharing is serve up appropriate ads to people wherever they are online. As a business, this will save time and money and be more effective as you target only those who are most likely to give a crap about your service or product. As a user, it feels a bit creepy to realize that a random website knows which product you are likely to give a crap about. Add in the terminology (it’s a “Like” button, or perhaps a “Recommend” if the web site owner has taken time to change it at all) and you get some very strange reactions from people. My recommendation for users is to use the Ze Frank recommended tool shown below to take a look at what Facebook is already sharing about you right now, adjust your privacy settings accordingly, go to your profile and make sure you are happy with what you are linked to, and then proceed to “Like” your little heart out once you’ve got your privacy ducks in a row. Just make sure to check the settings again weekly, just in case. Be proactive.
This post has a lot of information to absorb already, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of how Facebook is turning brand ownership on its head – whether it is your “personal brand”, as they say, or your business brand. If you want a quick sketch of one of the many ways this is happening on Facebook, take a look at the new Community Pages.
What these pages do is take topics (any topics) and turn them into a community generated page. The point is to make the topic, brand, person, etc be “community owned”. It’s intended for things like “cooking”, but open to anything people have a mind to add. This is scary for businesses, as these pages can be started by a business, but are not ultimately in the control of the business. They are intended for broader topics (right now) but since any topic can be made a Community Page and anyone can start one (and in fact Facebook used Wikipedia data to start several already), if you are a brand with public perception issues or problems, you could be facing some real heat, and without a traditional Wall interface for uploading content or commenting, no way to fight it on the Community Page itself. You’ll have to up your social media game and come out swinging elsewhere and hope it filters back to the passive areas online like these new Community Pages. Facebook being Facebook, I’m certain that will change at some point to something else, but for now, that’s how it’s been laid out.
With such an overwhelming amount of change happening at Facebook over the last little while, I’m interested in how it’s affecting you or your business. How are you handling it? Are you seeking out people in the social media space to come in and educate your business or school on privacy issues and branding online, on how to deal with the new frontier of connectivity and openness? Have you found a solution to some of the problems mentioned above that you can share in the comments? Let us know!