Avoid Facebook as Your Online Hub

As you’ve probably heard, Facebook is experiencing some kind of bug that is affecting brand page post impressions.  As you can imagine, some brands are growing frustrated as there’s hardly anything being done about it.  It’s been a month now, and no resolution in sight.  It is almost on monthly basis now, Facebook manages to anger and annoy either its users, app developers or the advertisers.

I started drafting this blog post soon after the Roger Ebert fanpage going down story broke. So the urgency to publish it, couldn’t be greater.  The marketers who solely rely on Facebook as their primary marketing channel and brands that use it as their central online hub for all their online activity are about to get a rude awakening.  As relying solely on Facebook can and will bring your marketing and social media engagement efforts to its knees.

This is not an anti-Facebook post, but rather a cautionary article.  Yes, facebook should be part of your marketing mix, yes you should connect with fans on facebook and you should use it to help build your company, product and/or brand awareness, but don’t make it your online hub.  There are a number of reasons to approach Facebook with a plan B in your back-pocket.

Terms of Service

Facebook’s Terms of Use (ToU) aka Terms of Service (ToS) is mess.  Seems like Zuckerberg and his legal team never know what to put in.  And when they do update the Terms, they seemed to be in a need of always hoping to clarify some parts. Why don’t they just make it clear in the first place? I understand that ToU evolve over time, but Facebook never seems to get it right.  I can’t even think of any other company that had to make so many ammendmends and backtracks on new changes to their ToU in such a short time.  Backlash and petitions are well documented.

Too Much Control

Just when you think you have a solid business model and a common place to connect with your audience, Facebook can simply pull the plug on anything at a whims notice, if any at all.  The common denominator is mostly because something doesn’t fit Facebook’s mantra (read: draconian terms of use), or their business model. So, putting all your eggs into one basket (read: facebook) will have a detrimental effect on the survival of your business, as was the case with Blue Noodle. A Toronto based company that ‘helps casual social game publishers monetize in-game advertising.’ Most of their efforts were focused on the Facebook platform. An anonymous Blue Noodle employee was quoted on a CNN Fortune blog article Investor immorality: The strange case of Blue Noodle :

“All seemed okay until January, when Facebook announced that game publishers would be required to use Facebook Credits as their exclusive currency. We had put most of our eggs into the Facebook basket, and that was like a shot through the heart,” says a former Blue Noodle employee who requested anonymity. “There wasn’t really a Plan B.”

Blue Noodle is partly to blame as well, but this incident illustrates the type of effect Facebook changes can have on 3rd party developers’ and partners’ business models.

Furthermore, facebook has a history of shutting down popular fanpages, groups and profiles.  In addition to Roger Ebert’s page going down mentioned earlier, they also shutdown a fan page for Realtors which had over 47,000 fans, and Robert Scoble’s profile in 2008. Facebook can give you all the tools you need  to connect with your audience and marketing insights you need carry out effective campaigns. But at the end of the day they ultimately have the final say if you get to use those tools or not.

Lack of Customer Support

If your profile is disabled, fanpage goes down or app isn’t working, how are you going to get help?  Is there a number to call? No! For a company with such a large base of developers and high-spend advertisers, you’d assume there would be a better way of getting instant help.  But there isn’t.  Some users take their questions and frustrations to Twitter where in some cases it generates so much buzz that Facebook reps are forced to respond immediately.

No Respect For Users’ Privacy

Facebook is locked in constant battle with users over its privacy controls.  One of the most annoying and frustrating things most users find with Facebook, is the default position of ‘opt-in’ to being set to ON whenever they introduce a new feature.  More recently, Facebook introduced a face recognition feature which groups similar faces together to make tagging of your friends easier.  This angered and annoyed many users as the feature was ‘on’ by default without users’ knowledge.  A history of disrespect for users’ privacy has led the lawmakers to ask Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to probe Facebook. If Facebook’s leadership has no respect for their users’ privacy what do they have to ensure you trust them with your brand?

Unethical Business Practices

This post is full of examples of Facebook’s bad behavior, but the incident involving Facebook paying off a PR firm to smear Google takes the cake. These kinds of tactics are usually reserved for dying, spineless and desperate companies.  Is Facebook really that insecure about Google’s latest attempt at ‘social networking’ with Google+?

Spam and Phishing

Spam and Phishing is nothing new.  As the users shift their time spent on internet to Facebook, so do the spammers and scammers. These illegal activities come in different forms. Some are disguised as legitimate applications, others are just links or fan pages.  Spammers and phishers can quickly hijack latest craze, event or even a brand, and disguise it as a legitimate app or a fan page.  If Facebook scammers can exploit Steve Jobs’ death and take advantage of naive and unassuming Facebook users, what’s there to stop them from hijacking your brand?

To conclude, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using Facebook as a marketing channel and a place to connect with your customers, fans and followers.  However, I would be wary of treating it as the only online marketing channel and a central hub of all your online activity.  Instead, you need diversify and setup a hub of all your activity elsewhere.  A place where you have more control and that connects to your other online properties, including your Facebook fanpage.