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8 reasons marketers can't trust Facebook

8 reasons marketers can't trust Facebook Douglas Karr

Facebook's massive growth and worldwide adoption have taken it beyond the college dorms and directly into businesses. Facebook advertising, Facebook Pages for business, and now Facebook Places have positioned Facebook well in the marketing industry. Consultants and software vendors everywhere are working on their next Facebook campaign or solution.

But they might wish to take a step back and take a deeper look at Facebook, privacy, controls, policies, and ultimately, the control they have over their efforts. Having worked with both software vendors and enterprise companies in the space, we've personally witnessed how poorly Facebook has implemented its business-to-business solutions as well as the losses when things go wrong.

And they do go wrong.

We've learned some lessons in dealing with Facebook over the past year, and I wanted to share them with you.

Lesson 1: The hierarchy of control over Facebook pages is broken.

All Facebook pages are assigned directly to Facebook users. In other words, the fate of your company's Facebook page is in the hands of the person who added it. That's extremely short-sighted. Aside from sole proprietors, most companies don't belong to a single person. Since you're not allowed to register a non-human on Facebook, you're forced to have it under an employee.

What happens when that employee leaves? We've already seen how difficult it is to get back control of a lost Facebook page. It took a long time, required some legal wrangling, and required that person adding another person on the staff as an administrator.

You might think the solution would be to have multiple administrators on your staff or with the agency you might be working with. Wrong.

When Facebook recently thought one of our clients had suspicious activity on its Facebook page, it disabled every administrator's account. That, in turn, disabled my account. That, in turn, disabled all of my pages and applications.

Lesson 2: You do not have any control over Facebook.

Aside from not knowing what might invoke Facebook's account disablement, there are other factors you don't have control over. When Facebook changes its layout, you have to fix it. When Facebook is broken, you can't fix it. When Facebook changes its application programming interface, you have to reprogram yours.

We built a social media monitoring application for the sports industry, called Sports Fan Graph. The system requests fan counts from Facebook once a day for teams and then monitors their growth on both Twitter and Facebook.

Without any notice, Facebook decided to rename some of the fields we were extracting from its Open Graph API. The client called us and asked why its application was broken. We had to stop everything, figure it out, and then fix it. This is inexcusable in the software-as-a-service industry.

An additional hole in Facebook's use is that you can tag anyone or any business on any place or in a status update, and that entity is notified. Some of my friends do this to notify me of a video, photo, or site they want me to look at. It's annoying. If I'm tagged, I should have the opportunity to review and approve that tag before it goes public.

Lesson 3: You do not have any recourse with Facebook.

The road to get your account re-enabled is a black hole. You're asked to submit a form requesting your account be re-enabled; however, you're not provided any support, any timeline, or any guarantee that it will be turned back on. When I wrote on the Marketing Technology Blog about my account being disabled, dozens of people contacted me to tell me their accounts were disabled weeks ago and they still hadn't heard anything.

I only received a single automated message to verify my identity:

Imagine that! All of your work, your content, your fans, your pages, and your applications, all gone at the blink of an eye -- with no recourse for your business. I personally had spent thousands of dollars on Facebook Ads to grow the following on a few of my pages -- and all of it was gone when my account was disabled. When my account was finally re-enabled (with no communication from Facebook), I had to republish all of my pages.

Imagine if I had built an application and utilized Facebook's log-in API so that users of the application could log in with their Facebook ID. My application would be totally out of service.

Per its terms of service, Facebook can also remove your ads for any reason:

We may reject or remove any ad for any reason. 

Lesson 4: You do not have any customer service resources with Facebook.

There is no publicly available phone number or support email at Facebook, regardless of how much money you might have spent with the company. After a few days of wondering what happened to my account, it was re-enabled as mysteriously as it was disabled. I actually wasn't even notified of it being re-enabled.

One of my clients that was disabled had a friend of a friend of a friend at Facebook who was able to pull some strings and get our accounts re-enabled. It's nice that I have distant friends in my network that can help in a situation like this. Does your business?

The irony, of course, is that Facebook demands that any application developers that use Facebook have support resources readily available:

You will make it easy for users to contact you. We can also share your email address with users and others claiming that you have infringed or otherwise violated their rights.

Lesson 5: Facebook has rights to all of your content.

Posting videos? Music? Photos? Did you read this in the fine print on Facebook?

You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.

Wow. When your company spends thousands of hours on a new campaign that goes viral, it's nice to know that Facebook can use that content however it would like. Kind of scary.

Lesson 6: Almost everything you invest in Facebook could be lost. Today.

Facebook advertising and applications have done quite well for many companies. The problem is that some companies are literally built with Facebook as the sole foundation of the consulting, products, and services they provide. This is known in the technology industry as a "single point of failure," and it makes your business totally susceptible to Facebook.

Have you worked for a year to build content and a following? That's worth no more than $100 to Facebook:


Lesson 7: Just because you understand the terms today doesn't mean that Facebook won't change them tomorrow.

Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has chronicled Facebook's privacy changes alone:

Facebook privacy policy circa 2005: No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.

You can read his chronicle of the erosion of the policy here. It includes iterations from 2006, 2007, November 2009, December 2009, and culminates with this:

Current Facebook privacy policy, as of April 2010: When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends' names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. ... The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to "everyone." ... Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.

Lesson 8: Facebook owns access to your content.

Facebook might state that you own your content, but the fact that it owns access to it puts your business dead in the water when it's not available. When my account was disabled, there was no way I could log in to actually retrieve my content. Nor was I allowed (per Facebook's email) to register another account. Even if I could, my pages were unpublished, and blank pages were presented to folks trying to connect with me on their platform.

Last November, Tim Berners-Lee called Facebook a "walled garden." Ironically, in November, Facebook also openly admitted a bug had disabled many user accounts.

Berners-Lee is known as one of the inventers of the world wide web, and continues to discuss how monolithic sites like Facebook are fragmenting the internet. In an article in Scientific American, he writes:

"Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. The more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social networking site becomes a central platform -- a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it."

Most of us don't see Facebook doing anything wrong by dominating the internet. Since it's a free platform, we generally don't have any legal recourse, either. While we aren't paying for Facebook in dollars and cents (aside from the advertising I paid), we are paying for it by risking our privacy and information and  handing over our content -- and now our businesses -- to a company that can turn us off with the flick of the wrist.

A couple weeks ago, Facebook opened up your profile a bit further by enabling developers to directly access your mobile phone and your address. Did you know that? Would you have joined Facebook had you known they were going to sell your data, exploit your content, and make billions of dollars all while being able to shut off your access at its own discretion?

Is this the Facebook you joined? It wasn't the one that I did.

I know no fewer than three businesses that are 100 percent dependent upon the Facebook platform. All of them are applications that manage and track marketing communications within Facebook. As far as I know, only one of the three business units actually has a contact within Facebook to speak to directly.

I'm fortunate. Other than being frustrated and losing a lot of time and a little money, my losing return on Facebook investment (ROFI) isn't too bad. I do question whether or not I'll be as passionate about my own Facebook marketing and advising my clients to market on Facebook, though. And I'll be especially hesitant when advising software-as-a-service providers to integrate dependencies with Facebook.

Are you willing to bet your business on Facebook and the numerous risks that come with it? My own response at this point would be, "Absolutely not!" We should all be skeptical of businesses that own so much of the market that they can destroy the competition or even their own customers without even flinching.

If Facebook is your primary means of generating traffic and revenue, begin diversifying your investment in other strategies as well. We insist that our clients use Twitter, invest in search, develop their own blogging strategies, and own their own content on their own domains. You should too.

If the movie "The Social Network" is to be believed, Zuckerberg did quite a number on his friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin. What makes you think that he's looking out for you or me?

Douglas Karr is the author of Corporate Blogging for Dummies, chief blogger and founder of the Marketing Technology Blog, and CEO of DK New Media.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Douglas Karr is the Author of Corporate Blogging for Dummies (http://www.corporatebloggingtips.com) , Chief Blogger/Founder of the Marketing Technology Blog (http://www.marketingtechblog.com) and CEO of DK New Media...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: euri gene

2016, July 07

my company was requiring CMS-40B several days ago and saw a website that has a ton of fillable forms . If others are looking for CMS-40B as well , here's a https://goo.gl/IAUoag.

Commenter: Jay Walsh

2011, December 19


As to free... eh... we're arguing semantics here. Truth be told, I don't have difficulty with any part of your article and agree with most, if not all of it.

I think where we differ is on the monopoly aspect. Yes, Facebook has the monopoly... at this time. There was a time that MySpace was the go-to site. And yes, I know we're talking about a much larger site than MySpace ever was.

There's suddenly a lot of interest in Pinterest... because it's driving traffic. There are a ton of complaints over the new algorithms Facebook is using... and just wait until you start hearing the litany of disdain for the new interface they're rolling out.

Facebook could follow the path of any viral contagion... grow, peak out at a certain point, then drop dramatically down.

In any case, I don't think Facebook considers us as anything more than the product. I don't believe they think they owe us anything... no matter their size or monopoly.

But, it's still a well-written article with a lot of good info.



Commenter: Douglas Karr

2011, December 19


It's important to note that this article was written several months ago and, indeed, Facebook has changed some of the features, technology and conditions.


Commenter: Douglas Karr

2011, December 19


As I note later in the article, Facebook is not "free" to businesses. There's an expense to providing content, advertising, and promoting your business there. I would agree with you if there were an open marketplace for advertising on Facebook, but Facebook owns the market and you have to play there. As with any company, as soon as they monopolize the market, there's a responsibility I believe they owe back to those people or businesses investing in it.


Commenter: Jay Walsh

2011, December 19

I have to ask this as I would anyone complaining about Facebook: what do you expect for free?

You are a cyber-squatter.

Facebook is a tool to be used in your overall marketing plan – but it shouldn't be your only tool. And as any mechanic will tell you, occasionally, tools break. Sadly, this isn't what most businesses adhere to. They've got all of their marketing tied up into one medium and when that medium breaks, they're screwed.

As for the comments on "Non-Existent Customer Service..." you're not a customer. You're not paying for anything, unless you're paying for an ad. And once the ad has run its course, you're no longer a customer.

It comes down to numbers – there are 700 million Facebook users. Even if Facebook achieved perfect Six Sigma, you're still looking at 700 complaints a day. And I doubt they're even close to Six Sigma so imagine the real number being 7000 to 70,000 complaints per day... from non-paying "customers."

Commenter: Jonathan Richman

2011, December 19

This is a pretty alarmist post. I agree that contacting and working directly with Facebook isn't all that easy (if impossible at times). However, the vast, vast majority of businesses seem to operate on the site with no issues whatsoever with accounts being blocked and people being locked out. Our company works with many companies and hundreds of pages and this has never happened (knock on wood).

I also agree that using Facebook probably means that you are going to have to be ready to update applications on a moment's notice when they change their code. It's been that way for a long time, so it has to be part of your process. For the most part, Facebook has gotten better at pre-announcing major changes in advance and giving developers early access to new code.

Your Lesson 5 is the most bothersome one to me. I think you'll find that every social network that you've joined has a line in their TOS that is very similar to this. It's really required so that Facebook (or whoever) can share your content with others. If they don't have this right, then you could conceivably sue them for copyright infringement every time they share your content with your friends on your behalf. Google has the exact same thing in their TOS. As seen in section 11.1 of their TOS: "By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services." The folks at Twitter have the same thing under the "Your Rights" section in their TOS: "By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)."

Maybe it's a conspiracy. Each of these companies are explicit in their TOS that you retain ownership of the content, which is really the critical piece (and the spirit) of the agreement.

And for Lesson 2, I'm pretty sure you can review tags before they go public. This has been a feature for a number of months now. Under privacy settings, there's a section for "How Tags Work". Turn on "Tag Review" and go then review any tag from a friend (or non-friend) before it's posted.

From Facebook:

"Turn on Tag Review to review tags friends add to your content before they appear on Facebook. When someone who you're not friends with adds a tag to one of your posts you'll always be asked to review it.

Remember: when you approve a tag, the person tagged and their friends can see your post."

Commenter: Joey Dumont

2011, February 07

Thanks for this Douglas... all news to me.

Commenter: Douglas Karr

2011, February 04


I discussed multi-ownership within the article. It's a good practice but Multiple owners does not protect your Facebook page fully. When Facebook thought the page in question was possibly spam, they disabled ALL of the administrators' independent accounts.


Commenter: Rob Willox

2011, February 04

From a business development perspective wholeheartedly agree that none of us should make or depend on FB as our sole marketing channel but as a part of a much bigger marketing mix. Putting all your eggs in the same basket would be both naive and foolhardy.

Some have said that SM sounds the deathnell for SEO/SEM but that is equally naive and for some of the reasons you highlight.

As a channel I'm not going to tell clients not to invest any effort into FB but to be aware of the implications and consequences again of some of the concerns you raise.

Used judiciously, intelligently and sensibly it is a source of potential customers and revenue.

Commenter: Kip Edwardson

2011, February 02

I believe you are wrong about the Pages issue and a "person" owning it and not a company. The person who creates it simply needs to assign one or two more admins and at that point, any of those admins can delete the other admins (it works, we tried it). So, you don't necessarily have to transfer the rights to the page.

If you are smart, you assign your community manager, someone in legal and someone in HR or from that brand/business unit as admins and make them agree to the corporate social media policy.

Do NOT try and set up a personal and business account or you risk getting caught by Facebook and deleted. It clearly states in their policy what you can and can't do.

I would suggest anyone should read the policies, seek guidance from others and know what you are doing before entering unchartered waters.

Commenter: Sherman Mohr

2011, February 02

All true and valid points. I'm surprised you could find three businesses that were generating the entirety of their web traffic, leads, and business through Facebook. I'm finding we are dependent on all varieties of vehicles we have no control over.

With traditional media its the whims and attitude of editors and program managers. With Google it's the constant changes in seo rule. The perception that we as marketers have control over anything is a misnomer. We don't. We have to slice and dice the hot venues for exposure and build relationship with people in a variety of ways. I love Facebook but see it as a tool. As such, its deployed for clients as such. Investing too much in it is perhaps silly indeed. Investing too much in anything is. In the meantime, if building an app that fosters growth of a page so I can direct people I would not have had ready access to onto a platform I control....I'm going to make hay while the sun shines.

Commenter: Gail Gardner

2011, February 02

Your wake-up call about Facebook is similar to my recent warnings about Google's Monopoly.

It is the collective fault of Internet users that has given Facebook and Google so much power and made it, as Robby Slaughter put it in his comment in this post to where "you can't afford to *not* be on Facebook" [or ranked in Google search or buying Google AdWords ads].

There IS a solution. Every person needs to start using INDEPENDENT alternatives instead of automatically using Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. because the same elite wealthy few who own the media control them and their media tells you they are best.

Time to grow up, look around, open your eyes and use the matter between your ears for what it was created for: to think critically and discern the truth.

Every blogger needs to educate their readers and every reader should share what they learn with their friends, families and favorite small businesses.

I do not hold out much hope for the masses. If they won't stop shopping at Wal-Mart even though they know how they treat the children and indentured slaves they "own" around the world they aren't going to stop using Google and Facebook. But the minority with a brain can create a better world for ourselves by changing the choices we make.

Commenter: Douglas Karr

2011, February 02


Facebook may be 'free' for consumers to utilize, but there are sacrifices made by consumers in trade for that 'free' account. If you value your privacy, data and content - it's not free.

It's also not 'free' for marketers or companies. There's a cost - even if it's simply just time and effort - in developing a strategy for its clients and deploying it on Facebook. That time could be spent on other efforts that are less risky.

What happens when a third-party application provider finally launches the 'killer app' on Facebook. Will Facebook stand by and watch them collect? Or, since Facebook has rights to all of the application providers work, will they simply reproduce it and put them out of business?

There's some deep, deep gray areas!


Commenter: Rich Teich

2011, February 02

Awesome article - a nice cold splash of reality in the face of this monolithic movement towards relying on still relatively nascent platforms for anything than supplementing the tried and proven marketing methodologies on the web.


Commenter: Lloyd Silverman

2011, February 02

i c a twilight zone episode on the horizon...
thx 4 the insight doug.

Commenter: Mark Juleen

2011, February 02

Doug, I agree these are all frustrations. I'm going to play devil's advocate a bit here though.

Facebook is FREE!

No one is forcing us to use it. Sure, there is a risk reward going on, but this is why marketers should be using Facebook to support their online efforts and not be the end all or majority of their online marketing efforts. I definitely know many people that have too many of their eggs in the Facebook basket.

I'm actually shocked at how many people are surprised or stunned by what you've shared. I think Facebook set out to be about "friends", but in my opinion it would be short-sighted to think that Facebook is an actual friend. They're in it to make money, and marketers are using it FOR FREE to try to make money.

You could make similar arguments against Google as well, but we all accept these frustrations and challenges because the tools work and help us share our messages, etc. Did I mention they are FREE? I'm still a fan (maybe not a friend) ... for now.

Thanks for the post Doug.


Commenter: Matt Chandler

2011, February 02

As the old saying goes, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

It's an interesting position to be in, advising clients about social media usage, knowing that I personally hate Facebook and go out of my way to avoid using it.

I'm glad to see someone bringing these types of issues to light.

Commenter: Scott Meldrum

2011, February 02

A cautionary tale to be sure, Doug. Clearly, brands need to be leveraging Facebook. Using this article as a guide, they can now do so with an eye towards mitigating the risks. Well written!

Commenter: Nathan Schor

2011, February 02

WOW!!! I knew Facebook had privacy issues but never to this extent. This is eye-opening, jaw-dropping.
You would think with all the 'experienced' internet superstars who now work there, some of them would have a sense of basic user rights and common support decency. How disappointing!
Kudos to you for bringing it to light. This is one post that deserves to be re-posted extensively.

Commenter: Bill Bean

2011, February 02

Doug, hoping you will keep everyone posted regarding feedback you get from The Facebook, or changes to specific policies you've addressed here. If you did this, I would think you were even more filled with awesomeness.

Commenter: Bill Bean

2011, February 02

Stunning. I think I knew, somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain RAM, each of these individual pieces, but, somehow, they had never registered simultaneously. Doug, this is the kind of post that should rock Facebook's world. I will be using this post like a disclaimer for anyone I work with. Well done!!

Commenter: Robby Slaughter

2011, February 02

All I can say is: yikes.

As the expression goes, you can't afford to *not* be on Facebook. But at the same time, you clearly can't afford the risks that Facebook presents through its regime.

Perhaps it's time for some protests on the virtual streets of the kingdom.