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:
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:
WE WILL NOT BE LIABLE TO YOU FOR ANY LOST PROFITS OR OTHER CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, INDIRECT, OR INCIDENTAL DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THIS STATEMENT OR FACEBOOK, EVEN IF WE HAVE BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. OUR AGGREGATE LIABILITY ARISING OUT OF THIS STATEMENT OR FACEBOOK WILL NOT EXCEED THE GREATER OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100) OR THE AMOUNT YOU HAVE PAID US IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS.
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:
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:
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?
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