Facebook Helps Keep Marketers' Message Under Control -- as Long as They're Buying

Website's 'Rollups' Consolidate a Brand's Pages for Free if There's a Media Buy Associated With It, but to a Limit

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- It's been a bedrock principle of social-media marketing that marketers can't control the message. But that's not stopping some from trying to police the number of pages on which those messages appear -- and some brands have tapped Facebook to act as sheriff.

SPIN CYCLE: Jason falls, a social-media consultant, created a charity T-shirt contest for Tide but was questioned for using its logo.
SPIN CYCLE: Jason falls, a social-media consultant, created a charity T-shirt contest for Tide but was questioned for using its logo.
A year ago, when Procter & Gamble Co. was moving to step up its investment on Facebook, one researcher who works with the company pointed out that the first Facebook search listing for its flagship Tide brand pointed to a renegade fan page with some unusual and decidedly off-message content.

Today, that page is nowhere to be found, and the Facebook search listings for a number of other high-profile P&G brands have also been cleaned up, generally with the top and other remaining results pointing to company-run pages.

P&G spokeswoman Tonia Elrod denied the company has pursued a strategy of consolidation, but somebody's doing cleanup in the Facebook aisle, because the process snared a consultant who had volunteered to help P&G learn the ropes of social media in 2009. Jason Falls, a Louisville, Ky., social-media consultant, had created a "Tide Loads of Hope" cause page as part of a contest to sell T-shirts to raise money for charity. Last May, he tweeted his displeasure in the tone of correspondence when he received messages from employees in Facebook's Causes department asking him why he was administrator for a page using the bull's-eye Tide logo.

Other people familiar with the matter say such "rollups" have become common in the past year with the cooperation of Facebook and at the behest of marketers including P&G and Apple.

Either way, the number of pages for such brands as Tide has declined even as the number of Facebook members and pages overall continues to grow.

It's a time-consuming service -- and one that Facebook is providing free, to a point. "They rarely will do a rollup until they know there's a [media] buy associated with it," said a person familiar with the process. Since many marketers are buying Facebook ads in an effort to drive up the number of their followers on the network, having only one or at least a streamlined profile of pages bearing the brand name helps the cause. Another person said it's unlikely Facebook will start charging for the service, because it would prefer to focus on selling ads.

Ironically, those most likely to be approached in such consolidations are brand supporters. The rollups generally address pages started by true fans, or at least neutral parties. No one working on such consolidations knows of any marketers willing to fan flames of social-media discontent by going after pages started by critics.

By serving as the intermediary -- or the bearer of cease-and-desist messages -- Facebook can also deflect any criticism that might come to the brands from offended fans. But there are limits, according to one person familiar with the matter, who said Facebook recently conveyed a policy that it would consolidate up to five community pages per brand, provided the pages genuinely make unauthorized use of the brand's logo or other intellectual property.

A Facebook spokesman in an email confirmed the network has been doing rollups at the behest of advertisers. He said he wasn't sure about the limit of five per brand, but said: "It needs to be clear that the pages' intent was to connect people to the brand/company. For example, we would not roll up 'I like shopping at Target on Mondays' to the Target page."

The issue of ownership of fan and other Facebook pages involving brands has been an evolving art form, going back to 2008 when such brands as Coca-Cola and P&G's Pringles took control of pages started by others after they had attracted well over a million fans each.

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