Why Facebook Can't Be Trusted
Extreme thinking? Is this unwarranted and offensive? Possibly, but please hear out my rationale before you pass judgment.
Groundswell? Try social-media atrophy
I have a theory that Facebook's meteoric rise to prominence was caused by the recession, where marketing budgets were slashed, microsites were considered an extravagance and the relative simplicity of generating a fan page was considered a suitable alternative means of outreach to a brand's audience. And why not? It seemed like a can't-lose value proposition: drop the cost-intensive properties you develop in house -- your websites, your microsites, your branded communities -- and migrate to a free social platform to launch your initiatives from.
But as Scott Monty mentioned to me the other day over a conversation on Twitter, "... when [the platform is] free, there's an inherent risk the site organizer/manager takes on -- it's out of our control."
Which concurs with what I've explained to countless clients: Your digital strategy needs to be a balanced investment across owned, paid and earned media. Losing a piece of owned media, such as a website for instance, has ramifications. I'll encourage any brand to embrace outreach to its audience, but not at the expense of losing valuable consumer data. Taddy Hall, COO of Meteor Solutions, eloquently refers to this as the Martha Stewart rule. "If you're going to throw your own party, don't just cater someone else's! If you base your social campaigns in venues you don't control -- such as Facebook or YouTube -- you may get great 'attendance,' but data shows it's hard to convert and retain these partygoers."
That's not to say I don't recognize the efforts of companies such as Buddy Media that have taken Facebook analytics into their own hands and quite seriously at that, going so far as to extend their coverage into the Open Graph, yet I still can't shake the feeling that the "all things to all people" sovereignty over the internet that Facebook has claimed in the name of social media is lopsided and should be the other way around. The web should be bigger than Facebook.
Enter the age of the homogeneous web experience
There was a time when the advent of social media brought an air of excitement to the corporate world. Brands fundamentally desired change, realizing their old methods of broadcast-based one-way messaging weren't nearly as effective when natural conversation didn't play a role in the larger marketing picture.
It's taken years -- roughly nine since the Cluetrain Manifesto was published -- for brands to realize that consumers had a voice worth listening to and marketing is arson. It's taken at least half that time to convince brands to not only listen to the aggregate voices of consumers but to also use brand advocates to amplify a brand message in an authentic manner, which requires a sustainable investment that supplants the traditional paid media cycle.
Furthermore, it's taken the last two years for marketers, social-media consultants and analytic professionals to recognize that social-media ROI (and subsequently accountability) needs to be taken seriously and is a requirement for any social-media endeavor moving forward.
Yet, with a ubiquitous rollout of a de facto commercially owned proprietary "Like" button, the world may have taken a few steps back. Where's my "Dislike" button? Am I the only one who considers the "Like" button the social-media equivalent of Lexapro? I can appreciate Facebook's attempt to standardize push-button feedback across the web, but I want true social media -- with an ability to share my likes and dislikes across all of my networks, not just Facebook.
I concur, however, that due to the sheer ubiquity of Facebook, they've made it easy to share user data across the network.
Oh, if only all of this didn't feel so wrong. Facebook users are finally waking up to realize that, unless they manually default to opt out of Facebook's query everyone search, the lack of data privacy assumed safe behind walled gardens is in fact anything but. Keep in mind, this is Facebook's prerogative to offer indexed, search-friendly user info to inquiring minds, and in any other scenarios, with any other company (say Google), I'd probably be taking a much different tone in penning a post about them. I mean, isn't this what we ask of Twitter every day?
But the difference between the two behemoths is easy to identify. Twitter was built from the beginning as an open network, while Facebook was built on the virtues of privacy. It should be part of their brand DNA to protect the information of the users of their services, much like they did when they first tasted mainstream popularity on college campuses. However, I consider the Facebook of today far from evolutionary, but perhaps more in a state of regression.
I could go on, but you get the point. In a world run by diminishing attention spans and TMI (or maybe that's TMZ), I fear that Facebook's product rollouts such as the "Like" button and "Search Everyone" queries will doom real conversation amongst both advocates and detractors. Maybe this is all melodrama. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I'm concerned that the Orwellian takeover of a single platform is the dystopian future that awaits us if we don't change our social-media habits quickly.
In a landscape of nomadic, transient, social-media users, Facebook could be supplanted if they don't change for the good of the people who use their services. Who knows, some bloggers have already taken a stand by making radical suggestions on how old media can take the mantle back. But that's not all. The fight for social networking and privacy has picked up momentum within the developer community. Though just a blip the size of the tip of a needle, a start-up called Diaspora, founded by a group of college-aged developers, is thinking ambitiously enough to take Facebook on, using privacy as the centerpiece of their endeavor. Now, if only Mark Zuckerberg could identify with that.
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