Facebook Ate My Brand

And it was freakin delicious!

"And it was freakin' delicious!"

Should businesses use Facebook?

The answer isn’t as black and white as one would think.

My answer is yes, but with the caveat that no business should be where there customers aren’t.  So if your customers aren’t on Facebook then you should probably consider another channel to connect with them.

However, with more than 300 million people on Facebook, the chances that at least some of your customers (and employees, partners, prospects and investors) aren’t there is getting highly unlikely.  And that number continues to climb fast.

As the now aging saw goes: if Facebook was a country it would be the fourth largest in the world.

But Facebook isn’t a country.  It’s a private company.  And when you – as a another company – post material to Facebook then you are in a real sense giving control of it over to it to Facebook.

PR practitioner Todd Defren at PR Squared had an excellent post yesterday about how he advises his clients on using Facebook:

“But here’s the trouble with Facebook: it’s a proprietary network.  Yes, the Gods of Facebook have made it easier to find your branded page via Google.  Yes, they’ve made it easier to find your content from within the network.  But notice how these initiatives have aided Facebook, more than you?”

Ah, there lies the rub.  Like most companies, Facebook is focused on, well, itself.

Todd calls Facebook the “alternative reality” of the web.  Which has a nice sound to it.  But with 300 million people its really like a sub-Internet – owned and operated by a 25-year-old CEO.  The problem for other companies wanting to use Facebook stems in a large part from Facebook’s terms of service – which are still a work in progress.  Here’s the sticky part of the terms:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: 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 (“IP License”).”

What exactly does that mean?  It means that when you put content on Facebook – they own part of it.  Kind of.  That’s why Todd advises his clients to keep their Facebook presence simple.  But some other consultants think businesses would be wiser to avoid Facebook all together.

I don’t belong to that camp – although I can understand it.  In the end, there’s much more smoke than fire in this argument.  Businesses rely on other private companies for a lot of primary operations.  We use Verizon or AT&T for telephone and mobile phone services.  We build network infrastructure on Microsoft.  Back-end financial systems run on SAP.  The list goes on and on.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Of course every business should consider the implications of joining any social network, including Facebook, but not because of the low-level risks, but mainly because maintaining social networks is hard work – and if you’re going to invest ideas and manpower into any marketing initiative then it should be because there is a pay-off at the end.

The value of Facebook is too high right now for companies to ignore it.  A 2008 survey sponsored by Cone Communications found that 93 percent of social media users think corporations should be on social networks and that 85 percent of them want to interact with them.  With staggering statistics like that how can any company not be considering a strategy for communicating on the largest social network of them all?

(Note: Weber Shandwick, where I work, does client work for Verizon and Microsoft.  I do not work on either account)

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