How Facebook Community Pages Hurt Brands
Amid widespread criticism of Facebook's recent changes and their impacts on user privacy, one of the most damning analyses comes from Jeremiah Owyang, a partner specializing in customer strategy with the Altimeter Group who outlined potential damage to brands in a recent post on his blog, "Web Strategy." Bowing to Owyang's expertise, here's a quick outline of his analysis and critique.
Owyang focuses on one troublesome aspect of the recent Facebook overhaul -- the introduction of new "community pages" which draw together content from Facebook members' wall posts and outside sources, including Wikipedia, around certain popular subjects which appear as interests, locations, or affiliations in member profiles. These include general things like "cooking" or "learning foreign languages," institutions and places like "Stanford" or "Lima, OH" -- but also many well-known brands, like, say "XBox."
Noting Facebook's tendency to do whatever it pleases with member data and "ask forgiveness later," Owyang takes the company to task for violating trust with members and advertisers with the new community pages. From the member perspective, Facebook doesn't seek permission from members to re-use their wall posts in a different context. This seems quite bad enough -- but Owyang notes that the community pages constitute a big breach of trust with brands as well (it seems brand advertisers weren't advised about the plans for community pages ahead of time).
One of the main problems is that community pages for brands create separate, redundant Facebook destinations which duplicate and compete with the official pages created by the brands themselves. Owyang expects this to create a good amount of confusion among users, and a good amount of irritation among brand advertisers who don't have any direct control over the community pages, and can't even respond to inaccurate or hostile content, as the community pages don't allow comments. Facebook may open the community pages to communal editing at some point, a la Wikipedia, which would give the brands a modicum of control -- but also potentially force them into conflict with Facebook users.
Meanwhile social media strategists face the prospect of community pages for their brands (using the same logos, to maximize confusion) with more "fans" than the official pages. The backlash will be especially pronounced among brands which have already invested substantially in their official presence on the site, as they feel the original terms of the investment have been abrogated by Facebook.