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By B.L. Ochman
It’s been only three and a half years since Facebook morphed from a tightly controlled niche social network only available to college students into a ubiquitous form of communications with more than 425 million members spanning the globe and crossing generations. Now, having experienced 45% growth in the past year, Facebook is on a par with Google and Yahoo.
Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced changes in Facebook’s privacy policy that have created remarkable opportunities – and also significant risks – for brands, along with rising concern (some say hysteria) over the changes among consumers, marketers, lawmakers, and the media.
Public no longer means “public on Facebook,” it means public in the Facebook ecosystem – which is any site that connects to Facebook’s new open architecture. More than 50,000 websites connected in the first week alone.
Too much togetherness?
Users now don’t just become a “fan” of brand, band, movie, etc. You will simply decide whether you “like” or “dislike” something. If you click a “Like” button or make a comment on a site, you are automatically authorizing Facebook to publish it on your Facebook profile and in your friends’ news feeds. And, you’re not just making your own data available; you also are authorizing Facebook to give websites your friends’ personal Facebook data.
Facebook launched this system last week with 75 partners. Now there are more than 50,000 websites on board — that’s nearly 300 websites adding Facebook “Like” button per hour. Clearly marketers are salivating over Facebook’s 425+ million users.
And on those 50,000 sites, the “Like” button was clicked more than ONE BILLION TIMES in 24 hours. So this is no small thing. This is a really significant development for marketing, behavioral analytics, and mobile advertising.
FacebookLikeButton.pngThe LIKE button copy – “Be the first of your friends” – is brilliant! It plays on people’s desire to be heard, to be cool, to be first, to be recognized, and, yes, to share.
Mashable calls it Facebook’s “phase one for world domination.”
Facebook’s Achilles Heel?
Frankly, I think the marketing opportunities are vast but likely to be temporary, and likely to be tempered with more consumer control in the very near future. Facebook’s explanation of the changes on its site are vague at best, and way too complicated for the average user to comprehend.
Facebook is treating privacy like this was 1995. You have to opt out not just once, but twice, deep within Facebook’s settings, in order not to have your data included in the free for all. As Google learned with Google Buzz, users aren’t always aware of their default privacy settings. Google ended up with a class action suit from users who were outraged at privacy violations.
I’m betting that once a few hundred thousand people get annoyed by Facebook’s use of their data, they’ll use social media to spread their alarm.
And, I’m also not betting on Facebook to win against Google or another player, who may soon make your information portable, and put it in your control so you can take it wherever you want and decide who sees it. But in the meantime, the changes seem to open a potential gold rush for marketers. Might as well join the party!
Bottom line: Facebook is going to go public or get sold, and the value in the company is going to be the use of the information it has been collecting about all of us.
What should companies do?
Should marketers race to implement Facebook’s Social Plugins or wait to see how consumers and lawmakers react?
Yes, you should integrate Facebook’s new Social Plugins into your website: These tools offer brands a way to activate social media and to engage with consumers in ways never possible before. Installing the code is not particularly complex.
Realize that trust is a brand’s most important attribute: Even a household-name brand can lose trust it spent decades gaining. It can happen quickly and irreparably. Don’t leave your brand’s hard-earned trust in Facebook or any other site’s hands.
No small type! Be a good corporate citizen and explain, clearly, what consumers are sharing. Facebook is doing a perfectly horrible job of explaining its new policies to consumers. Facebook’s standard privacy tools and login pages are vague at best in their explanations.
Make sure your privacy policy comes out of small print and into a prominent spot in your site’s nav bar, homepage, and throughout your site. The last thing you want is to look like you’re hiding your privacy policy in small print and legalese. Learn from Facebook’s past privacy issue missteps.
Leave the decision to consumers. When the extent of what is being shared becomes widely understood, consumers will direct their ire at you and not Facebook if you are not totally clear and forthright about what information is being gathered and how it will/could be used.
Protect your brand What you do with the information shared from Facebook is up to you. Create an opt-in policy for consumers. Facebook makes consumers opt-out not once but twice. Don’t follow their lead. Take a stand for privacy. Let consumers choose.
Develop a badge that says something like “Your data, your choice” or “This site respects your privacy” and link it to a plain English (written by people, not attorneys) explanation of how you will protect their info. Badges of this type will fast become as ubiquitous as the VeriSign symbol.
Tell consumers how sharing information can help them: Explain to consumers how granting you permission to track their Facebook information will improve their experience with your site and your brand.
Become a privacy educator: Brands have an opportunity to embrace transparency to gain both trust and permission from consumers. Make no mistake: privacy concerns will escalate. Blog about it on your corporate blog, note it on your brand’s Facebook page.
Tell consumers how to change their privacy settings on Facebook. Play the education role of giving consumers instructions on how to change their Facebook settings to opt out of sharing information. Mashable has clear instructions on how to disable Facebook privacy settings.
Guest posted in Burson-Marsteller Blog
Additional information:
Watch Mark Zuckerberg on stage at last week’s F8 conference, announcing the changes
Track the conversation in real time
Sample Facebook Like Button Page – pretty amazing