What’s a Facebook user to do? Acknowledge the reality of a flawed platform that we’re still going to use

By Steve Bell and Allie Friedman

Google [itself a provider of opportunities for intrusion] the phrase “What should people do about Facebook now?” and the first page of responses is all about getting off Facebook.

None are from this month, or recent days, however, when the revelations about Cambridge Analytical stealing your data emerged.

So, don’t say you weren’t warned. It’s called Facebook. Its DNA doesn’t have a privacy gene. And since it first appeared, critics of all persuasions warned it was a deal with the devil.

But, indeed, what do businesses and individuals do now?

Facebook rushed out new options to provide “more” control over privacy, and make it easier to find them. An NPR story from March 28 also notes that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg solemnly promised improved privacy options – in 2010. How’d that work out for you?

Face reality here. No one’s putting the Facebook genie back in the bottle. We may worry about air pollution and global warming, but most of us still drive a car. We know running will lead to injuries, but we still run. We may not love our jobs, but we need the money.

Point is, even if you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn, even if you don’t have a smartphone and stay off the internet, your information is still out there for the plundering.

If you are a company or a non-profit, a school or college, your information is available in public. What can you do? Be smart, careful and thoughtful about what you share.

The lawyer and PR person’s admonition goes like this: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” And former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer added “never put it in email” – advice he apparently could not follow.

NPR reported that Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer said: “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed.”

The changes make it easier for users to see what information they’ve shared, delete certain personal information and control ads that they see, according to NPR.

In the end, will businesses leave Facebook in any meaningful numbers? Not likely. Nor will individuals. The very currency Facebook prints its billions on is your information. It’s not going to stop mining that data. To expect otherwise is like telling a tobacco company to sell a healthy cigarette. A business or a person can limit access, but it’s counter-intuitive to think for a moment that you could stay private and stay on Facebook.

Or, that if you were to leave Facebook that your information would somehow migrate to a vault only you can open.

Facebook started and spread like the flu with the idea of sharing. We share where and what we eat; what we buy; where we vacation; what our children do; what we think today; what we love and what angers us.

Expecting Facebook not to share this information is like waiting for a subway train with no other passengers. Not going to happen.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of mothers and 74 percent of fathers say they agree or strongly agree that they get parenting information from social media. Where is Amazon, Kimberly-Clark, Earth’s Best, Baby Bjorn and Beech-Nut going to seek and find these parents?

What’s the key to the success of Amazon and Google? Data. How did Spotify turn the music business upside down? Data. All of these global companies that attract millions of users leverage the information they get from them, whether it’s the products they buy, the songs they listen to or the places for which they search.

That’s not a secret. And it’s most certainly not stopping people from online shopping. It’s part of what you sign up for when you download an app, create an email account or type “where to eat dinner downtown.” Whether you like or it not, it’s the world we live in today and we can’t place all of the blame on the company.

Even the supposed solution to, or inoculation against, Facebook’s sharing too much information is #deleteFacebook. It’s a hashtag, people. You’re sharing a decision on social media about leaving social media?

We know soft drinks are unhealthy; we know too much beer or wine is dangerous; we know cars crash and household cleaners are fatal if swallowed.

Reforms are needed in Facebook’s operations. Social – there’s that word again – pressure will drive change. The Federal Trade Commission may institute new rules and protections. And, Facebook itself, having lost almost $50 billion in market capitalization on paper in two days last week, will adjust.

Be wary, however, not of Facebook today, but what’s next. You can start your car with a phone app; you have a Google Home or Amazon Alexa at your house or Apple’s Siri on your phone and in your car; you may even have a camera in your refrigerator so you can see from the supermarket aisle if you need milk.

What’s next should be the bigger concern.

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Community Building 101: The Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

If you’re in business, you understand value. You ensure every action adds value to your business goals or bottom line. But do you evaluate your community-building initiatives as stringently?

Why social communities are important

Social communities can make or break your business. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, there’s no better way to “cut through the clutter” than having a community of customers, prospects and influencers that has your back.

Social communities are valuable and can be your brand’s strongest advocates. They can also be a big driver for bringing in new customers. CrossFit and SoulCycle are both great example of using the social aspect of their brands to differentiate themselves in an otherwise crowded market.

But social communities don’t happen overnight.

First, choose the right audience for your specific cause or topic. This is where customer service is crucial, no matter the business or industry. This is the group that should remain at the center of all your marketing and community initiatives. Some quick, but important, questions to ask include:

  • Is the audience appropriate for your business?
  • Has your audience changed since you first started building a community?

Keep in mind that irrelevant, legacy audiences can be a source of blind headaches when they voice their disappointment in the way the company has changed. On the flip side, relevant legacy audiences can be your best friends – especially in times of trouble.

Once you’ve nailed down your audience, you’re ready to nurture your budding community with these four methods:


If you’re not engaged in social media listening, you’re missing out on tons of insights about the people who are actively talking about your industry and brand. Keep track of what the top influencers and prospects in your industry are reading and sharing. What hashtags are they using? What types of content are they sharing? What do their bios look like? What are their pain points?


While you want to control every aspect of the community-building efforts, you can’t. Control what you can and act responsibly, but know that at time you need to let your community develop organically. Allow your newfound audience to build its own momentum.


Once you’ve kept an eye on the pulse of activity within the community, opportunities to engage will present themselves. Ask and answer questions, comment on their posts, like their activities, share their content and follow them back. Over time, they’ll notice your engagement and appreciate it – and they will likely return the favor.


People love rewards and they love validation of their actions. Go ahead and thank people for sharing your content. Invite them to company events and webinars. Use your social platforms to maximize brand loyalty by first engaging your social community. Let them be the first to know about your brand’s news, rewards programs and more. This creates an exclusivity that people naturally crave. In turn, you can make your social media platforms the place customers are encouraged to refer your business through different contents, recognition and more.

Great! Now What?

It’s easy to forget that your business is not the center of your customers’ universe. Their lives are filled with experiences, information, relationships and stories that have nothing to do with you.

To them, you are an occasional blip on a crowded radar screen — and if you can maintain some frequency to your blip and some relevance to the audience’s radar screen, you’ve done more than most.

Focus on how well you engage those you attract.

Maintain awareness of your audience and how you want it to change over time as you continue to engage your social community.

To do this, we believe every social initiative, down to each tweet, should pass a quick “acid test” to evaluate its strength.

The Community Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

  • Do we believe it?
  • Will it interest at least 50 percent of our target audience members?
  • Will they believe it?
  • Does it in any way risk making an audience member feel disrespected?
  • Will they feel good passing it along?
  • Does it build on themes our audience has already discussed?
  • Do we mind if the audience runs with it?
  • Can it impact the company in any negative way?
  • Does it add value to our audience’s life?
  • Does it help advance our cause or mission?
  • Does it help audience members feel good about their relationship with us?
  • Does it help build positive bias towards our brand in some way?

Depending on the answers to these questions, teams can easily decide whether to move forward with a specific tactical initiative, such as a particular blog post or tweet.

For example, suppose you sell energy recovery ventilation (ERV) technology for HVAC systems. Over time, you’ve built a social community of salespeople, facilities managers, HVAC equipment suppliers and commercial real-estate owners. For these audiences, you can offer tremendous expertise about HVAC, ERV and a host of associated benefits and opinions. You can start discussions about technology, help your audiences understand the competitive landscape and trade-offs, and opine about a wealth of topics ranging from clean-energy installations to various energy efficiency strategies.

As you can imagine, such an acid test varies from industry to industry. Creating and using your own acid test to evaluate your social content will ensure that you add value to the all-important intersection of your organization and your audiences’ lives.

In return, the community will add value to your business for the long term.

Facebook Places: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Unless you live under a rock (or are part of the ever decreasing part of the American population not on Facebook) you have probably heard the news about Facebook Places. On the surface, Facebook places is the social-behemoth’s attempt to take over the growing market being pioneered by companies like Gowalla, Foursquare and SCVNGR*. The success of Facebook Places is yet to be seen, we’ve all seen other companies stumble when trying to move into other markets (see: Google Wave) and Facebook hasn’t yet made a dent in Craiglist with its Facebook Markets.

It’s certainly not a foolish move. The fact is, many large companies are trying to get their hands around location-based services. Even Major League Baseball. I noticed that my MLB iPhone app has a feature buried deep in its functions that lets you check in at ballparks. I’m not sure what they’re planning to do with this functionality, but now that Facebook has moved into the market they can probably sync up with the big boy.

But let’s take a look at what’s good and bad about the way that Facebook currently has this configured.

The Good

Places opens up the idea of location-based services to a much larger audience than Foursquare could reach. At its heart, Facebook is about connecting with friends and finding out what they are doing with their lives. Why wouldn’t location play a role here? Don’t we all love the surprise meetup? Case in point: one night my wife and I were out to dinner in Brookline. While walking by a Thai restaurant we heard banging on the window, and there were friends we hadn’t seen in a while. We talked and ended up getting dessert together. It changed an evening that probably would have ended early to a fun evening with friends.

Now imagine we checked in at our restaurant earlier and were informed that friends were nearby. Now it’s not so spontaneous, but we can actually seek them out, or avoid them. Either way. But in this case Facebook is about connecting friends, not just online, but face-to-face.

The Bad

I can’t imagine what my newsfeed will look like once people start checking in. If the Facebook newsfeed becomes a noisy mess, the utility it brings me drops and my use of it will as well. So this is something Facebook will need to manage.

Also, I’m wondering about the impetus for people to check in. I believe that the market of people who want to earn badges is relatively small, certainly not the mass audience that Facebook reaches. So it will be interesting to see what drives the checkins and whether Facebook can utilize relationships with advertsers or local merchants without alienating its users.

Finally, I’m not thrilled with how Facebook continues to apply its features as opt-in rather than creating an automated “asking” process on a login. Lifehacker has a great article outlining how to adjust your privacy settings. Facebook should take note that when Lifehacker puts out an article specifically telling people how to TURN OFF a feature, it may not be something people want.

The Ugly

The idea that someone else can check me into a venue is a horrifyingly bad idea. In a wonderful perfect world where everyone is actually friends and no one plays practical jokes, this would work. And if you live in a place like that please let me know.

But I’m not interested in letting people decide to tell the world where I am. That’s a decision that is mine and mine alone. Facebook should disable this feature immediately, and in lieu of that, I suggests that everyone disable it in their privacy settings.

* It’s worth noting that SCVNGR has funding from Google Ventures.

Facebook's Death by 400 Million Cuts

I don’t share my information with Facebook and I bet you don’t either.

I share my information with my friends, I just happen to use Facebook to do it. It’s a distinction that I wonder if Facebook really understands. Today in a conference call, Mark Zuckerberg pointed to Facebook’s continued success by noting that people are still members, the mass quitting that so many discussed never truly materialized, though “Quit Day” still lies ahead. “We have seen no meaningful uptick in the number of people who deleted their accounts,” he said.

And I doubt it ever will. But what I’m hearing anecdotally is that with each privacy concern, people share LESS on Facebook. The problem for Facebook is that if people put up less information, then I have less of a reason to go there to see what people are doing, and so do you. Think about how you use Facebook. If you’re like me you log in, check out the newsfeed and see what’s in people’s lives. If that newsfeed doesn’t interest you, and continues to be uninteresting, then you’ll slowly move away. It’ll become a place to grab some basic information (birthdays, locations, jobs, etc.) but its true utility will be gone.

I believe that Facebook is measuring the wrong thing. I believe a better metric would be the number of posts per person over time. You would have to examine their activity and create a standard, then measure how each user stacks up against that.

A drop in this usage would be the biggest threat to Facebook; it would be death by a 400 million cuts to the information we put out. If we stop sharing, Facebook stops existing. Not tomorrow, but slowly, over time, until it’s that site you used to visit but doesn’t have much pull any longer.

Will the privacy controls unveiled today keep people from fleeing? I’m not sure. In conversations with friends, mostly non-techies, their trust in Facebook has been shaken. While a change could help, rebuilding trust will take much longer and include many, many more steps. We all now realize that we’re sharing with Facebook as much as with our friends, and that little change will change our behavior.We’ll see what impact that action has on Facebook itself

Facebook Blues: Will YOU Quit?

Trying to figure out what all the Facebook fuss is about? Considering signing off of Facebook for the last time yourself? Here’s a video roundup of the Facebook fiasco, courtesy of Greater Boston (and featuring our own Chuck Tanowitz):

Chuck I think makes a very good point: “Facebook is a business and it’s sitting on a treasure trove of valuable information … demographic data that the advertising industry has been asking for for generations.” As the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s Stilgherrian points out:

Facebook’s business model is best served by exposing your personal information as widely as possible. To advertisers, so they can target advertising more accurately and pay more for the privilege. To other users, to encourage them to share more as well. To search engines, to bring more traffic to Facebook. To anyone who wants to pay.

If you want a better understanding of how Facebook makes money, incidentally, Nicholas Carson has a good, short write-up.

PC World’s Brenon Slattery summed it up perfectly:

Facebook has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month, and it’s only getting worse.

Where to start? E-mails leaked, private IM conversations exposed, apps sneaking into profiles, creepy geolocation additions — the worries mount. It’s hard to distinguish what Facebook is actually doing right.

The privacy concerns at the root of Facebook’s bad month were nicely laid out by The Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Vascellaro today, and its corresponding (and evolving) privacy policy has been beautifully visualized by Matt McKeon.

This has supposedly led to what some are characterizing as a mass exodus from Facebook. While it’s true that the 6,000+ committed quitters of May 30th’s quitfacebookday.com have been joined by some technology thought leaders like Engadget co-founder Peter Rojas, podcaster Leo Laporte, comedian and The Onion editor Baratunde Thurston and ZDNet columnist Jason Perlow, as ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick points out, “it’s hardly a torrent of quitters in the face of more than 400 million Facebook users.”

Until there are real live alternatives, users will simply take steps to regain a little more control over their privacy, and wait to see what Facebook (or the government) does.

Social and Search

Photo by Gerlos

Last week I was invited back to a panel at the ninth “Marketing to the High-End Bride” event, held at the newly-opened W Hotel in Boston — you can hear the audio and see some photos on the WeddingProf site. At the event, I finally got to meet Scott Smigler of Exclusive Concepts. I really enjoyed our conversation — both on the stage (where we disagreed about ghost writing but agreed on most everything else) and after the event. Scott’s organizing an upcoming event for SEMPO Boston, and asked what I thought about the intersection between search and social these days. Here’s my response — I hope to be able to share my perspective at the event — I’ll let you know as soon as it’s organized.

In Fresh Ground’s opinion, there are two approaches to social media: proactive and reactive. Proactive social media is content-driven, reactive social media is conversation-driven.

Either way, search is often a second thought — most practitioners take a “if you build it they will find it” attitude when it comes to social media and search. They figure that either way — by virtue of good content, frequent updates and a large community — search will just happen. This is partly true, but there’s still a disconnect between these two fields that can only be bridged through analytics and metrics: understanding the direct relationship between social, search and web traffic.

I think most social media people don’t think about the other way around — that search can drive social. This negative bias was reinforced recently when Facebook overtook Google in terms of site traffic sources. We perhaps need to be reminded that it’s still a two-way street, and that a stronger emphasis on search can still be very rewarding.

What do you think about this intersection?

Five Facebook Privacy Tricks You Need to Know

Finding Your Privacy Settings

Finding Your Privacy Settings

Facebook continues to be on my list of companies that people seem to love despite every effort on their part to the contrary (that list, for the record, also includes Apple, Google and occasionally Twitter). Their latest attempt to alienate me involves the changes they’ve made to their privacy policy and mechanisms, which overall give you less privacy, not more.

Here are five things you need to know about the new privacy and security settings on Facebook:

  1. Know what is now considered “publicly available information.” Here’s what the EFF has to say about this:

    Under the new regime, Facebook treats that information — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a “fan” of — as “publicly available information” or “PAI.” Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated.

  2. Visit All Five of the Privacy Settings Pages

    Visit All Five of the Privacy Settings Pages

    Visit all five of the privacy setting pages. There are settings buried in all of these pages, so make sure you take a few minutes to peruse all of them to make sure.

  3. Keep your friends close and your pages closer. You’ve heard of the Facebook “gaydar” project, right? People can tell a lot from who you friend. While sharing who your friends are can help you get more friends, it may reveal more information than you know. The EFF again:

    [A]lthough you used to have the ability to prevent everyone but your friends from seeing your friends list, that old privacy setting … has now been removed completely from the privacy settings page.

    You can now tweak who can see your friend list by going to your profile and clicking on the pencil on the top right corner of your friends box. What you still cannot change is who can see the pages you are a fan of — there is simply no way to remove that information from your public, searchable profile unless you make your profile not searchable by anyone, a rather harsh setting that will significantly limit your ability to grow your friends network. If you’re a little embarrassed by your fan pages, delete them.

  4. Create a dummy test account to test all your settings. While the “Preview My Profile” button is helpful, the interaction between the various complicated settings is sometimes surprising and the best way to test all possible settings is to create a temporary fake account. This is relatively easy to do, and last I checked, doesn’t even require a valid email account to accomplish. Use it to test how viewable and searchable your profile is. For instance, it’s not completely obvious how to turn off your Wall to non-friends, but this can be adjusted in the “Posts by Me” section” (which I was surprised to see defaulted to “Friends and Networks” — umm, no, thank you).
  5. CUCme? Remember playing that game with a child young enough not to realize that if they cannot see you, you may still be able to see them? The same holds true in Facebook — there is no reciprocal privacy on Facebook, so just because you can’t find somebody else doesn’t mean that they cannot find you. If other people have their search privacy settings more constricted than you, they will be able to find you while you may not be able to find them. The most problematic effect of this could have to do with banning other profiles — in order to find the person you want to ban, they have to be searchable by you, so banning only effectively works while you’re still friends with someone. This seems strange, because — not that I’m in the practice of banning lots of people — banning is typically an afterthought that occurs to Facebook users after they unfriend someone.

PC World has their own “top 5” list of things to consider. In summary, to quote an old TV show, “be careful out there!”

Facebook at Work? Of Course!

The Boston Herald today kickstarted a local discussion about social networking at work. In usual tabloid fashion the Herald created a sensational story about the fact that some city employees, like Amy Derjue are updating their Facebook status from city-owned computers, some even going so far as *gasp* playing “Mafia Wars.”

I had the chance to talk about this today on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney (video below).

It’s easy to find people who will be outraged by this, saying “my gosh, how can people do that?!?” But honestly, if you think about it, the time it takes to update a status is little more than a few second out of every day.

From the macro-level, the idea of using employer resources (computers, internet access, etc.) for personal use is nothing new. But a spate of studies out recently try to make the point that social networking use at work reduces productivity, causing many to completely ban social networking.

The studies, such as the one from Nucleus Research making the argument that a few minutes a day on Facebook amounts to lost productivity, are based on the idea that if the people weren’t on a social site then they would, by default, be productive. Anyone who has ever worked in an office can tell you that’s simply not true. Also, it assumes that because of social sites that work isn’t getting done.

Many of these companies also hand their employees Blackberries and laptops so they can work from home, on time that used to be called “personal time.” The line between personal and work time are certainly blurred, so giving up a few minutes during the work day to Tweet or update Facebook certainly seems to be a fair trade-off.

This is, however, a management issue. If, as a manager you see that an employee isn’t doing work, then it’s your job to figure out why that work isn’t getting done. If an employee spends an hour on the phone with their girlfriend everyday, do we take away their phone? Of course not, because it’s a useful business tool. The same goes for social networking sites, they can offer a lot of value to organizations if used properly.

The answer is to work out a policy that clearly states what’s accepted and what is not and also to have a little trust in the employees.

Today I heard about a running store called Greater Boston Running in which the owner, Steve Meinelt, has encouraged the employees to get on Twitter and Facebook. The employees, also runners, were given direction about how to search for the right discussions and interact with others, then told by the owner to “be smart” and not use this opportunity to fool around, but help the store.

Inside a Greater Boston Running Company store

Inside a Greater Boston Running Company store

In this instance social media is as much a part of their job as folding the shirts or stocking the shoes. Employees know not to get caught up on Facebook when they should be helping customers, they’ve learned a balance. The result is a few sales that have come through Twitter and even an increase in community. For example, if employees are going out for a run they’ll tweet about it and some customers may come by to join them.

They managed to take the expertise of their workers and turn it into a marketing asset that extends well beyond the confines of the store.

Yes, there will be companies that work in fear and shut down access for a variety of reasons, including legal issues. That doesn’t mean they’ll cut off access, as many employees will simply pick up their mobile phones to do the same tasks.

However, I believe the CEOs at these same companies are turning to their communications teams and saying “how do we better utilize social media for marketing purposes?”

Truth is, they’re probably shutting down the answer.

Turning Social Media into Topical Media

I started a Facebook page. Suddenly I had friend requests from three dozen people I had not seen in years, among them relatives living on other continents. It was great to see everyone again. There I was in my home office late one weekend evening, having a little reunion with people from my past. Then the gloss wore off when someone IM’d me and we had nothing to say to each other. Awkward moment… how do you end that conversation? Fortunately, I had to put my son to bed. Well, um… nice chatting. IM you again sometime.

I went back to my Facebook wall the following day. I learned that one friend was taking a shower at that very moment, and one would be staying home from work on Monday to take care of her sick kids. A friend had forgotten his wallet on the bus, and another declared that she now prefers the taste of Tom’s of Maine over Crest toothpaste. The same friend had tried fallafel for the first time the previous evening. She liked it and would try to make it at home. Bored yet?

While I love people and their stories, Facebook’s personal content is often diluted to suit all “friend” audiences, and as such it becomes sterile. The sterile-content problem is addressed in an interview that Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s On Point, recorded last week. His guest, Vanessa Grigoriadis, just published an article in New York Magazine entitled, “Do you own Facebook? Or does Facebook own you?” This is a question I’ve often asked myself when looking at some of the Facebook addicts I know.

Yet despite the trivial, diluted content that might give Facebook a bad rap (and at times drive me crazy), social media are emerging as extraordinarily effective personal and business tools. [Read more…]