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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Buzz about Facebook ... Should we stay or should we go now?

Facebook privacy issues and the proposed "Facebook Boycott," have been all the buzz across Twitter and the blogosphere in recent days. Jason DeRusha even posed it for his "Good Question," last night on WCCO: "Are You Going to Quit Facebook?"

Well, my answer, is no. I'm not ready to sound the alarm quite yet. But, I do think it's necessary to toss a little water on this raging fire.

So, what happened, and why is everyone so upset?

In recent months, Facebook's privacy policy has shifted, requiring users to opt out of sharing information, making most information public by default. Combine this change with announcements made at the Facebook Developers Conference last April, and things really got interesting. (For a detailed overview, see this blog post by Jeremiah Owayng.) In essence, Facebook has turned itself inside out. Any public data within Facebook pages (profile information, status updates, likes, events, links shared, etc.) is now searchable, and aggregated into the new Community Pages. (Here's an example of a Community Page for "definition" that I came across when searching for Facebook's definition of these pages.)

Facebook's privacy settings are a complicated mess, as outlined in this graphic by Guilbert Gates of The New York Times. And, yes, the privacy policy for this network is, in fact, longer than the constitution.

People feel that they have been "Zuckerpunched."

Take a deep breath ... Face it.

Sure, I can appreciate why users are upset with these changes, and have lost trust in Facebook and feel that jumping ship is the best way to make a statement. But, it's not my job to make a statement. I use these tools as a marketing/PR professional. I've spent considerable time and energy focusing on ways to ease clients' apprehensions about social media, counseling them on their social media engagement (Facebook included), and developing ways to adapt traditional strategies and tactics for this environment. What good is it going to do them if I abandon ship?

The fact is, we've given Facebook a lot of control over our data. And, like them or not, it's time to understand those dreaded privacy settings and loopholes, and help our clients do the same. (Certainly, on a broader scale, it makes sense to evaluate client strategies to determine if and how brands should continue to play on the new Facebook playground, but that's fodder for a future post.)

Lock it down.

It takes several clicks and checks, but you can lock down the information that you share on Facebook. The Business Insider has published a nice step-by-step guide that covers the majority of the settings.

The best way to make sure that your posts don't end up being aggregated into Community Pages, indexed for public search, or shared with third party applications (like Pandora, Yelp!, and Docs) is to make sure that your posts can be seen by "your friends only." (If you're not already using lists to customize which of your followers can see what data and updates, now is a good time to start.) In addition, you'll want to take a look at your "likes." If this is public, you've given consent to share your information. This Mashable post by Adam Rosenberg explains how to create lists and manage these settings.

After all of this, you can check your work with this nifty privacy scanner from ReclaimPrivacy.

Educate your clients. Don't scare them.

Just like when you call someone for help with your drain, you may not really want to know how bad things are down there, or what it is that's clogging things, just what to do to fix it, right? It's our responsibility to get down in the trenches with the mess, and then translate it - in pleasant, relevant terms - for our clients.

That "definition" Community Page I referenced earlier? Well, hypothetically, suppose your client has brand representatives on Facebook who haven't locked down their posts. A simple update like, "Going out tonight to have a beer with the guys" could be aggregated onto a community page that is "Beer (Bongs are great)" because some college kid had it listed that way in his/her public profile of things that they "like."

This is reputation management, folks, and that's our job.

At the end of it all, no, I'm not really a fan - err ... I mean, I don't "like" - the way Facebook has structured these changes and seems to be trying to go head-to-head with Google to engulf the Internet, but the fact remains - there are 400 million active Facebook users. Boycott or not, I'm going to have to walk through the fire if I'm going to be of any help to clients.