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Responsible Facebook Marketing: Page or Profile? (part 1)

I’ve been thinking alot about Facebook recently. Not only have I been launching the Small Pond Graphics Facebook page, but I’ve had several clients seeking my input on how to create or maximize their own pages. With over 400 million active Facebook users worldwide, and the statistics growing for the impact engaging with companies online makes in how consumers respond to products and services, Facebook is indeed becoming a more and more valuable marketing commodity. Just the other day, I saw Google’s statistics on the most visited websites on the internet during the month of May, 2010. Facebook topped the list with over 540 million unique visitors during the month and a mind-boggling 630 billion page views.

One of the pieces of information I shared on the Pond FB page this week was a link to a new application for Facebook profiles that has been released. It was produced by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and offers a “panic button” of sorts for 13- to 18-year-old Facebook users. The application adds a profile tab that allows the teen to quickly report suspicious users. In the press release about the application, James Gamble of the Centre commented that online predators are often dissuaded by visible deterrents. The hope is that this application might serve to protect young Facebook users from falling victim to the inevitable unscrupulous and sometimes dangerous online realities.

With the news of this new application that attempts to protect young online users from the internet’s worst tendencies, I’ve also been starting work on an online media contract for a local private school. It has me thinking. We have been trained in recent years to consider corporate responsibility and the ways businesses can or should involve themselves in social issues. How does that concern for ethical and responsible business practices extend to online marketing? Given the fact that we have no control over who reads our contributions to the online buzz — their age, their nationality, their proximity, their gender — how do we orchestrate a responsible online presence?

There are undoubtedly many answers and viewpoints to those questions. A full discourse would certainly produce a much longer word count for this post than I would ever recommend for a blogging client. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, but for now, I’ll limit MY answer to just one recommendation regarding Facebook.

Follow the rules.

Facebook is a free service. It isn’t a democracy. It isn’t an “economy.” It doesn’t have juris prudence. It’s an idea that has come to remarkable fruition. And, marketing a business or organization on Facebook is a gift. My number one recommendation to businesses seeking to reach out to customers on Facebook is “don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.” Say thank you, and follow the rules. By doing so, companies promote an ethical and responsible approach to doing business online. They demonstrate that “Terms of Service” agreements aren’t just a checkbox after a password is set. They are guidelines that are important to follow as we take advantage of our internet privileges. I appreciate organizations that set an example in the way they approach online media for the scores of young users we know are watching.

And, I notice when they don’t.

One of the primary ways I’m disappointed by businesses marketing on Facebook is when I see them presenting themselves in the “PROFILE” format. The site offers businesses a free way to promote themselves using the network through their “PAGE” format. The Facebook Terms of Service prohibit an individual from holding two different Facebook accounts. So, if you have a personal profile AND a business profile, you are in violation of those terms. In my opinion, businesses and organizations who violate this policy send a subtle, but immediate message that they don’t mind stepping outside the rules when conducting their business. In this age when the global focus is more and more on corporate responsibility for both large and small companies, that’s just not a good marketing strategy.

Not convinced by my “set a good example” theory? Stay tuned for Part 2 and a few solid marketing reasons why giving your business a Facebook “PAGE” presence is a better option.

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