We can’t quit Facebook

So, did you quit Facebook on the so-called Day of Reckoning?

Chances are, you didn’t. A movement organized by Canadians Joseph Dee and Matthew Milan encouraged users to delete their accounts on the wildly popular social networking site over conerns about how the company behind it deals with personal information.

Estimates soon after D-Day put the number of users dumping the site at about 30,000 worldwide, a drop in the 400-million-strong bucket of Facebook users.
To call QuitFacebookDay.com a failure would be to miss the point entirely. Issues about Facebook’s handling of personal information are no secret, so raising awareness wasn’t a problem. What the duo did was promote concrete action, whether it was deleting an account or revisiting privacy settings. That ripple effect certainly touched more than 30,000 accounts.
It also showed how ingrained Facebook is. Complain all we want about Facebook’s handling of personal data, it is too ubiquitous a tool for many to abandon. Irony of ironies, there was even a Quit Facebook Day group on Facebook (it had 6,000 members). Users can’t even organize to quit Facebook without Facebook.
From a professional perspective, there are better tools. Twitter’s invaluable, though its usefulness depends on the quality of your connections. The level of discourse out in the wilds can be downright depressing.
LinkedIn, having been developed as a professional networking tool first, offers better, business-quality content by virtue of the fact it’s primarily oriented at business users, rather than Justin Bieber fans.
But Facebook is indispensible. Why? It’s that population of 400 million. From an enterprise perspective, your market must be in there somewhere.
So, if we can’t live without Facebook, how, as an enterprise or professional, do you live with it?
Step 1 is acknowledging that Facebook’s business model is based on selling the personal information you give it. There have been complaints in the past that Facebook’s published privacy policy is too complex and the documentation is longer than the U.S. constitution. Consider that simple business model the preamble.
This means being cognizant of the information you feed Facebook, and of the value of the information that your customers are feeding it.
Developing Facebook apps to engage your customer is the best way to harvest the value of that information. But it is absolutely critical to be up front with your customers that you’re trying to drive value from their information. Sophisticated users are aware of Facebook’s business model, but less-sophisticated users are in the majority.
Be aware, also, that regardless of privacy settings, it’s a public forum. This is great, since the intent is to engage an audience. But remember that engagement is a two-way street. It’s a lesson Nestle SA learned the hard way.
Users protesting the sourcing of palm oil for Nestle products, claiming it wiped out habitat of threatened primates, took on the company in its own Facebook presence. Caught by surprise, Nestle tried to manage discussion, but it deteriorated into churlishness and a black eye for Nestle.
It’s important for enterprises to embrace Facebook. But carefully. Like a porcupine.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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