There’s a huge amount of talk out there about how best to use Facebook as an organization. How you can generate massive amounts of publicity and interest, capture new users and visitors, and maximize engagement. All those silken terms that sales and marketing people love to liberally spray all over their presentations. Well, this is not a blog post about how you can do that. I don’t have much of an issue with people using Facebook as a PR tool and a marketing tool- after all, that is what it was designed to be. Marketing yourself, originally, and like all popular but free websites, the site rapidly became about marketing to users.
No, this is a post about why you should ignore Facebook. Turn a blind eye and let it pass. It will, in time, fade away, like Yahoo, MSN and others before those. It may have a huge number of users, but then so did MySpace. People will move on, and Facebook is already worrying about growth figures. But that’s not why you should be ignoring it.
You should be ignoring it because all of the things that you try and promote can be just as easily undone, and using Facebook as a solution to problems that your organization faces will only lead to more problems in the long run- not least of all when Facebook finally goes the way of MySpace and people move on. But that’s not all.
First off, some disclosure about myself. I don’t have a Facebook account. I nuked my account after my exams ended, before the holidays started, months ago. I’m an active member of the Royal Holloway Students’ Union. I attend numerous events and work with various media outlets on campus. At no point in doing all of this have I actually needed to visit Facebook.com, much less log in. The last stored login details in my browser aren’t even mine- they’re a friend’s left over from when she borrowed my PC to check some messages. I’ve written apps for Facebook before, and have worked with the APIs and tools that Facebook gives developers to let them access what they describe as ‘the social graph’- that is, your data. And I spend a lot of time working on computer security and, specifically, web security and analysis. I wouldn’t call myself an expert or even a specialist, but I have half a clue about this stuff.
So- your organization is organizing an event. You’ve got a website, and you’ve got someone (or a company) maintaining it. What do you do- put the event information on your website, or on Facebook? Unfortunately, lots of people will answer “Facebook” to this question. The correct answer is your website first, Facebook to raise awareness, but the information and (if appropriate) booking/RSVP information should be on your website. The Student Radio Awards are the latest in a long line of offenders to reach my inbox, informing me gleefully of a page on their website which promptly takes you to Facebook so you can RSVP to their nomination parties. As a person who chooses not to use Facebook, I now cannot interact with these events, and if I want to RSVP I’d have to reactivate my account, which I’m not doing for an SRA party. I emailed back, and got the response “But you can still see the information without joining Facebook”. True enough- but here’s the rub.
- Your organization does not control access to that data any more. Facebook does.
- Your organization is specifically endorsing Facebook at this stage. Do you really want to do that, with all the privacy and security issues flaring up right now?
- Your organization is specifically blocking people who do not want to use Facebook from using your services.
- To view your data, users are forced to interact with Facebook servers. Users with privacy or security concerns can now not use your service.
- Facebook is not your server. It’s unlikely that your server is blocked from any workplace networks- how about Facebook?
Some of my other brethren in the webdevel community (SEO and marketing experts particularly) will be flaunting the positive aspects – reaching more people, less operational costs for your own site and infrastructure, being seen to be ‘social’ (which is a big deal for some organizations who have talked themselves into it thanks to overzealous marketing gurus wanting to be seen to keep up with emergent trends- come on, guys, it’s just a fancy way of sending email newsletters). Do they balance up? Actually, no. The enhanced reach that comes with getting on Facebook’s timeline/front page for people is a big deal. There’s no hiding from that, especially in a university environment where people just don’t seem to understand that Facebook is optional. There’s no harm in using Facebook to link to things on your site, of course- there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But the second you start putting information on Facebook that isn’t on your own infrastructure, you’re damaging yourself. In severe cases you can piss users off in droves.
Facebook is not infrastructure for your organization. Build your own infrastructure- everyone on the web will be better off for it, and your users will thank you.
The privacy issues flaring up at Facebook are serious, and in some states in Germany, sites are being fined for using the Like button as it violates German law. Do you really want to be supporting, encouraging and endorsing the sort of company that supports this degree of invasion of privacy?
If the pile of (in my mind very compelling) reasons why you shouldn’t be using Facebook as infrastructure listed above don’t get you, okay, well let’s look at this another way. Facebook is a company that exists to make money off your data. You, as a company, help them, as a company, get more money (through advertising) in return for some page views. But it wasn’t always this way. In the past, people built interesting and engaging websites, and people actually visited them of their own volition. You didn’t need social engagement to get page hits, because people would visit your site anyway. And you know what? They still do, Facebook or no. And you own it. What you make, you own, you can control precisely as you desire. Facebook you can control however they decide you can control it all one week to the next- everything changes so often that forming solid policies or organizational structures on how to use Facebook is next to impossible. The page views to your site that are effectively the sole reason why organizations started using Facebook meanwhile dwindle as you put more on Facebook and less on your site. In extreme cases you stop updating your site, and get confused as to why people ask why your site’s entirely empty and has no information on it- “oh, it’s on the Facebook page”. More damage to your organization’s reputation and web presence.
Organizations should be proud of their web presence, and shouldn’t just say “Okay, our website’s rubbish, let’s just use Facebook instead”. Fix your website. Build your own infrastructure. If you want to be social, at least use Twitter, which is simple, straightforward, open and easy. It’s hugely popular, has far fewer privacy and data retention concerns and issues inherent to its nature, and is massively more powerful in terms of engagement and potential page hits.
It’s not your infrastructure, though, just as much as Google Plus or Diaspora aren’t. Look at NASA’s tweets- they all link to a NASA website. The Guardian doesn’t link to Facebook. You shouldn’t either.