Brands on Facebook: a cautionary tale

Yesterday, staff at Bizarre Magazine found their Facebook page had disappeared. Not only that, but the personal accounts of all of the magazine’s editorial staff had disappeared too. This marked the latest twist in an ongoing battle in the social media sphere; for many months now, the magazine found its content deleted from sites like YouTube following claims of unspecified breaches of terms of service.

The motivation behind this isn’t clear – it could be a reader with a grudge, or a commercial rival or something else entirely. Social media sites don’t give you the details of allegations against your brand, nor are you given an opportunity to respond before your content is removed.

Now it’s true Bizarre has a reputation as, in the words of Dave Grohl, a “titty gore mag”. But Editor David McComb replies “Bizarre is an edgy brand, but still a mainstream one. You find us in Smiths alongside Kerrang and FHM. But we know social media sites have strict rules on content so we take an especially cautious line; there’s nothing on any of our social media pages which wouldn’t be permissible on British TV – before the watershed.”

Right now you might be saying to yourself, I don’t run a magazine, so why should I care? But this is a worrying tale for anyone who uses social media for work purposes. Whether you’re a publisher or a public sector body, no organisation is universally popular. That means that any brand using social media is at risk of similar malicious use of the ‘report this’ function on social media sites. Anyone can flag your content as breaching terms, and on many sites this will pull it down automatically.

This happened a couple of times in my previous role – someone with a grudge against the council had a video removed by claiming they breached copyright. And they were deleted, without warning.

Organisations are increasingly heeding the call to focus less on a single site which expects customers to come to them, and instead on fishing where the fish are – taking your own brand to where people are already. Confectionary brand Skittles has gone so far as to replace its entire site with links to its social media presence.

There’s a strong case for doing this. But as Bizarre’s experience shows, there are some significant risks attached to doing so too.

More and more organisations are hosting their rich media content on sites like YouTube and Vimeo then embedding it on their own site. This makes a lot of sense – it’s cheap, easy to do, and needs little tech support or hosting. But what happens if this content disappears? You’re left with The Big White Space in the middle of your webpage, that’s what.

A second risk is the loss of customer data. When Bizarre lost their Facebook Page, they lost all means to contact their hundreds of Facebook fans. They used their page to let readers know when the latest issue was released, and to invite them to their live events. If your company/council/department lost your Facebook fans, do you have an alternative means to contact these people?

Thirdly – and I didn’t know about this – is the problem of guilt by association. When Bizarre’s page was deleted, so too were the personal accounts of those listed as page admins. They’ve lost thousands of contacts, pictures, and personal messages, seemingly with no way of retrieving them. Are those currently managing your organisation’s Facebook page aware they could be risking their own account by managing yours? And if they did, would they be willing to do this?

Blogging today, Rich Millington argues it’s easier to build businesses around successful communities than communities around successful businesses. Bizarre was a great example of this in action; it positioned itself as one of the key players in the alternative scene, using its social media presence to really connect with readers in their own online environments. But they don’t own this community; it can be taken away without warning.

So what can you do about this? Well, you pays your money – or rather, you don’t – and you takes your choice. You company doesn’t pay for Facebook or YouTube, so has no Service Level Agreement to enforce when it goes wrong, and no protection against malicious attacks. This level of risk is acceptable to some, but for many household name brands certainly won’t be. The important thing is to be aware of those risks. Are those in your organisation pushing for greater use of social media sites aware of the potential pitfalls?

7 thoughts on “Brands on Facebook: a cautionary tale

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Brands on Facebook: a cautionary tale « Sharon O'Dea --

  2. Great article Sharon! It kind of runs parallel to one I recently wrote for Liz Azyans LGEO blog ( however that focussed more on the loss of online service due to technical issues. This is an angle I’d not considered!

    My first reaction was “Crikey! Where did I put the offline backups of our YouTube vids?!” My next reaction was “We really need some kind of back up provision…”

    The truth is that we put a lot of clout in these services. When they’re there, complementing our primary online presence, they’re ace. but if we build up a reliance on one or more of these services then losing out or being denied access could be a real kick in the teeth.

  3. Pingback: Brands on Facebook: a cautiona… > UX Blog

  4. What’s most surprising about the whole thing is that there isn’t more a process here. Surely the risk of malicious or unintended uses of the reporting functions merit the existence of some kind of stage of arbitrage, where the accused at least get a chance to fight their cause, and at the very least export any valuable data they might have collated within the service.

  5. Pingback: The reading list: Week 7 « Wannabe Hacks

  6. Pingback: A ‘report abuse’ button on Twitter will create more problems than it solves | Sharon O'Dea

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