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?

Thoughts on Portsmouth’s Facebook ban

Portsmouth Council announced this week they’ve decided to ban access to Facebook from its computers after it was revealed staff spent an average of 400 hours a month on the site.

Council bans on Facebook are hardly new; many have restrictions on access thanks to the requirements of Government Connect. But this story focussed on “waste”, noting 400 hours a month equates to between five and six minutes per month spent on the site by each of the 4,500 PC-based staff.

Firstly, the statistic isn’t a sound one; Portsmouth Council admit they can’t differentiate between business and personal use, nor between dwelling and active browsing, which means they don’t know how much of that 400 hours is clocked up by windows left open while the user does something else.

Second, the headline doesn’t reflect the real issue behind this story. Organisations have had this debate many times already, over the potential for employees to waste time if given a telephone, email, or access to the internet. In all of these cases, it’s a manager’s job to tackle any perceived timewasting, and so too it should be for Facebook. But instead of looking at the quality of performance management, Portsmouth Council are trying to solve the problem from the centre.

This strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. People are already talking about us on social networks. We can either choose to ignore those conversations, or we can listen to and learn from them.

As Carl Heggarty notes, would we consider a member of staff visiting a village hall and listening to community issues and communicating with them about councils services a waste of time, or would that be considered community engagement?

Employees listening out for the organisation on social networks gives us an extended network of “eyes and ears” able to highlight problems and bring them to our attention before they spiral out of control and become significant reputational risks.

By banning access, we prevent employees from listening on our behalf, identifying problems so they can be given attention by more conventional means. But heavy-handed bans also prevent employees from speaking for us. Employees can be powerful advocates for what we do, and are likely to speak highly of us in their social networks, both on and offline. By banning access we limit employees ability to advocate for us online.

By limiting the extent to which informed and engaged employees can advocate on its behalf, Portsmouth Council is failing to get the full value from its internal communications.

Finally, centrally-imposed bans on access could also be said to have a negative impact on employee engagement. Hertzberg argues that dissatisfaction with employment is primarily motivated by company policy, supervision, salary, interpersonal relations and working conditions (what he termed ‘Hygiene Factors’). Portsmouth’s policy of blocking social networking sites could be seen to create dissatisfaction among employees, as it could be seen to be heavy-handed centralised supervision, and limits their ability to manage their work-life balance and build working relationships.

The Work Foundation found access to new technology affects how people view their organisational culture: “People who have access to newer technologies are more likely to characterise their organisation as one that is loyal with mutual trust, that is committed to innovation and development or is focussed on achievement and not rule bound”.

The holy grail of employee engagement is discretionary effort. Engage your staff and they repay you by investing more time and effort into their work; fail to engage – or actively disengage – and employees are not motivated to contribute more than the bare minimum.

A more nuanced look at Portsmouth’s Facebook ban might reveal it has a negative impact both on employee engagement and on community engagement, resulting in far more “waste” than the five to six minutes a month currently spent on Facebook.