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Facebook: Sometimes it’s Easier to Ask Permission Than to Beg Forgiveness

The other day I reviewed David Berkowitz’s dilemma regarding being the subject of an ad that changed him from a “fan” of Blockbuster on Facebook to a brand spokesperson. The post at David’s Blog has garnered over 70 comments, and he has asked for some of us to further comment in a post that just been published.

It’s interesting that this situation has generated such a fire storm. Just a few months ago, I ran into David at a party. I don’t really remember what he was wearing, but just for arguments sake, let’s put him in a Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt, Gap Jeans, and Nike Sneakers. Is David a fan of these items? Does he endorse them? Is he advertising for these brands? If I think, “Hey, David looks really good in that Polo shirt, I’m going to get one of those tomorrow” then yes, he is, even if he doesn’t know it.

So, what’s the huge difference between this advertising situation and this? :

I’ll give you something else to think about. Some people love brands so much they pimp them for free. They brag about using those products or services. I’m sure if you know me well you’ve heard me talk about Nordstrom and how well they’ve treated me over the years. I have several stories. (Of course, if you read my blog, you’ll also know why you should never buy a Toyota at Prestige Toyota of Ramsey). Some brands generate so much interest and loyalty, they are called “Lovemarks.” People clamor to be associated with them.

The difference in this case, and why so many of us got in a tizzy about the Facebook ad situation is permission.

  • David (and others) didn’t sign up to be brand ambassadors of Blockbuster.
  • Blockbuster didn’t make it clear that they’d use Fans in ads.
  • Facebook set up a system that didn’t have clear opt-ins or opt-outs or even clear terms of use.

Even now, I’m not sure what I’m signing up for by being a fan – so I’m only a fan of one brand – Union Square Ventures. I know Fred Wilson won’t screw me over, and if he decides to put me in an ad campaign, well, I know where to find him to discuss it. (I’d probably enjoy it anyway).

So the clear lesson is, let people know what they’re getting into, whenever they are signing up for something. Services that do so avoid the headlines, like this one from the NY Times: “Apologetic, Facebook Changes Ad Program.”

It may be better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission in some contexts, but ‘d suggest this one isn’t such a context. If you had asked customers for permission in the first place, this whole story, and possibly this whole Facebook program could have turned out differently.

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Facebook Advertising Roundtable today on David’s Blog

I participated in an online roundtable over at David Berkowitz’s blog regarding Facebook, and some of the recent posts he made (see David Berkowitz gives Facebook Ads the Smackdown).

Inside the Marketers Studio – David Berkowitz’s Marketing Blog: Facebook Advertising Expert Roundtable: Jeremiah, Adam, Seni, Howard

A firestorm of explosive debate erupted on this blog recently as a record number of comments were posted to a discussion on new abuses from Facebook relating to its Social Ads and Beacon advertising offerings. There are over 70 comments, and they all add color to the conversation.

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Susan Mernit hits a problem on the head

In her round up of Social Media moments & milestones to remember from 2007 Susan Mernit finds one really tough problem
 Susan Mernit’s Blog

Once we scale beyond the 150 or so people a high schooler might know, technology and standards become essential parts of the tool set and that’s the problem set no one has yet elegantly solved.

Since I couldn’t post the comment on her blog (I’m not sure if it took), I’m responding here:

Great post. I’m sure it’s not random that you used “150” as the number
of people a high schooler might know. It’s considered the Dunbar
a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship.

I’ve got 2x Dunbar number in Facebook and it is slowly driving me
insane trying to remember who some of the less-strong contacts are.
I’ve kept LinkedIn down but it’s creeping past 200.

This is a difficult problem in that the systems we have aren’t
providing good tools to create sub-groups. Facebook just came out with
something called “friend lists”…post=7831767130

but it’s really just list management.

I hope 2008 sees a way for us to more clearly designate not just lists
of friends, but contexts in which we want to communicate. I know some
party folks I want to see pictures from, but I don’t care what bands
they listen to, etc.
Not a trivial problem.

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Facebook making people angry

In case you were too busy preparing Turkey last week, I’ll give a basic review of the issue. Facebook’s Beacon program (already questioned as a possible “Privacy Nightmare” by GigaOm) lets users share their own data about what they like and dislike with other facebook users. An example might be Fandango or other movie service letting everyone know I bought tickets to “Enchanted” this weekend. I did, take the kids, it was adorable. But that’s not the point. I’m sharing this because I choose to. A bunch of people are finding out that stuff they didn’t realize was being shared, is.
Jason Calacanis clearly summarizes The wonderful horrible life of Facebook users and their data (or, “data hogs get slaughtered”) noting the 3 major things making some customers of Facebook feel, well, icky:

Facebook has done three things that are at once extremely innovative, extremely rude, extremely helpful, and extremely disconcerting:

1. They are collecting and republishing user data on a level not before seen by users.

2. They are allowing advertisers to use this data to reach these users.

3. They are not giving this information–information that has put their value at $15 billion–back to their users.

Doc Searls summarizes one possible set of responses in these two articles.

Time To Write Our Own Rules And Making Rules, II where he notes:
What we need instead is to make tools that work for us, and not just for them. We need to invent tools that give each of us independence from vendor control, and better ways of telling vendors what we want, when we want it, and how we want to relate — on our terms and not just on theirs.

For my clients and friends trying to understand the current bru-ha-ha going on, the above articles are must-reads.

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Facebook for Blackberry

Imagine my surprise this morning, when, upon logging in to Facebook with my Blackberry browser, I was presented with the option of downloading a Facebook for Blackberry application – written and signed by Research in Motion (RIMM), the maker of Blackberry. Well, hearing this was made by RIMM, I’m in.

It certainly makes FB much easier on the Blackberry. 7 Icons on top of the interface cover Status, Photos, Friends, Inviting, Poking, Wall posting, and Messages. As noted by some of the comments on the application’s page, you can’t yet get your messages from Facebook – only send new ones. You also can’t browse friends by picture, just by name. When you find a friend you want to check, you can ask for the full profile and see it, but in a pretty limited way compared to a web browser.
There were two messages when I first set up the app – and one was about what alerts you would get using it. I read them briefly, hoping to go back to them after exploring, but now I can’t find them. As far as I can tell from the application’s page, I’d just be setting up email alerts to the phone in some way – but poor interface design not letting me get back to those basic instructions quickly.
I eventually have figured out that my Blackberry’s main email address has to be the address that gets facebook notifications – then facebook messages will come to the FB app.

I see this application having serious potential, but right now it’s a pretty limited feature set. It is a great move on RIMM’s part. Back a while ago, Helio was touting connections to MySpace. Too little, too late from a marginalized phone platform. With this move, RIMM is making a huge statement about how they want to support not only the business Blackberry users but the cool, hip, smartphone audience. Well done.