Beware: Facebook’s ‘autobots’ are hitting your reputation

25 Aug

Have you checked out the auto-generated community pages on Facebook recently?  You know, the ones that relate directly to your brand or organisation, but over which you have absolutely no control? The ones where content about your organisation is being auto-aggregated from individual status updates, Wikipedia and other sources then plastered in front of 500m users without so much as a nod in your direction?

Good on you if you have, but most organisations are blissfully unaware that they probably now have several pages appearing on Facebook without their knowledge or consent and that Facebook’s ‘autobots’ are quietly transforming their organisational reputation and interaction.

Since April, when Facebook launched ‘Community Pages’ I have been encouraging every practitioner I’ve met – indeed, anyone who will listen for five minutes – to check out the pages generated on search for their client or place of work (because it is absolutely our job these days to monitor and navigate what is going on in the social media environment for our clients and organisations).  Because such face-to-face suggestions make for slow progress, this post is the equivalent of me standing on a large soap box and yelling ‘Do Something – and Do It Now’.  So here’s the story and some tips on what you need to do to head off any reputational damage.

Community Pages were launched in April, supposedly designed to cover subjects and issues that would be of general interest for a wide group of users – on their blog, they used ‘cooking’ as an example. Sweetly benign you might think. However, at launch, what Facebook also proceeded to do was auto-generate over six million ‘community’ pages, drawn from the registered likes, interests and preferences of its user base including the work and education mentions.

This led to some bizarre pages – for example, on my Facebook ‘favourite TV shows’ I put ‘too few to care’ – and the page illustrated above was auto-generated and recommended to me accordingly. Daft, silly, waste of time – BUT – and I don’t use caps lightly – also autogenerated were pages for public services, universities, brands, local authorities, companies – you name it, if it appears in someone’s stuff, there is a nice shiny page regardless of whether you are in New Zealand or Newbiggin.

Not only that, it can also come complete with fans and status updates. Any status update – from anyone – that includes the key words associated with your organisation is used to populate the ‘community page’. ‘Fans’ are drawn from people who have mentioned your organisation or have you somewhere in their profile, as well as those innocents who stumble on the new pages by accident and think they should offer their thumbs up because this is the official page.  Base content is drawn from any material about your organisation included in Wikipedia – so again, you need to ensure your Wikipedia description or inclusion is up-to-date because, like it or not, that’s where the core content is sourced.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the community pages are causing all sorts of snags and traffic jams for ‘official pages’, so if you have created an official page for your organisation, you need to check the traffic routes and you might find yourself cornered into a Facebook ad campaign in order to redirect the traffic. Sneaky huh?

More bad news concerns the status updates triggered to auto-populate the pages. Most people believe their status updates to be ‘private’ between themselves and their friends – sadly not if they don’t understand Facebook’s convoluted privacy settings. So, good or bad, their status updates relating to your organisation will appear on the community page – with the potential for considerable damage to your reputation, employee relations or your interaction with any or all of your stakeholders and communities.  And believe me, there are some pretty horrid examples out there at the moment. I have tried to give organisations and fellow practitioners the heads-up where I can, but I can’t do all of them so it is over to you. There are many practitioners out there who have not involved themselves in social media, online public relations or online reputation management. The plain fact is that you can’t afford not to be involved, and this most recent Facebook Frolic is a case in point. If you aren’t informed, get informed before you get left behind and your organisation realises that if you can’t navigate them safely through these unpredictable waters, they will have to find someone who can.

There are all manner of New Zealand businesses and organisations affected by this issue so please check it out sooner rather than later. If all this is new to you and you don’t know where to start, contact me and I’ll talk you through it. Personally, I believe this is an unjust and unfair development at Facebook as it means that organisations and individuals who do not belong to or wish to participate in the network for whatever reason find themselves having to take part. I don’t think you can complain about a free service that you choose to use – but you can and should complain about a free service that forces you to ‘belong’.

As a final note, the clip below is Facebook’s answer to getting rid of community pages. If you have an update on this issue, or have managed to achieve a full delete on an auto-generated community page then please share it with us and post your comment or contribution here.  But for now, track down the pages, point users in the right direction, lobby Facebook, claim your ‘official’ page if you can (that’s a whole other can of worms) and make sure your Wikipedia entry is up to date.

2 Responses to “Beware: Facebook’s ‘autobots’ are hitting your reputation”

  1. David Anderson August 26, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    This is an important lesson that all organisations need to take note of.
    I think the mock BP Facebook page, which was set up after the oil spill in the gulf, is an excellent example of how a organisation can be damaged by this kind of thing.
    David

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Twitter roars | The PR Blog - September 8, 2010

    […] a separate but related note, this piece by Catherine Arrow about Facebook’s Community Pages is definitely required reading. Immediate […]

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