I’m both impressed and frightened when I see brick and mortar businesses asking their patrons to check them out on Facebook, but I do believe that whether it be QR codes or Google Goggles, we’re just scratching the surface of the mixing of online and offline worlds and the (most welcome) end of the designation “real life”. Facebook is a big part of this, and as the offline world creeps into Zuckerfication, the online world has been overrun. I remember a 1.0 web before the sharing button concept, but now the Facebook like/page/share seems like the only way to go. Is it? (no) And can it go too far? (yes)
The trendy swell was of people promoting their own first forays into the web with their first sites. The Internet was free and open, and this meant a new place for your and your business. Now the pressure is to get people to connect to a Facebook page, since that’s where so many people are, and where so many people share. Sure, you can try to get them to comment on your site, or you can get them to engage with you through Facebook and share their experience with their contacts. But a presence on an open web compared to a(n extemely closed) corporation’s platform is a totally different animal.
We have never dealt with this before, really. People would find businesses with the paper Yellow Pages, but no business would plaster “Check us out in the Yellow Pages!”, even if millions of people use the Yellow Pages, because they don’t use it socially, and because there’s no additional functionality. That said, Facebook pages themselves offer appallingly little for functionality, but the sharing is enough. If you do want the functionality, though, you have the option to tap into Facebook using Facebook Connect, where people can log in to your site and all it offers using their Facebook account. What a relinquishing! I can certainly understand and in many ways agree with an older fashioned business mentality that doesn’t want to share attention.
Facebook is an ever-growing juggernaut. The bottom line is that it can be a great tool as a content sharing and discussing platform. But how much is the brand message cut by having it paired with Facebook? That’s someone else’s logo, someone else’s site. And not just any, but a site that is under constant scrutiny for the misuse of personal data. You can play apologist and blame the person who shares their life willingly, but it’s like the con man who says “I didn’t take his money – he gave it to me.” A person is smart – people are stupid. That doesn’t mean you should exploit stupidity, or partner with someone who does.
Kay forgot one thing in the video above; people are lazy, too. If enough people around them do something, they’ll just go along with it and assume it must be safe. Facebook has, after all, banked on popularity to muscle through ethical toe-lining from its very beginnings.
Even if you are certain that a few sharing buttons here and there are a clear net positive, you think your brand is completely intact, and you have no concern for the multi-billion dollar unchecked information leech in the age of identity theft and wiretaps, you have to acknowledge that there are limits.
As an example of a site that no perception whatsoever of these limits, let’s take the Huffington Post. I followed a Digg link to an article there, and my experience there actually spawned this whole post. Forgive the image size, but have a look below, and see the highlighted yellow as parts relating to Facebook, red for Twitter thrown in for good measure. Click on this shrunken version below to expand.
Am I crazy, or is this not ridiculous? 20 Facebook logos on this page. It’s like someone wearing a Twilight hat, shirt, shoes, necklace, and bracelet. Like I said, some branding issues here, but also a tacky lack of class. I suspect someone’s mandate at the Huffington Post is to get them more presence on Facebook, no matter what. And I suspect someone else at the Huffington Post hates the garbage look they were stuck with.
People can still share on Facebook without these buttons, and they will, if the content’s strong enough. Is the thinking still that it’s worth it to shove Facebook down their throats to maximize the chances, regardless of the consequences? I believe that businesses choosing to forego the Facebook presence will suffer much the same consequences as a regular human being doing the same. They will get by just fine, with less, but more meaningful connections.
We are now comfortable essentially sharing our member base, relying on the whims of a multibilion dollar site to form the backbone of our members area. But what happens when the overwhelming masses can’t be bothered to maintain multiple accounts, and genuinely won’t join sites if they can’t do it with the speed and ease that Facebook offers? Even if many users would still join, if the bottom line result will be more members, business and website owners will often be seduced.
Let’s say you want to promote a video of yours. Sure, you can host it yourself, but for most people, the combination of free hosting bandwidth with the fact that there are so many people makes YouTube an obvious choice for the destination of your upload. Those with a commitment to either SEO or control of their advertising might still go it alone, but they are going against the grain, and it cannot be denied that there is loss in not taking advantage or the collected, social, sharing mass. But if your content is excellent, you might not need YouTube. Look at The Escapist’s massively and consistently popular Zero Punctuation, watched on the site, shared around the web. They had the guts to not rely on YouTube, to focus on their own site, have their banners and in-video advertising.
You don’t need reach around to Facebook if you are willing to invest in quality. Making Facebook a big part of your content plan means you will become both empowered and disempowered, in a manner not unlike selling your soul to the devil. Ride the perks, suffer the consequences. Go where the people are, and feed them your traffic. Sell them while you sell you. Perpetuate their dominance with your compliance. Give impressions to their banners. But maybe you could have made it without the deal with the devil?
Funnily enough, one of the few general areas of the web not affected by Zuckerization is the adult word. Facebook, like most mainstream large corporations, won’t touch porn with a ten foot pole (unlike Google, which links to porn more than any site in the history of the Internet). This means that despite adult’s consistently remarkable and innovative sharing techniques that have typically left the mainstream web in the dust, adult sites don’t and won’t ever have the fastest-growing and most well-known sharing method on the web. Why? Because Facebook doesn’t want to be associated with porn. Bit ironic, since everyone else wants to be associated with the most dubious personal data collecting and selling entity ever known.
Many businesses have benefitted greatly from Facebook use, and I’m not going to flat out claim it’s always a bad idea to create a Facebook page or even to implement Facebook Connect. I just think that the decision isn’t obvious, that there are pros and cons to weigh, questions worth asking. Should you be investing your time and money elsewhere, into your own site, good enough to be shared on Facebook anyway? How many references to Facebook on your website would be a good idea, if any? Is the message of your brand dampened or damaged by having to promoting it alongside Facebook’s? Does Facebook’s behaviour matter to you, as far as data-related ethics are concerned?
This article was originally written by Simon Abramovitch.