Facebook Controversy: Privacy and Social Networking

There is much controversy of late concerning the less-than-desirable practices of Facebook and the public outcry for privacy by its users. In a recent Marketing Vox article Three Reasons Why a Brand Should Think About Pulling the Plug on Facebook the author raises the question about whether or not “the site’s policies and the growing negative publicity surrounding it hurts more than helps their brand.”

Whether or not your company utilizes the power of social networking like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and other such sites to reach your targeted audience groups is really a matter of strategic evaluation. For instance, if what you sell eventually ends up in something a consumer uses, whether you manufacture it directly or not, then it’s probably a good idea to investigate the efficacy of communicating with them in these very popular social forums.

Please forgive me for being obvious, but also let me caution you that even though there are certain “content and access control” features, social networking sites are still public forums.

Here is an extract from Facebook’s Privacy Policy:

Risks inherent in sharing information. Although we allow you to set privacy options that limit access to your information, please be aware that no security measures are perfect or impenetrable. We cannot control the actions of other users with whom you share your information. We cannot guarantee that only authorized persons will view your information. We cannot ensure that information you share on Facebook will not become publicly available. We are not responsible for third party circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures on Facebook. You can reduce these risks by using common sense security practices such as choosing a strong password, using different passwords for different services, and using up to date antivirus software.”

For the industrial marketer, who has different privacy concerns than the general “Joe Public” end-user, the best tactic would be to include in your Profile or posts only information that poses no risk to your company whatsoever no matter to whom the information is sold or in whose hands it gets. Include topics and information that excite and interest your “Group Members” or “Facebook Friends.” If your competition is watching you, let them. What do you care? Lead the way with quality products, services and information that keeps your readers interested in talking with you and with others about their great experiences with your company and with what you offer. As a matter of fact, just assume your information is going to be shared all over the internet and be used in all the worst possible ways and compose it to read in your favor no matter what happens to it.

And if you receive negative comments, don’t shy away from them or give excuses. Address these concerns or views head on and demonstrate to all your Facebook followers that you can take criticism and that you welcome it because you are so committed to providing quality. Listen and respond in a way that lets all your followers know you acknowledge and support their concerns, are grateful to their loyalty, and are committed to their interests.

Privacy is a concept, perhaps even an unattainable ideal. Keep in mind that unless you are a paid advertiser these services are free. How and if you use them is up to you. Exercise common sense when adding information or responding to comments on social networking sites. And before you abandon using them because of fear they may be hurting your brand, first rely on measurable results to determine if they are right for your business. Or better yet, get involved on the development side. Work with the sites to help them develop their product to better serve both business and consumer users.

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