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Business Costs & Regulation

Facebook's Community Pages
Upset Businesses

The social networking giant is scrambling to address company concerns.

Your company or organization may have Facebook pages that no one there created. What’s more, there’s nothing you can do to control the content -- positive or negative -- on these so-called community pages. At least, not yet.

Facebook says it created community pages in April to bring together people with like hobbies -- sailing, hiking, cooking, or causes such as Save Darfur, for example -- to create the “best collection of shared knowledge” on a topic.

But the pages have quickly engulfed thousands of firms and are just as quickly infuriating business owners and executives when they find out about them.

The pages work like this: If any of the almost 500 million Facebook users list a company name as an interest in their Facebook profile, the social networking giant’s computers will automatically generate a page for that name. Then they will direct any mention of that company anywhere on Facebook to that page.

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So far, though, there’s no provision to alter those pages and what’s noted on them. Unlike the early Internet Usenet user groups, in which folks could sign up to chat with others about hobbies, these groups are not opt in -- if you mention a topic, you will automatically be put in a community group if you don’t have tight privacy controls. And most users have lax controls regulating access to information posted on their personal Facebook pages.

Negative comments and misleading or just plain erroneous information found on community pages obviously can adversely affect a company’s sales and image, but since the pages currently can’t be altered, companies have no way to respond on them.

Company employees, too, can find themselves in a bind, courtesy of community pages. For example, a junior associate messaged one of her personal contacts via her own Facebook page that her law firm was treating employees like slaves. The comment -- since it mentions the firm by name -- was swept onto the law firm’s community page, probably not helping the employee’s career.

In view of mounting concerns about the pages, Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, says, “We are working on a process right now, which will be available shortly, that will give page owners the ability to request administrative control over a community page and have the content, as well as the people who’ve liked that community page, migrated over” to their company created Facebook site.

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But that won’t satisfy many marketers who use Facebook as part of their marketing mix. “They are hijacking my brand,” says one business source. “I just want them [community pages] to go away.”

Another active Facebook marketer suggests that “they at least make it clear that these pages are ‘crowd sourced’” and not created by the company. “It may be a play to get larger brands onto the platform, especially ones that don’t like the idea” of such pages. Of course, for that to be effective, a company or organization has to have an official page on Facebook and also know that at least one, if not more community pages, was created in its name.

Facebook created 6.5 million community pages when it launched the service in late April and has added hundreds of thousands since then.

If a firm has its own Facebook page, it will come up in the search along with the community pages when a user seeks information on a related topic or company. Besides our own Facebook pages, Kiplinger, for example, has 16 community pages listed. And it’s not always clear which are company sponsored pages and which ones are random creations by Facebook’s computers.

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What can a business or organization do to track exposure to community pages?

•Search Facebook for any community pages created in your company or organization’s name. And keep checking. If Facebook hasn’t yet created such a page for you, it might tomorrow.
•Make sure any mention of your outfit on Wikipedia is correct. Facebook tops its community pages with Wikipedia descriptions of each company or service. Be sure to join any community page that mentions your company to see what’s being posted there. And again, check frequently.
•If you have a company created Facebook page, make sure the URL is facebook.com/(company name). This should make the official site come up first in someone’s online search, before the community pages, though it doesn’t work that way for every searcher.

Facebook moved quickly to change its privacy settings for individual users after protests erupted in the Facebook community. Odds are, it will also move quickly to rethink community pages as the flak about them intensifies.