Note: I have posted an update on this issue.
As brands begin switching their Facebook pages over to the new timeline configuration, you might start noticing something a little weird. Checking out the Coca-Cola Facebook page, I see a post by a friend from late last year saying something like, “So far today I’ve had two coffees, two Red Bulls and a Coke.” She didn’t tag Coca-Cola in her post and she’s not a fan of Coca-Cola on Facebook. Facebook’s just pulled the content in there under the assumption that it’s relevant to Coca-Cola.
Moderating posts by others is optional, but the box I’m seeing these brand mentions in is a separate one from the “Recent Posts by Others” box, which displays fan activity on the timeline itself. In Facebook’s algorithmic quest to provide relevant content, it’s displaying references to brands by friends who have made only passing mention of them. Well, okay.
Here’s what Facebook says about this kind of content:
Posts about a Page respect the privacy settings of the people who create them. Page admins won’t see posts about their Page that people haven’t shared publicly even though people visiting the Page might see them if they’re part of the audience the post was shared with. Pages themselves are public spaces, and posts added to a Page’s timeline will be visible publicly and are eligible to appear in the Recent Posts by Others box.
Cut to me checking out a New Zealand brand’s new timeline page. What do I see? A friend talking about that brand. They’re not a fan on Facebook, they didn’t tag the brand or anything. They just mentioned it by name, so Facebook throws it up there as relevant content to me. She’s a friend who mentioned the brand whose timeline I’m viewing. Sure, it’s relevant.
Problem for that brand is, that relevant post was a massive complaint about them. The complaint doesn’t tag them, isn’t posted on their wall, and was made two weeks ago. It has seven comments, with other people complaining about that same brand.
And for that brand, there’s no way for them to…
a) know they’ve been publicly complained about (and therefore they are unable to respond) or…
b) to know that this is top content for any friend of hers viewing their brand timeline. And she’s got 490 friends, apparently.
Mainly, this is just another demonstration of how something that was always a concern for brands – negative word-of-mouth – is amplified by online social media. You can’t know if someone’s complaining about you at the water cooler on a lunch break, and so you can’t respond. But now it’s not just three people in the lunch room hearing a customer gripe; it’s 490 friends, and the friends of any friends who commented on or liked their complaint. And the transcript of that complaining is being stapled to the front door of your shop, magically invisible to your eyes, but visible to all of those friends.
Sometimes I have to introduce magic to really push an analogy all the way.
So what’s a brand to do?
Unless Facebook’s moderation extends to these passing mentions appearing as notifications in the new admin panel to go along with their helpful relevant-posts search algorithm, brands are not going to be able to respond to all of this negativity, even though it’s being posted up on their own timelines. And, as Facebook says in their FAQ, they respect the privacy of people talking about brands and don’t feel the need to let page admins know about it. They don’t mind that content appearing on a brand’s timeline, because they consider brand pages to be public spaces.
All you can do is be even more proactive in responding to the concerns and complaints of which you are aware, so that the same mechanisms that are spreading around the complaints are also spreading around a clear demonstration to those who see it: you’re a helpful brand, you’re concerned about complaints. And hopefully, next time someone sees a complaint about you, they might throw a slightly different comment into the mix and say, “Hey, you should get in touch with them – I’ve seen them respond really quickly to complaints like this before.”
Because it’s unlikely that Facebook are going to make this kind of search-referencing optional for brands. The first thing brands will do is turn it off, saying they don’t want uncontrollable invisible-to-them mentions of their brand on their own Facebook presence. And so Facebook would lose something they’re really into at the moment: story content being as relevant as possible to Facebook users.