New Facebook timeline “Posts about a Page” a double-edged sword

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.

6 Comments New Facebook timeline “Posts about a Page” a double-edged sword

  1. Charles

    I think there are settings in the page admin to determine what is displayed on the brands page.

    Looking at the admin for a page I manage I can check the box to enable posts by others to appear at the top of my page, or not as I choose. Seems I can also choose to moderate posts by others before they’ll display.

    1. Ryan Sproull

      Hmm, yeah, I see what you’re talking about. The box I’m seeing with these comments isn’t in the “Recent Posts by Others” box, though. It seems to be a separate one of mentions, rather than of posts on the wall.

      Will have to do a bit of testing to see if turning off “Recent Posts by Others” also deactivates that box.

      Will edit the post to reflect your point!

    2. Ryan Sproull

      It’s very hard to test, because the passing-mention stuff doesn’t seem to come through in real time. Posts by friends on the timeline come through in real time, and they can be moderated. But I suspect that these search-result mentions aren’t covered under that moderation. Waiting to hear back from FB about it now.

      1. Bliss H.

        I am very curious what the official response will be, as I’ve found this feature to be perplexing and there isn’t clearcut documentation on it that I can find. Would love to know more – please drop me a line or post a follow-up. Thank you! B

  2. Pingback: Facebook "People talking about your brand" update | born on state highway 1

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