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The Problem with Facebook’s “Beacon”

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[ Social Media]

It’s the holiday’s right? A time for merrily buying Christmas gifts, Hanukkah gifts, Kwanzaa gifts (and, if you’re wondering, time for buying MY birthday present–the 29th of December, write it down…).

Imagine this scenario. A Facebook member, you buy a nice pair of leather gloves from Overstock.com for your boyfriend for Hanukkah. A while later, **poof**, your choice is sent out in your news feed–a feed that broadcasts to all your friends, including er, um, that boyfriend. Dang!

That’s exactly what happened to Matthew Helfgott’s girlfriend, he says. Another couple had their choice of movie broadcast on their feed because they bought the tickets at Fandango. This was ok, they said, because they were seeing “No Country for Old Men.” But here’s the best line of the article:

“What if I was seeing ‘Fred Claus‘? That would have been much more embarrassing. At least this was a prestigious movie.”

While his reaction is funny, people are starting to see why Facebook’s new advertising platform is named “Beacon” (see definition of beacon if you don’t get that).  Many bloggers are unhappy about it. Link 1. Link 2. Link 3.  And it can send news about things you do away from Facebook to your Facebook friends.

Beacon and Blockbuster
“Add 3 lines of code and reach millions of users,” Facebook says.

As someone who runs a social media agency, I love this idea.  What an opportunity to market on a social media platform.  What a great way to let the confidence of a friend influence buying decisions.  This should be powerful stuff.

But as someone who believes that social media marketing is more than being about a new place to run ads, I think this solution was a little too easy for Facebook.  I believe they rushed it out to capitalize on their otherwise great momentum and to prove to people that they could monetize their success.

What this backlash may be showing, however, is just how hard it will be for Facebook to ever monetize their success to the point that they can justify their current valuation.  They may yet figure it out, as they’ve done a lot right.  But if the Beacon backlash continues, it could be seriously brand damaging for Facebook.  I think this is the first of many mainstream articles about unintended consequences.

Here’s a prediction: A boss somewhere is going to notice on a news feed some purchases by his co-worker that align with times he was supposed to be working.  Watch for that article.  Just like that intern who got Facebook-busted for the Halloween party, and he didn’t have a Beacon shouting about it…

What do you think? Is Beacon the opening that social media agencies and social media marketers have been looking for? Or is a fairly significant mistake by Facebook that needs to be tweaked?

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The Problem with Facebook’s “Beacon”
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