Facebook: A Great Way To Hobble A Brand

    October 10, 2006

There’s been a ton of Facebook news recently, first with their “privacy trainwreck” (which was not really a “privacy” issue per se, but more of a perceived exposure issue, more here from danah and here from Doc), and most recently with the opening up of Facebook to all comers.

Now, with respect to this issue, Facebook’s Carolyn Abram writes:

“I’ve been asked to explain why we’re launching this expansion. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again; here at Facebook, we want to help people understand their world. We started at one school, and realized over and over again that this site was useful to everyone-not just to Harvard students, not just to college students, not just to students, not just to former students. We’ve kept growing to accommodate this fact.”

This is very interesting, I must add with a bit of irony, as three days prior, Facebook’s Abram wrote:

“I have received and rejected over eighty friend requests from people I don’t know. It’s not because I’m a terrible person, and it’s not because I think all of my would-be friends were sketchy people; it’s because I wasn’t comfortable with people I didn’t know seeing my information.”

danah adds:

“Facebook is open. I’ve already received friend requests from companies selling their wares by creating a Profile. I am also faced with more contexts than i can deal with.”

This context-switching is the challenge that other “mass market” brands in the social media area are going to continue to have as they expand. As danah noted directly above, there are certain aspects of one’s persona that are “in context” in one case and “out of context” in others. (Here’s a real-world example, snark here.)

This issue is especially acute when trying to force-fit a mass-market brand into the business context. Design decisions that may that have worked fine in one context might be jarring in another. For example, I recently received a Facebook “friend request” from Stowe Boyd, who I know professionally. After accepting the request, I was presented with the following screen (click to enlarge):

Some of the choices (e.g. “We dated” and “We hooked up,” in particular) just don’t work in the business context.

Bottom line: When designing a system that may be used in multiple contexts, it’s critical that the people using the system have the ability to tailor it to their world. One-size-fits-all decisions can’t work and, even worse, will undermine the brand’s credibility in the market.



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Christopher Carfi, CEO and co-founder of Cerado, looks at sales, marketing, and the business experience from the customers point of view. He currently is focused on understanding how emerging social technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking are enabling the creation of new types of customer-driven communities. He is the author of the Social Customer Manifesto weblog, and has been occasionally told that he drives and snowboards just a little too quickly.