What you shouldn't learn from the Facebook TOS incident

What not to learn from the Facebook TOS incident.

Earlier this week, Facebook released a new terms of service agreement, which appeared to give Facebook perpetual, non-exclusive copyright to anything you post there.

After a bunch of back and forth in the blogosphere [I do hate that word, but this is really where it was happening], and general demonizing of Facebook itself, and the creation of several “I hate the new Facebook TOS” groups on Facebook itself, the company finally said, umm, we didn’t mean to make y’all mad. Let’s forget this ever happened, mmk?

And their intent seems to be, they’ll fix what they were trying to fix the first time around, with some overhauled terms, one day soon. But that they’re really not trying to steal our stuff.

What not to learn
And all this is very well and good. But I would hate for anyone to take away this lesson from the Great Facebook TOS incident of February 2009:

You can be sloppy and/or abuse your site’s users all you want.

Now, if Facebook didn’t have a history of actually doing that, I’d be more willing to excuse them for this incident. I think they really may just have not realized the loophole their new terms created for abuse of users’ content. But many significant developments on Facebook do seem to happen with this stutter-step approach:

  1. Facebook adds a new feature [the News Feed, Beacon] without properly sharing the benefits with the community.
  2. People have a cow.
  3. Facebook retreats or partially retreats.
  4. People simmer down and continuing sharing what they had for breakfast with everyone they know.

Here’s the bottom line: Facebook gets away with this kind of behavior because — according to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent blog post — if Facebook were a country, it would be the 6th most populous country on earth. China, India, the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Facebook. You can’t get the access Facebook gives you anywhere else.

The rest of us aren’t Facebook
In most other online communities — and especially small, private-label, or local communities — the group needs each user far more than the user needs the group. So when we’re managing a community, we have to remember that our efforts had better make sense the first time around. We’d better be transparent. And we’d better do our best to be useful to the community.

It’s just too easy for a community member to walk when we abuse them. No matter what Facebook demonstrates to the contrary.

The Facebook TOS debacle: You probably don't care

The Facebook terms of service mess: No one really cares. And there’s no good solution for those of us who do.

Today, Consumerist made a big splash in certain geeky communities by identifying a passage that’s been removed from the Facebook terms of service agreement. Now, Facebook asserts the perpetual, non-exclusive right to any content you post on the site, even if you [or they] delete your account.

I’m actually one of those geeks who reads TOS agreements. I think I’ve read them for every major social network/content site I use. I don’t agree with all the provisions in all of them, but so far, I’ve been willing to agree to them legally, because the benefits of using the services have outweighed my disagreements with their legal positions.

The reality is outlined nicely by my Twitter friend Eyebee, however. Most people just don’t care.

…most people aren’t even going to read about it, and most that do won’t understand the implications, or even care about it anyway.

If you still care
I found a great analysis of the whole situation over at Mashable. It’s worth reading and understanding–and it makes a decent guess at Facebook’s motivation.

My thought here is that both points are relevant. Most people don’t care, but this situation clearly highlights an issue that we haven’t yet figured out the right way to resolve legally.

The real problem
Copyright law and digital rights management simply haven’t kept up with technology. I’m not one to advocate more regulation and legislation, particularly in this area–frankly, I think most in Congress understand less about the implications of our print-based copyright law on the Internet than most 22-year-olds at this point. I’m trying hard to think of something Congress has done about copyright recently that I liked. Hmm. Still thinking.

But situations like this one at Facebook–where posting content from various sources, and allowing it to be shared on various destinations–simply aren’t covered by existing law. And so we’re going to continue having these copyright and licensing issues for a long time.

Update: The Industry Standard gets the scoop from Facebook, who’s now also blogging about the TOS issue.

My final point: Facebook may CLAIM it intends to play nice here. And I suspect it does. But the new TOS agreement allows it not to.

Figuring out the best social media platform

All social media isn’t right for all purposes. Examine your goals before you pick your tools.

Chris Brogan has an interesting blog post where he wonders how to fix his Facebook dilemma: There’s a cap of 5,000 friends on Facebook, and he’s close to it. He’s wondering about the best way to stay in touch with both his friends and his fans, and considers how his Facebook fan page may help. It’s fairly well suited to staying in touch with a large group, but it’s not perfect.

In his post and in the comments, Brogan and others debate several social media platforms: Twitter, Ning, Facebook, more. Several people are frustrated with Facebook and its “limitations,” like the 5,000 friend limit, various “problems” with fan and group pages, the “extraneous” clutter [things like Facebook flair and Little Green Patch come to mind].

And while I agree that while these things are potentially troublesome for marketers, few of them are problematic for people. Not that I think Facebook [or any other social media platform] is perfect. But I think it matters what you use it for. Trying to keep in better touch with high school and college buddies, and keep up with local events? Facebook is what you need. Trying to manage a professional brand? You undoubtedly need Facebook plus several other tools — and Facebook likely isn’t even the first thing you need. Instagram is a much better choice if you’re promoting your brand to the younger generation. Nowadays, you can even Buy Instagram followers to boost the credibility of your brand on Instagram.

Are you using the best technology for your purposes? [That’s the question I think Brogan is trying to answer.] Many of us spend a lot of time trying to make our preferred technology the be-all and end-all, instead of choosing the right tool at the right time.

Just like I roll my eyes at people who send me tabular content in a Word document instead of in a spreadsheet, I’m dismayed at the clumsy uses I see of many elegant social media platforms. Kudos to Brogan for trying to figure out the right answer.

How to use the web better in 2009

Tips for how you can work and market better online in the coming months.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. So many of us tend to put off the things we should be doing anyway — working out, eating better, managing our inboxes [PDF from Good Experience] — and wrap it into a once-a-year extravaganza in January. Which might be fine, except when you pile too much into that system, it’s often over long before Valentine’s Day.

So I’m not advocating you take up these ideas as your New Year’s resolutions. But I will encourage you to think about how you can work and market better online in the coming months. If you start one of these ideas in January, so be it. Just go into your new efforts with a plan, and you won’t be disappointed in February.

Make your Web site all it can be: Take a look at your own site. Is the design fresh? Are you updating it several times a week, if not daily? Does it tell your customers everything they need to know about your products and services? This is one area you shouldn’t expect to ever declare “finished!” As you expand your web presence beyond a basic brochure site [i.e. one that simply replicates what you would find in a printed brochure about your organization], consider carefully how you can support each new addition. An events calendar is a great addition to a brochure site, if you keep it updated. So are sale notices and a blog. But make sure you’re using each part of your site well. If one area looks out of date, people will assume the entire site is.

Once your own site is robust, you can stop relying on the faulty assumption that people will be coming to your site. I know — on the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. But on any given day, it’s more likely your potential customers won’t visit your site than that they will. So, you can find them in other ways. This is where a social media strategy is your friend.

Before you jump in to social media, remember these tips:

  • Start small. You must be able to sustain whatever works.
  • Everyone doesn’t need everything. See below for ideas of the kinds of social media that will help you the most.
  • Be real. Social media — as the term implies — is much more about connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are than it is about marketing. Of course, smart marketers know that they need people more than they need to “market.”

The following list is shorthand. Your web strategy depends on your organization’s unique goals. But painting with a broad brush, these ideas can get you started. When you’re ready for more, let me know, and we’ll figure out the best plan for you!

Who Needs It

Facebook: Nonprofits and others trying to raise awareness. There are actually nonprofits raising a decent chunk of change on Facebook, but I wouldn’t recommend that as your first goal there. Instead, think about the power of networking. You want your supporters to spread the word about you to their friends, right? Facebook makes that simple. With a little effort on your part, your supporters’ friends will also be hearing about your events, fundraisers and causes.

Flickr: Anyone with event, organization and customer images to share. Flickr’s photo-sharing capabilities can serve many purposes. And many organizations don’t realize how many images they actually do have to share — until recently, there hasn’t been a venue for them. Sell a product that requires assembly? Photograph each step in the process and set up a Flickr slideshow [that you can also post on your own site]. Host events? Post the photos to Flickr and let your attendees network with each other, and with you, there.

MySpace: Musicians and selected other organizations appealing to young adults. MySpace remains critical for the marketing efforts of many independent [and affliated] musicians. If you’re in the music business, you need to be on MySpace. Many of its features specifically support songwriters and performers trying to get the word out about their work.

Twitter: Organizations with a large customer-service presence. If you have a consumer product and you’re not on Twitter, you’re already missing conversations about yourself. Whatever you sell, people are talking about it — complaining it and praising it — on Twitter. Rex Hammock has a great post this week with examples of companies using Twitter well.

YouTube: Anyone who can tell their story creatively. YouTube is exactly what you’ve heard — videos of cats playing the piano and the embarrassing exploits of college students. But it’s also full of creative marketing and useful how-to videos. It’s an old example, but I continue to point to www.willitblend.com anytime someone questions the validity of YouTube for business. The key is in the storytelling. No one would watch a video of someone talking about a blender. And the market for a video of someone using a blender to make smoothies or sauces can’t be too much larger. We already know [or think we know] how a blender works. Blendtec is so successful with its online video series because it’s showing us something unexpected — what we didn’t know — in an incredibly entertaining way.