A Social Media “Gut Check” – Own Your Presence. Own Your Relationships. Own Your Data.

By Bob Troia

fb-privacyThe recent, unannounced changes to Facebook’s terms of service seem to have gotten many folks up in arms. While this has caused a stir among consumers and privacy advocates, it is also raising flags with brands who are voicing concerns about what this means about ownership of their profiles, relationships, and data. Can Facebook use my company’s logo or posted content in marketing materials? Can they sell my data to competitors? Who has rights to the consumer-generated photos, videos, and comments posted about my brand? All excellent and valid questions.

UPDATE: Facebook has returned to their prior Terms of Use until they can work out issues people have raised. Read more about it on their blog.

Below is a simple social media “gut check” that any organization (or even individual!) should find helpful…

checkOwn Your Presence.

With the proliferation of online social platforms, tools, and services, how can you keep up and maintain your presence in all of these places at once? Aside from unscrupulous third-parties (or just pranksters) claiming, or “brandjacking” a brand’s presence/username/vanity url, some sites actually create one for you, whether you want it or not. Consumer review sites like Yelp!, and customer service platforms like Get Satisfaction are launching thousands of automated brand profiles to build (typically consumer-generated) content around. Some of these services are allowing brands to “claim” their pages/ids through verification… or a price.

Fortunately, some sites such as Facebook have policies in place to allow brands to report/take down fraudulent profiles/pages or reclaim a brandjacked profile.

So, what to do? You can either focus your efforts on the more popular sites/services out there, or use one of several services that will notify you when a new social network/tool launches so you can quickly claim your profile (or you can just read Mashable :)

checkOwn Your Relationships.

Just to be clear – “presence” is not the same thing as engagement!

Perhaps you are thinking of “outsourcing” your word of mouth efforts to a third party word of mouth “network” consisting of tens or hundreds of thousands of consumers. If all you care about is getting your product into a bunch of people’s hands and (hopefully) generate some “amplified” (versus organic) word of mouth, these types of services can be effective…

Are these really your consumers or your target market? Is the word of mouth authentic or are these just a bunch of folks who want free stuff? Are you even directly engaging/communicating/sharing with these consumers? Do you care if competitors are able to access/engage the same users?

Big brands (especially CPG ones) are starting to realize this distinction, and have begun developing their own dedicated consumer engagement programs. While they may still rely on the help of word of mouth marketing companies to launch their programs, they want to own the relationships.

checkOwn Your Data.

What’s the point of creating relationships if you can’t get closer to your customers and integrate your social platform touchpoints into your larger CRM initiative? (you have a CRM system, don’t you?? :)

Given Facebook’s enormous user base (they just reached 150 million users), it’s a no-brainer for brands to “set up shop” by creating a Facebook “page”.

Here’s the rub – when you create a presence on most stand-alone, third-party social platforms (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, “white label” social networks such as Ning, etc.) you are in control of your relationships but not your data! It’s the network effect, which these services have built their business models upon – as more people use a given service, it increases the utility and value of said service. In other words, every person you engage with via a platform must in turn create an account, thus adding to that platform’s user base (and increasing it’s value). Those 10,000 customers you got to join – you’ve just handed them over to someone else!

It’s ok to play on their turf, but maintain your own – at the very least, make sure to hook your CRM tentacles into all of your social media and word of mouth initiatives.

Hopefully, this spurs some dialog, or at the very least makes you think a bit more as you ramp up your word of mouth/social media/consumer engagement strategies for 2009 and beyond.