Facebook Community Pages and Connections: what it means for brands, reputation management, and privacy

Facebook made some drastic changes to its services and features a few weeks ago. First, Fan Pages are a thing of the past. Now, there are just Pages, and you can’t become a Fan of them, but you can Like them. Ok, weird but basically just a semantic change.

Facebook also announced their new “Connections” system, which anyone who has logged into facebook since this was announced had to notice. Connections is a nasty feature that doesn’t allow you to control your profile information anymore. For example, if you want to say that one of your interests is Internet Marketing, your entry for that must link to a new automatically generated Community Page that facebook creates for Internet marketing. You can identify a Community Page by the lovely (not) logo that facebook plops in there automatically:

facebook community page logo

I’m guessing that at some point facebook will start to automatically enter images that they have deemed relevant to the content in the logo space, but in the meantime this meaningless DNA symbol is what we’ve got.

The pages automatically aggregate content related to the topic and displays it on the page. It places an emphasis on content from Wikipedia, Google Maps, posts from facebook, and content posted off of facebook. It seems to have the potential to become a pretty rich page, if we can judge from the Community Page for Jerusalem, Israel.

From what Facebook wrote in their introductory post on the subject, it seems that the goal is to help us have the things we “Like” appear in our facebook profile. They say that:

Some of you added information about yourself, such as your likes and interests, favorite books, music and movies, when you first joined Facebook. But we’ve noticed that more than three times as many of you have connected to Facebook Pages, such as those for bands, non-profits, universities or anything else you care about, as a way to express yourself. So to make it even easier to display your affiliations, we’ve improved the profile.

So Facebook is saying we’ve been more active Liking pages, than adding our likes to our profile info. So if we “Like” the page of a certain brand or entity, why wouldn’t we want that affinity to appear in our profile information, right? Well, kind of right, but here’s why their implementation of this idea doesn’t make sense:

Pages should be enough

People used to be able to easily see the Pages that we like on our Info tab on our profile. Why wasn’t that good enough? Now the Pages we like appear under Likes and Interests in an obscure link called Show other Pages:


You have to click on that to see all the Pages that person (me) has Liked, as follows:


If facebook really wanted to help us share our interests, why not prominently present the Pages we’ve liked in our Likes and Interests section? If they would do that, there’s no need for Community Pages.

Big brand discrimination

If facebook is trying to make a stronger connection between our profiles and the things we have actively Liked, why not help us link our Interests to existing Pages, rather than force us to link to their Community Pages? For example, I’d much rather have the link in the Employment section of my profile info for illuminea go to our illuminea page, rather than the useless illuminea Community Page that facebook created (see below).

And here’s what makes this even worse: if you want to enter a well-known brand or entity as part of your profile information – like Coca Cola, or 30 Rock – Facebook is helpful enough to offer up a link to those brands’ Pages! But if you’re (hypothetically) a tiny little company in Israel, fugetaboutit. Facebook helpfully creates a Community Page for your brand and ignores your existing Page cuz you’s too tiny to really know what’s good for yous.

Reputation management nightmare

In continuation of the above, if your brand is too tiny to matter, your brand now has two homes on facebook: your Page and your Community Page. Check out this example for illuminea. Here’s a screenshot of our Page that we created:


And here’s how the Community Page looks:

illuminea community page on facebook

You have no control over the Community Page and what shows up there. I’m not just talking about avoiding negative feedback about a brand – at least complaints would be related to the brand. I’m talking about garbage showing up there.

Orli Yakuel from GO2WEB20 posted the following on facebook:

Orli Yakuel: really don't know where Facebook is going with this, but maybe you have a page you don't even know about: http://bit.ly/9x8xWB and it is absolutely unnecessary one.

The link in that update takes you to the Orli Community Page:

Orli Yakuel Facebook Community Page

What the heck is that? But it might not seem so bad. I mean, the posts are all from Orli. It’s kind of like a duplication of her facebook profile, another home for her on the web. But if you scroll down on the page you see this beauty:


And that’s not all that Orli has to face. If you do a search for her on facebook, you get this:


You’d think with a unique name like Orli Yakuel she wouldn’t have to compete for her name online. At least she appears first.

But we can’t expect to always be first: Rena Reich recently posted on the Digital Eve Israel mailing list that she knows someone whose facebook Community Page for their brand is appearing higher in search results than their own Page. Yikes.

You want privacy? On our web? Hahaha

People might have interests that they only want to share with selected people. But if your info is linked to Pages, that means you appear in the list of people who like that page:

Keep in mind that Facebook Pages you connect to are public. You can control which friends are able to see connections listed on your profile, but you may still show up on Pages you’re connected to. (Connecting to Everything You Care About, The Facebook Blog)

And you can’t not link, because if you choose not to, the interest or info won’t appear in your profile any longer:

Connecting to Pages is now the main [I think they mean “only” – MS] way to express yourself on your profile. If you didn’t connect to any of the suggestions, the sections of your profile to which those suggestions corresponded will now be empty. If you chose to not connect to Pages during the transition process, there will be the opportunity to connect to the suggested Pages later at the top of the “Info” tab on your profile, and of course, going forward, you will always be able to add new connections by Liking Pages and/or editing your profile. (Facebook Help Center)

People really seem to hate this. Here’s what one guy commented on the facebook blog:

Orwell’s 1984 is happening now!! one of the reasons i joined facebook was to connect with people I KNOW!!!! not to share private information about me to people i do not know or for facebook to remember my deleted information and make public sensitive information about me!

Let’s say that the reason facebook is doing this is that also want us to be able to network around general themes, like Internet marketing, and to do that they have offered to create Community Pages for these topics that we can all gather round. That’s a nice idea, but they shouldn’t be forcing us to link to these pages; it should be optional.

Don’t post it if you don’t want Mom to see it

Facebook has been chipping away at our privacy bit by bit over the past few years. Check out this snazzy infographic for a visualization of what information used to be private on facebook, and what is private now (almost nothing). Why is facebook doing this? Pete Cashmore from Mashable sums it up nicely in the title of a recent post:

Facebook “Likes” World Domination

Basically, Facebook is working hard to avoid the fate of other dead or dying social networks like Friendster and MySpace. They hope to do so by not only interacting with you on facebook.com, but all over the web. That’s why you can now Like pages that are off of facebook.com, for example. I think Pete sums it up well:

It’s in Facebook’s interests to lock up your social graph, and it’s in your best interests that it doesn’t [my bold]. If Twitter, Google or another player were to make your social graph portable, you wouldn’t need to store all of your information on Facebook — you could do whatever you please with it.

I’m not advocating that we all stop using facebook. But like anything in life, consumer responsibility is important here: know where you stand with facebook, and what it can and can’t do for you, and hopefully you can put good use to it. In short, use the Mom Visibility Quotient: don’t post anything on facebook (or anywhere on the web) that you wouldn’t want your mother to see, and you should be ok.