A Win For Companies Running Promotions On Facebook?

Last week, Facebook announced some good news for businesses that use the social networking site to administer competitions, sweepstakes and other promotions.

Under Facebook’s previous terms and conditions for Pages, the Facebook pages created and driven by "bands, businesses, restaurants, brands and celebrities" to connect with fans and customers, businesses were only able to make promotions through an application that connected to their Page. Although promotional interaction with personal timelines, such as "share on your Timeline to enter" or "share on your friend's Timeline to get additional entries", is still prohibited, businesses can now make promotions directly through their Page. Businesses can launch a promotion on their Page and collect entries, via users: (a) posting on the Page directly or "liking" or commenting on a Page post; (b) sending a message to the Page; or (c) casting a vote by "liking" a post on a Page.

For some businesses, these changes will be welcomed. Employees tasked with competition administration may be more familiar with the business' Page than external applications and the process will no doubt be quicker, simpler and cheaper. However, legally the changes may make compliance with data protection laws slightly more complex, because launching competitions though applications compels users to "accept" competition terms and conditions and the business’s privacy terms. User acceptance via third party applications is usually given expressly through a click wrap system or is implied by drawing users’ attention to links to applicable terms. Collecting data, such as email addresses, will also be hampered through the new process.

In adding a new method for collecting competition entries, Facebook has also removed one. To promote accuracy in content, Page terms and conditions have changed so businesses are now prohibited from tagging users, or encouraging users to tag themselves, in content the users are not actually depicted in. This means businesses should not offer users a chance to win a competition by tagging themselves in a picture in which they are not featured.

The negative impact on third party application companies may see many of them struggle to keep up with the changes. It is expected that those which can adapt will continue to serve businesses in promotional activity, by offering applications to administer Page promotions and application prices will no doubt be forced to become more competitive.

Facebook Rapped Again Over Privacy

It's the latest set-back for social media behemoth, Facebook. After a rocky three months since its IPO where investors have seen shares fall by around 50%, a German advocacy group has accused the social network of violating privacy laws. The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) has demanded that Facebook obtain an explicit consent before providing the private information of its users to any third-party applications.

Before installing any applications to their Facebook accounts, such as games or other media content, users are faced with a text box indicating that when they install the app, the third party which operates the app will receive personal information such as their basic account information and email address. Whilst the user's attention is drawn to this fact, the VZBV argues that this is not sufficient, that it does not provide an explicit consent for any sharing of personal information. The VZBV wants Facebook to take steps to ensure that the user is aware that he/she is providing personal information, and more specific detail about how the third party will use the personal information it obtains in the process.

In the US, the FTC recently recently investigated complaints from users that a changes to Facebook's privacy settings had resulted in user information being made public. A settlement was reached, the terms of which require Facebook to submit to twice-yearly audits to ensure it is meeting its privacy obligations, and for it to requrie explicit consents form users when sharing personal information. Specifically, Facebook has agreed to provide its users with "clear and prominent notice" of its intention to share their personal information.

These recent developments for Facebook are even more significant since today, Thursday September 13, it launches in the US and Europe its real-time bidding ad platform, Facebook Exchange, which provides a way for advertisers to target more relevant ads to users than simply using a blanket approach. This new technology will undoubtedly once again raise concerns over privacy and the protection of users' personal information in their use of the site.

Be Careful What You Tweet

Ordinary Joes, footballers and even members of the clergy have all got themselves in hot water when making comments on Social Media sites. Twitter is on course to have 200 million users by the end of 2010. There are currently over 50 million tweets of 140 characters or less each day. However, as multinational corporations, advertisers and members of the public embrace this service, a note of caution should be sounded. Paul Chambers’ lawyers are currently preparing an appeal following his conviction for “menace”, after he tweeted “Cr*p! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your sh*t together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!”. Paul has maintained this tweet was simply a joke but to date this ‘joke’ has led to a criminal conviction, with fines and costs of approximately £3,000 (or around £22 per character). Footballer Darren Bent landed himself with a fine of £80,000 from his then employer Tottenham Hotspur FC by posting a tweet directed at the club’s chairman to “stop f**king around” regarding his transfer to another club.

However, social media faux pas are not just confined to Twitter. A Church of England Bishop was suspended recently and forced to apologise for making disparaging remarks about the impending Royal nuptials on his Facebook account. The Rt Rev Pete Broadhurst posted comments chastising the “nauseating tosh” surrounding the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s forthcoming nuptials. He also referred to the couple as “shallow celebrities”, complained the Royal Family was surrounded by “broken marriages and philanderers” and compared the marriage between Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana as a “disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll”. The Bishop has since issued an apology expressing his “sincere regrets for the distress caused” by his remarks and was suspended from his post.

These events demonstrate the risks for companies with a presence online. Companies simply must have a detailed social media policy in place and train their staff in order to prevent their employees making damaging comments about the brand. An applauded example of a Social Media policy can be found here, but beware, even this did not prevent one of the biggest online reputational scandals of recent years. 

A Mashup made in Social Media Heaven

If you can't beat them, join them. News this week that Facebook and Myspace, two of the biggest rivals in the social media arena, are to form a rather unlikely alliance. Myspace has dubbed the move its "Mashup with Facebook". The partnership will allow Myspace users to create a "personalised stream of entertainment content" by matching their likes and interests on Facebook to relevant Myspace topic pages, profiles, videos and other content in various categories such as TV and film, music and celebrities. It also allows users to engage with other fans who share the same interests, further promoting the concept of sharing, which is at the heart of social media. And this is about to be made even easier, since Myspace will reportedly soon incorporate the Facebook "Like" button onto its site. The collaboration appears to be engineered by both companies to combat the potential threat created by the launch of Apple's music-orientated social network, Ping, in September this year. Ping allows the estimated 160 million iTunes users to follow their favourite artists and friends to find out what music people are talking about, listening to and downloading. They can find out about tour dates, and share views on new material. According to Apple, the number of users on its new social media service rocketed to 1 million within 48 hours of its launch, so the threat to other social networks is apparently very real, although as Josh Halliday points out in The Guardian, this threat may ultimately be limited, since Apple's social network is restricted to users of iTunes.

The benefits for advertisers with the Myspace-Facebook alliance remain to be seen, but it goes without saying that with a potential combined audience of upwards of 600 million users worldwide, and growing, brand engagement opportunities seem endless. Lady Gaga currently has 32.6 million people "liking" her on Facebook, and 1.4 million friends on Myspace, not to mention her 7 million followers on Twitter. The major international brand Starbucks, has over one million followers on Twitter, and over 18 million "likes" on Facebook. In a week which saw the announcement of a new royal engagement, it is pertinent to note that even the Queen of England now maintains a vast presence on social media sites, running an official profile on Facebook, tweeting on her official Twitter page, and operating an official YouTube channel. It is essential these days for any and all brands to actively participate in the social media environment. But social media marketing is littered with legal and reputational pit-falls and advertisers need to tread carefully. Please see our AdGuide for further information on how to navigate this minefield and protect your brand online.