Dear Facebook: Knock it off

In the pre-YouTube era that future generations will regard (incorrectly) with pity, I got hooked on watching Laurel and Hardy movies on my local UHF station.

In one my favorites, “Utopia” (also released as “Atoll K”), Stan and Ollie and a few others end up shipwrecked on an atoll that magically pokes up out of the ocean. The group forms a new country – Robinson Crusoeland – with no laws, no taxes and no government. When word of the new nation gets out, crooks, bums and other lowlifes descend on the place, take over and sentence our heroes to the gallows. (p.s. They survive, even though it ended up being their last film.)

For some reason, the plot reminds me of Facebook.

No, thousands of people haven’t taken over the company to push their own selfish ends. They don’t have to. The company seems to be doing it for them – at the expense of the “utopia” where one could keep up with friends, both current and long-lost, and not be bothered.

These days, it seems every other week brings us a minor redesign or a change in the privacy settings, which were hard enough to figure out in the first place. These minor tweaks, which seem cryptic or annoying to most of us – such as changing “Become a fan” to “Like”  and the whole Facebook Connect idea – are geared to making it easier for businesses to use the site as a marketing tool. (Before the “Fan/Like” tweak, Facebook alerted advertisers that “Like” links offer “a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in … in fact, people click ‘Like’ almost two times more than they click ‘Become a Fan’ everyday,” according to an e-mail obtained by MediaMemo.)

Now, I’m a huge believer in social media marketing, with its emphasis on creating value, providing solutions and building community. In fact, this is about the only sort of marketing that actually appeals to me as a consumer.

 Yet … Something about Facebook’s recent steps rubs me the wrong way. I want a business to earn its way into my consciousness, not sneak in – and I think many social media marketers might agree .

Trust and respect are a big deal, and Facebook isn’t doing anyone any favors by trying to game the system.

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