Keep Your Comments to Yourself? Not on Facebook!

9.7.2011 »
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Until recently, companies and brands had the option of preventing fans from posting comments on their Facebook pages. In early August, Facebook removed this capability, stating Facebook is designed as a social platform and that preventing comments and wall postings goes against the spirit and intent of the platform. While I don’t necessarily disagree with their logic, it does present a challenge for companies that are still wrestling with how to best engage with their fans.

If you weren’t comfortable with comments to begin with, the initial response may be to delete comments—but this is a recipe for social media disaster. It garners very negative publicity and often spreads to the broader media—a sort of “anti” case study showing what not to do. Companies caught deleting Facebook comments (often called “whitewashing”) are regarded as out of touch with their fans and as misusing or even abusing social media by trying to manipulate the conversation. The strong negative reaction to this practice actually has the complete opposite of the desired effect, damaging the offending organization’s reputation, as shown in these examples:

PR firm Burton-Marsteller caught in the middle of “Googlegate” became the focus of the story itself when it began deleting negative comments from its Facebook page.

When Netflix deleted negative comments about their unpopular price hike, users reposted their complaints and began adding to their comments that apparently Netflix didn’t care about or want to hear from its customers at all, since it also lacked an e-mail address or mailing address to which to send complaints.

On the other hand, companies that keep negative comments up actually enjoy an enhanced reputation. When criticism is legitimate and the company responds respectfully, it increases credibility and positive reputation. These companies are perceived as being open to discussion and as engaging with their fans; they “get” social media and understand they’re part of a conversation, and this creates trust—a holy grail of marketing.

If you’re still uncomfortable with comments, you can consider a closed Facebook Group instead of a fan page. This is a viable option for some, but it’s important to consider your objectives and the focus of your Facebook presence, and we don’t recommend it for the vast majority of businesses. Groups are best suited for a cause or affinity, where there’s an ongoing need for information and communication. If your objective is awareness rather than ongoing engagement, a group is probably not the right tactic.

If you choose to have a closed group (one where users must ask to be added), you’re making it harder to connect: the more hurdles you put in front of a user, the less likely they are to complete an action. Even once a member is approved for a group, you don’t have any better control over what they chose to post than you do on a fan page—they’re still going to say what they like, and it will still be visible. It’s not providing greater control over comments—just reducing reach by making it more difficult to find and connect.

There are a few other challenges with groups—they don’t support apps, and for many companies an app is a key part of their Facebook engagement. Groups also lack the tracking and engagement statistics available for fan pages, and they’re less visible to search engines.

Facebook is just one element of a social mediasphere that changes every day—not just the technology, which advances at a blinding rate—but the rules, etiquette, and ways communities engage and interact. Knowing what approach fits your needs and what not to do is half the battle. Do you have a strategy for how you manage your Facebook page and other social media platforms?

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