Last month, the Australian Advertising Standards Board ruled that the comments of fans published on an brand’s Facebook page are actually advertisements and must comply with industry self-regulation and consumer protection laws. This ruling created a lot of discussion among social media managers and digital marketers. It felt like the common consensus was “how can they expect this of us? There is no way we have the resources to read every single post on our Facebook page!”
I beg to differ. Whether or not it is required by regulations, I firmly believe that if a brand is going to create and maintain a social presence on Facebook, the brand SHOULD be reading every post. That level of listening is the reason for having a social presence in the first place: Facebook allows a brand to humanize itself, to express its personality, and to be a “friend” to those who want a relationship with the brand. It allows us to hear what people care about – and the folks that have decided to “like” our brand on Facebook are possibly our most important customers. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to everything they have to say?
For Facebook to be effective with consumers, the brand’s comments need to feel “at home” in the news feed of those who have decided to “like” the brand. The brand’s posts should be like a lot of the other content that shows up in an individual news feed: things that make you smile, make you wonder, help you learn something, or give you a way to bear with a long line at the DMV. The comments posted by a brand’s friends on the page matter just as much as what the brand creates.
I often liken a brand’s Facebook presence to a cocktail party, and the brand is the host of that party. As a host, you don’t want to talk too much about yourself, and you want to help your guests to enjoy themselves. If you are hosting a party, and someone obnoxious is destroying the atmosphere for everyone, you would do something about it; inappropriate comments on your Facebook page can have the same effect as that obnoxious boor. They spoil the party for everyone. It’s the host’s responsibility to handle the situation.
I’m not saying that I agree with the Advertising Standards Board’s view that consumer comments on a brand’s page are “advertising”. But I am saying that the brand has responsibility for them, even if we didn’t write them. They are on our page – a page we created to build a community. We must treat our brand’s Facebook pages as a two-way street. It is not simply a vehicle for us to deliver our brand message to a flock of sheep. It is a place to get acquainted with real people, build friendships, have some fun together. We can’t allow ourselves the excuse of saying we don’t have the time to listen to our friends, or even those who are “posing” as friends: if that’s the case, then we should simply shut down the Facebook page. Unless we treat our friends as more important that the brand, we won’t be able to generate real consumer engagement anyway. We must find the time, the resources, the social management system – whatever it takes to allow our brand to be a real friend. Otherwise, what’s the point?