Companies, brands and their respective marketing and public relations managers are clamoring to know what people are saying about them on the web. I would offer that social media monitoring has been the single-largest technology-based industry boom in the last 10 years, though search engine optimization firms might win that title.

Facebook, Inc.
Image via Wikipedia

On a parallel path, Facebook has surged past everyone else to emerge as the go-to social network. Brands grabbed up profiles, then group pages, now brand pages. Some still have all three. (You probably ought to move to the brand page exclusively, by the way.) Naturally, then, marketing managers wanting to tap into the conversation online are ultra-interested in conversations on Facebook. Unfortunately, the aren’t seeing them.

Almost all the social media monitoring services mine Facebook for data and present results when they happen. Unfortunately, Facebook is still a bit of a walled garden and a good portion of the activity there goes unseen and unreported by the monitoring firms. While my friends with several monitoring firms report they’re seeing an increase in volume of data from Facebook, they also agree there’s a lot more there to be had someday.

Facebook’s terms of service and technical firewalls only allow monitoring firms to search public-facing pages, discussions and Facebook groups. This means a public facing brand page wall should show up in your monitoring service’s results, taking care of what you already know. (Assuming, that is, you look at your own Facebook brand page.) When you post something on an individual person’s wall, the monitoring services don’t see it. While the wall is public, users can set their privacy so that only friends see it. This essentially means an individual public wall is actually semi-private.

Unfortunately for brands this is where the majority of Facebook conversations take place.

This is why the recent Microsoft announcement that it would soon include status updates from Facebook and Twitter posts in results on Bing is so interesting. Facebook has long wanted its members to be comfortable sharing more of their information publicly. With the Beacon advertising fiasco, however, they learned the majority of the users weren’t ready for the curtains to be drawn back on their online rooms. The Bing announcement means more of our information will be made available to public searches, and thus to the monitoring firms as well.

This is good for brands. It may not be all that comfortable for individuals. But I would anticipate Facebook learned it’s lesson and will baby step toward opening the door so wide.

Until those status update gates are unlocked, don’t expect to see too many conversations about your brands on Facebook showing up in your social media monitoring service. It’s not their fault, though. It’s just Facebook looking out for its users … whether they really want to or not.


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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.repumetrix.com/blog Joseph Fiore

    Good post Jason – thanks for advancing this discussion.

    On the point about where brand discussion is most likely to happen, in our experiences, this has much to do with the way communities have evolved and matured online. While Facebook and Twitter are good examples of where you would find companies attempting to place a human face and touch point to their brand, there are established online communities that formed well before these brands appeared in newly emerging social networks.

    For example, console/mobile/social gaming has traditionally had the majority of online mentions happening on forums and message boards. You could say pretty much the same for most of the PC gaming market as well. This is generally the kind of discussion where people talk about latest cheats/hacks, custom builds, performance comparisons and some of the best organic (unsolicited) no nonsense reviews of new release games, products, etc.

    Similar to the walled garden social environments like Facebook, there are many message boards and forums that require login to access these conversations. There will always be debate surrounding the question whether “private” social media environments ought to be a concern if they don't show up in public search. And while more Facebook information ought to be an exciting development for social media monitoring, if we are talking about the full-spectrum of social media environments and depth of sourcing, brands should be made aware that social networks still make up a very small part of the “open source” social Web.

    Joseph
    @RepuTrack

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Excellent points, Joseph. Thanks for the input. It should be noted
      that forums and message boards are another potentially sticky area for
      the monitoring firms. Many don't have terms of service covering data
      monitoring so they can manually add those sites to your reporting. But
      some are walled gardens and don't want marketing of any sort sticking
      their nose in those communities. There, you'll have to monitor
      manually (which probably isn't a bad thing since it also invites you
      to participate in those communities) in order to see what people are
      saying about you. Thanks for the comment.

  • jonnybgood

    Good news that the major players are working together to open up Facebook conversations step by step. this is fine as long as they do so respecting users's privacy. However, Facebook can be a victim of it's own size and often not so great as a source for mining for consumer insight in our experience. Many of our Information Brokers find sparsely populated, short lived fan and protest groups that cannot match the highly specialized media (blogs, forums, message boards, comment strings on online media and portals etc) for a detailed and informed debate about brand/product/service pros and cons, featuring the questions, suggestions and recommendations that provide the insight nuggets. This point is very well made in the following E-Consultancy post:
    http://econsultancy.com/blog/4722-google-improv

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good points, Jon. And thanks for the link.

  • http://www.facebook.com/allenmireles Allen Mireles

    Hi Jason,

    Facebook announced recently that automatic news feed distribution to all fans will be discontinued. Page owners will need to optimize the content they publish for maximum news feed distribution. How will the affect usage of the brand page and what will brands need to do to engage page members?

    It seems that so many join a page and then never return. With the loss of status updates automatically going to all members how will brands effectively communicate with page members and keep them (or get them) engaged?

    Or will they?

    Interested in your thoughts on this.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Allen. Good questions. I'll dig into it to know more but on the
      surface, this simply challenges brands to ensure their Facebook
      activity is populated with compelling content. The fans who are fans
      will continue to engage. Those who are fair weather will not. The
      brands will have to rely more on updates which can be spammy, so
      they're going to have to tighten up their content to make it
      particularly compelling.

      Thanks again for pointing this out. I'll check into it more.

  • http://sazbean.com sazbean

    I imagine that Facebook will continue to evolve it's user interface to try to track this problem. Even with different levels of privacy and groups, it's difficult for a user to control where each message or piece of content goes. If they made this easier for people to understand, I think people would be more comfortable with some of what they say being public. There are probably even times when people would like something to go out to more audience than it currently does. Thanks for your post.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the privacy and notification
      settings need to be a bit more intuitive and easy to understand. And
      the choosing of multiple audiences point is a good one. That will only
      muddy the waters, further, though. Still, it's a valid functionality
      need. Thanks!

  • http://copywriteink.blogspot.com Rich Becker

    I've often wondered what would happen if larger players made monitoring across more social networks more comprehensive, requiring monitoring systems to change the value proposition or reduce price points.

    In terms of Facebook, I suspect participants will come around, provided they have a choice in making their content public or private. When consumers are given an incentive for making their content public, they often do it.

    Best,
    Rich

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed Rich. I do think we're going to continue to have some issues
      with folks fearful of their information being misused, but those fears
      normally wane over time if the institutions (like Facebook) prove
      their ability to protect the consumer. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/communitygirl Angela Connor

    Hey Jason: I still think there are TONS of people on Facebook who will never ever want any of their information public. The problem I've seen is most non-social media types have not wrapped their arms around the privacy settings and are public on many levels by default. We've all seen the conversations that should be private, that show up in our own feeds because the two parties have no idea they are airing their laundry publicly. I could be wrong here and this may not be a popular opinion…but I believe that if and when the masses really start to see FB for the BUSINESS that it is and discover how they can be private, they will. Now, that day may never come but I've felt strongly for some time that the masses on Facebook are unaware of what is happening in the business space.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for stopping by Angela. I completely agree with you. In fact,
      I've had to coach my own mother through the notion that when she posts
      something on my wall, everyone and their brother can see it. She came
      close to some embarrassing info once, much to her and my chagrin. It's
      easy for us in the social space to assume everyone thinks about it
      like we do, but the simple fact of the matter is that most people
      don't understand what's public and what's not. Thanks for the
      thoughts. I guess we need to ensure we're teaching folks about privacy
      settings while we're doing all this, right?

      • greggorman

        Oh, come on, Jason. You can't leave us hanging.

        What was the personally embarrassing information that was almost posted? I won't tell anyone, honest. You can just reply right here.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          She actually said stuff about my brother and sister that didn't belong
          publicly, not me. She would openly tell you all the bad stuff about
          me … and do it with a bull horn. (I didn't delete it if you can go
          back through Facebook wall posts that far … several months ago.) Heh.

  • http://www.jasonfpeck.com JasonPeck

    I agree with Angela 100% that there are many, many people wanting to keep their Facebook conversations private. It's kind of like if monitoring firms started being able to get access to people's individual emails. There would be a lot of angry people.

    I like what Rich said about incentive to making the information public–my question would be, what incentive do people (the non-social media types) really have for making their content public? Maybe over-time people will just be conditioned to have everything be public, but that will take years, won't it?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Right there with you, J. This will be a long process and one that will
      never truly be accomplished. Too many people cherish their privacy or
      don't think marketing has a place in their experience. Just how it is.

    • http://www.sonnygill.com Sonny Gill

      Agree with you here, JP. It's the conditioning aspect that I'm looking at. Change is always a hard thing, but to go from a once private network and then tell people that they should make it public for the business world to see – that's where people get flustered about the notion of having less privacy.

      Will this change in due time? Probably. But we'll have a long road to get the masses (who aren't social media heads) on board this train.

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  • http://trendsta.com Trendsta

    Companies spend a lot of time on this type of monitoring, but it's hard to accurately interpret the raw data (especially if you're not part of Gen Y and don't understand the nuances of their speech and interaction). The importance of social media is relationships. Brands can literally build relationships with their customers if they're just given the tools to get down on the ground and interact on a personal basis. That's really what companies should be focusing on with social media.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the input. Good thoughts.

    • mattbambow

      Trendsta. A good point, but I think the specialists do know how to interpret this data. Its what we get paid for. The key thing for me on SMM is that you need to have a defined strategic output. Whether thats a change in tact about how you approach consumers, a new way of writing a PR release, or a new product, the insights that SMM drive are valuable.

      On your point about Facebook Jason, I believe that it is possible to monitor conversations within your social media fan page, if you make this public and searchable via Google (therefore becoming an access point for a social tool). However, I think the area where most interesting conversations happen is actually within the forums… this is where the real consumers of your products or potential consumers will be discussing or searching for information on your product.

      Although, the stats say we get recommendations from Facebook friends, most of the “social media” recommendations happen within forum areas and its here where SMM becomes important for defining how you respond, your tone of voice and point of view.

      • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

        Thanks for the insights, Matt. Good information here. I appreciate you
        stopping by.

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