In the last few weeks, the Facebook team has rolled out a number of changes to the way the site works. The many changes to the user experience (like the new “ticker” and the increase in character limits on posts) have been widely covered and discussed elsewhere.
A much more significant change that is not getting as much attention is the complete removal of “Like” gates on commenting. To be clear: this means Facebook users can now comment on ANY Page without having first Liked the Page.
Why is this significant?
In the past, the act of clicking “Like” acted as a useful psychological gate. People with an axe to grind might be disinclined to publicly say they “like” a brand or organization just to be able to post a nasty comment on the Page. That (admittedly paper-thin) barrier has now gone.
More importantly, the act of “liking” created a relationship, of sorts, between the fan and the organization Page. This gave the Page two valuable things. It allowed the Page administrator to track all kinds of meaningful analytics about the behaviour of the Page’s fans. Secondly, by becoming a Page fan, users were willingly “subscribing” to see status updates from that brand or organization’s Page appear in the news stream on their own Facebook Pages.
As Josh Constine of the blog Inside Facebook puts it:
“By previously reserving the right to comment to those who had Liked a Page, participation in a conversation was a value exchange. Users got to share their opinions, and Pages got to reach those users through the news feed and appear on their profile.”
That value exchange is now gone.
Facebook have already made compensatory changes to their “Insights” analytics system, adding more granularity to the way Page admins can track interactions on their Pages.
This may help pacify Pages admins who view Facebook primarily as a measureable advertising and promotion channel. It seems almost as though the trade-off logic is: “you don’t get to have a relationship with everyone who comments on your Page any more, but in return we’ll give you more manageable data about how engaging your content is”.
From the perspective of anyone with a Public Relations mindset, however, the fall of the “Like gate” has some serious ramifications.
The Impact on PR
As Page walls are now entirely open to the public, we can expect the monitoring burden for Pages to increase considerably over time. To quote Josh Constine again:
“A brand experiencing a public relations crisis could see thousands or even millions of users descend on its Page to leave complaints or insults without gaining any new fans.”
The message for all of us involved in administering, monitoring and managing Page communities within Facebook is: diligence.
Issues can erupt at any time. The simple barrier that previously helped throttle the volume and velocity of comments on pages is gone. This heralds a ripe new opportunity for spammers, malcontents, and trolls. It also throws open a door for people with genuine concerns and complaints, removing that psychological barrier.
What should you do?
Now is the time to take a close look at your Facebook Page policies and processes and tighten things up BEFORE some seemingly innocuous post escalates into a full-blown crisis, played out in full view of the Facebook public.
- Review and, if needed, revise your Facebook comment moderation policy. Think of this as insurance. It’s important to publicly state some “rules of engagement” as a permanent link on your Page, reserving the right to delete comments and, if necessary, ban certain users if they post offensive, defamatory, or otherwise inappropriate comments;
- Take a close look at your monitoring and comment triage protocols. Are they robust enough to manage an increased comment flow? Is your process for review, escalation and response approval sufficiently streamlined and efficient? What are your provisions for off-hours and weekend monitoring?
- Review staff training. Do the frontline teams charged with monitoring your Facebook Pages understand their responsibilities? Are they empowered to encourage healthy, positive debate within your Facebook community? Do they know when to escalate issues, when to step out of the discussion, and where to go to find answers?
- Look to your crisis plans. What will you do if your Page gets overrun by angry commenters or spam bots? Will you switch to real-time monitoring and response, switch off commenting, or even shut down your entire Page?