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What Facebook's Stumble Can Teach Your Company
Every firm will eventually have a social media strategy and all executives will 
face some of the same issues Facebook navigates today about who owns what 
By John Sviokla 

Posted on The Near Futurist: February 19, 2009 10:57 AM 

When you share information on a social site: Who owns the content? Who controls 

This question at is the core of Facebook's current turmoil around its terms of 
service. Last week they tried to keep more rights on content for themselves, 
but a few days later they backed off. Why should your company care? Well, I 
believe every firm will eventually have a social media strategy-and all 
executives will face some of the same issues Facebook navigates today. 

Of course I have enormous respect for Mark Zuckerberg, its founder, who at the 
age of 21 turned down about a billion dollars for his rocket-growth company. 
How many of us would have been able to turn down that sum, at that age? 
Facebook has over 175,000,000 members-which makes it the 6th largest "country" 
on the planet, all done in five years. (For a formal theory of why Facebook 
grew so big, so fast, see Reed's Law on the mathematics of self-forming groups. 
See David Reed's site, or this business-focused article by my firm, or the 
Harvard Business Review article on the topic.) 

Yet every new social and knowledge technology creates new challenges to common 
practice and legal frameworks. The printing press birthed copyright. Today, the 
standard practice by web companies seems to be captured by Google's mantra, "Do 
No Evil." From the customer's standpoint, this means "Trust Us." A Mark 
Zuckerberg blog post seems to also say "trust us." 

But the firms don't "trust" their user base. 

The user agreements we don't read, but do acknowledge, claim many rights to 
content, rights to remove content, limits on liability, binding arbitration, 
and unilateral ability to change the user agreement at their will-just to name 
a few typical clauses. 

Given my upbringing as a rapacious capitalist, I feel that firms like Google 
and Facebook which provide tremendous value for free deserve a lot of leeway. 
After all, no one is forcing me to use them, and with the crazy state of tort 
law I am sympathetic to firms that want to don heavy legal armor when dealing 
with a broad global public with contingent fee-incentivized lawyers at their 
beck and call. At the same time, these firms are brokering in the audience's 
attention, social connections, and personal data-and the old notions of 
expecting people to read the fine print and trust the providing company may 
work today, but are unstable in the long term. I believe that it is time to 
begin a new dialog with the broad public-not just the lawyers-and begin a new 
set of discussions about what is "fair" and "right". 

Why is this a hard issue? Well, Facebook is providing a whole new type of 
medium for social interaction and thereby creating a set of relationships, 
assets, and capabilities never known before. Moreover, many of the "goods" on 
the site are co-created with pairs, groups or networks of people-so it is only 
natural that there is confusion about who owns and controls what. As Zuckerberg 
points out in another blog entry, if a user forwards an email to a friend, and 
then the user leaves that mail provider-the copy of the mail on the friend's 
computer is not deleted. In addition, because computers can store so much, so 
easily, and for such a long time-we all worry that we might give away some 
personal information that will haunt us later. 

In order to begin the navigation of these tough tradeoffs, I offer four 

Principle 1: Allow users to own their content and identity. 
Facebook does a great job at espousing this and they have this as a core 
principle. It is a core tenet by which they build up trust with their users. It 
needs to be preserved and amplified. 

Principle 2: Make all "sharing" options default to the most conservative 
One of the problems with Facebook is that many of the default options allow 
extensive sharing of photos, personal behavior, status, and other things you do 
on the site. Being relatively new to Facebook myself, I changed my marital 
status to "married"-a few months after I joined the site. I have been hitched 
to Eileen Marie for 28 years, but I forgot to put that in my profile when I 
first signed up, and when I casually changed my status, it sent a notice to all 
my friends that I had become "married." Of course, I received gentle ribbing 
from a few of my buddies saying things like, "it's about time." 

Why do I suggest that firms start conservative on defaults? Well, behavioral 
economists like Dan Ariely have shown the power of defaults is tremendous. For 
example, when organ donation on a driver's license is "opt-in" about 10% of 
people sign up. If it is "opt-out" then over 80% of people become donors. If 
something as emotionally and socially important as organ donation changes 
radically by what the default option is, imagine the impact on Facebook. Many 
of their problems could be avoided if they had more conservative default 

Principle 3: Create a better infrastructure for anonymity and tracking of 
Zuckerberg points out that no email service today allows you to track and 
delete content you sent to someone. Well, that is an entirely solvable 
technical problem. It is possible to have content that "resides" in a shared 
area which can be accessed but not copied. So, you can imagine any user having 
the ability to upload information which is "accessible" but not "copyable." It 
might take some significant technological investment, but we need such new 
implementations that allow for communal access to content which is still 
controlled. Such an implementation would allow the removal of any content that 
you want to be revocable and removable in the future. 

Principle 4: Don't sneak up on the audience.
The simplest and perhaps most obvious thing that they could have done is to 
engage their audience before they made the change. I believe much of the anger 
of their audience has to do with the fact that it was "discovered" by The 
Consumerist-not clearly announced by the company in advance. As people have 
more and more personal information, and engage their social network within 
Facebook they need to know that major changes will be discussed with the 
community at large. This makes for slower managerial decision making, but it is 
the cost of having such an important social product. 

As business leaders we might feel a certain schadenfreude watching the upstart 
Zuckerberg deal with this set of issues, but remember that all customers are 
getting more social all the time. We all must create a rapid reaction force to 
deal with the new instant-mobbing behavior which will follow any emotionally 
laden missteps, like the change in Facebook's terms of service. 

Companies should want to have social media user groups organized passionately 
around their product or service. Many of these customers will be sharing 
powerful new information about how to use your product or service, 
testimonials, even new uses and content. But if you don't get a handle on how 
to establish a deep understanding of "fairness" you may be blindsided by some 
future backlash-which will undermine their trust in your firm and your brand. 

Provided by Harvard Business-Where Leaders Get Their Edge

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