I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but I do recognize that it’s an efficient and effective place for valuable dialogue; it’s an important contemporary communications resource for an open exploration of issues, ideas, and arguments. The whole point of Facebook is engagement, sharing, discussion and, yes, protest.
In other words, it’s a social media platform.
Too often, though, it’s erroneously viewed less as a social platform and more as a marketing one. That’s the mistake that Northwestel makes with their approach to Facebook, obviously at the company’s peril.
Case in point, the Facebook group, “Northwestel abuses yukoners, and exploits its monopoly“. This page is an expression of dissatisfaction with Northwestel and its business model. When the company began its own Facebook page, it’s unlikely that it expected such a fervent protest movement to erupt one click away. Hence the growing problem that the company is now facing: the protest is flooding over onto its own page.
The whole point of Facebook, of course, is engagement. Time and again Northwestel fails to recognize this. Too often its customers have made efforts to begin a dialogue on Northwestel’s page, only to be stonewalled or invited to directly contact the company’s service reps and take the conversation offline.
People begin dialogues on Facebook, though, for the express purpose that they stay online in full public view where everyone can read them. Northwestel seems somehow surprised by this. The company doesn’t understand that open, public dialogue should have been its primary purpose in joining Facebook, and that the marketing aspect of social media happens as a result of this, not in spite of it. Pumping out mini press releases with a stiff upper lip doesn’t cut it.
It’s clear that Northwestel finds itself out of its element on Facebook and, as a result, is getting a supreme ass-whupping there. It’s sort of painful to watch, as though a circus clown wandered out into a rodeo stadium just after a cowboy fell off a bull. It’s gruesome. And it gets uglier every day. When I discuss Facebook with people I cite Northwestel’s page as a textbook example of how not to do it.
Presumably with its back against the wall (or, perhaps with a muzzle suffocating whoever is unfortunate enough to be in charge of managing Northwestel’s Facebook presence), the company has committed the lowest blow: it’s sicked Facebook on the telco’s own customers. George Lessard has posted a detailed description of Northwestel’s actions over on his blog, @Northwestel tries to quash criticism by intimidating protesters. To sum it up, the company has threatened to have the protest page shut down and its owners kicked off Facebook if they don’t remove the image I’ve included with this post.
The issue, of course, isn’t the image. Whether it’s damaging or defamatory or even distasteful is a moot point. What’s at issue now is Northwestel’s retaliatory action against one aspect of a broader situation it’s desperately failing to manage.
What Northwestel did is the rough equivalent of kicking a competing player between the legs when you don’t like how badly you’re losing the soccer match. It’s Bertuzzi’s infamous blow-from-behind. There are a million ways Northwestel could have handled the situation more proactively, even to the point of coming out on top, with just a little bit of creative thinking. Instead, not only are its actions injurious to the company’s own reputation, but they also highlight how poorly the company understands Facebook, and social media in general, as a communications medium.
If Northwestel really wants to use Facebook to its advantage, then it needs to open up a dialogue with its customers. The medium demands it. Hitting below the belt won’t help at all.
Otherwise, if the company can’t figure out Facebook, then there’s really only one piece of advice anyone can offer it: if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.