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Unfair Facebook strategy

Someone just promoted a conference in Facebook.  The promoters are good guys and it looks like a great event.

But not linking to it or promoting it.

Why? Because I think they’ve used an abusive promotional strategy:  They tagged the event page in Facebook with the names of a few dozen prominent social-media bloggers:

Ann Handley, Chris Abraham, Andrew Bourland, Brian Solis, Buzz Bruggeman, Rohit Bhargava, Steve Broback, Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Heuer, John Cass, Mack Collier, Stephen Fells, Guy Kawasaki, Josh Hallett, Neville Hobson, Shel Israel, John Battelle, John Jantsch, Richard Nacht, Kevin OKeefe, Steve Rubel, Zane Safrit, Teresa Valdez Klein, Debbie Weil, Yvonne DiVita, Shawn Zehnder Lea.

The catch is that none of us are speaking at the event.  I don’t think we even knew it was happening.  But anyone following us on Facebook or Google just got an alert about the conference and sees our picture.

This is an abuse of trust (and trademarks). We never endorsed this event, but it sure looks like we did.  It’s more that a little deceptive to all future visitors.

Even worse, a key theme of the event is transparency and honesty.

Lesson:  Social media is fast to do, and mistakes are easy to make. Slow down and take a second look before you post.  Do a double-check for ethics and honesty.

P.S. I put the bloggers’ names in this post so they could find the page and remove their names. Was that ok?

Update: I’ve added a screenshot of the page.  

Update #2: To clarify, the Facebook page was actually posted by a fan of the event, not the organizers. It  raises one of toughest word of mouth ethics questions: How much responsibility do marketers have for the actions of their fans?  Check out the the controversy with Subway suing Quiznos for their fan’s videos.

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  1. Teresa Valdez Klein February 1, 2008 at 12:40 pm #

    Andy: Just to be clear, you insinuate but don’t explicitly say that you were tagged in the note in question. Were you?
    I can’t speak for any of the other bloggers whose names were used to endorse the event, but I for one have had prior contact with the promoters of the event.
    Still, I have to agree with you that it wasn’t cool for them to tag people with whom they hadn’t had any contact about the event. Tagging someone in something they’re not aware of is a great way to poke them without using the poke function. For example, I upload LOLcat photos and tag my friends in them on a semi-regular basis.
    But if there’s a commercial intention behind that tag, and the other person doesn’t see it coming, then you’ve got a problem.
    And yes, Andy, it’s fine that you mentioned my name. :-)

  2. Andy Sernovitz February 1, 2008 at 2:01 pm #

    I was tagged, I removed it. Thanks for clarifying.

  3. Dave Taylor February 1, 2008 at 2:11 pm #

    Hmmm…. I’m co-host of the event (the Aloha Social Media Summit, to not be too coy about it) and I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s interesting about this is that isn’t “buzz marketing” all about the message taking on a life of its own, Andy, so isn’t this an inevitable consequence of the very word of mouth marketing that you promote?

  4. Andy Beal February 1, 2008 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi Andy, this is news to me. In fact, did you attempt to contact either Dave or I before you started questioning our ethics publicly on your blog? I ask, because I don’t recall seeing your email.
    I have no idea what you are talking about, and it appears my co-host Dave Taylor doesn’t either. I checked Facebook and could only find a note written and tagged by Paul Chaney. Are you referencing this third-party post?

  5. Andy Sernovitz February 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm #

    Hi Andy and Dave –
    I was referring to that note. I just posted a screenshot of the page in the update above. It looks like all those tagged people are sponsors of the event.
    P.S. I didn’t contact anyone, because I didn’t say your name and I didn’t name the event. I just used it anonymously as a generic example. I actually said “The promoters are good guys and it looks like a great event.”

  6. Andy Beal February 1, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    Andy, I think you’re missing the point. That post was not created by Dave or myself–the event organizers.
    Your post suggests that Dave and I (as organizers) were the ones who pinged the names.
    I appreciate the “good guys” statement, but you might want to reconsider what you implied in the rest of the article.

  7. Andy Sernovitz February 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm #

    Andy –
    I never mentioned the organizers at all, or the name of the event. So I wasn’t making any comment about you at all. I intentionally kept you out of it!
    Nobody would have known that it was your event until you and Dave commented and took credit.

  8. Roxanne Darling February 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm #

    Hi Andy – Nice to connect with you!
    Dave and Andy have asked me to speak at the event. It’s local to me and I am very interested in the topic so that is an easy yes. I look forward to meeting some new people.
    Speculation Department: I use the Notes feature in FB to pull in the RSS from my Beach Walks with Rox blog. Looks like Paul does the same thing to pull in his blog feed as the FB note is the same as on his blog. Since Dave and Andy are profit-sharing the proceeds of Aloha Summit, Paul can offer a discount to readers of his blog. Hence, he is helping promote the event.
    Paul then “tagged” people so they would IMO be notified about his post, whereas I think people use “tagging” in FB to highlight content featuring that person. Paul could have used the “Share” feature to accomplish the same thing without setting off this little brouhaha.

  9. Andy Sernovitz February 1, 2008 at 3:33 pm #

    To clarify, the Facebook page was actually posted by a fan of the event, not the organizers.
    Dave, you’re right. It raises one of toughest word of mouth ethics questions: How much responsibility do marketers have for the actions of their fans?
    Check out the the controversy with Subway suing Quiznos for their fan’s videos.

  10. Yvonne DiVita February 1, 2008 at 3:39 pm #

    I feel a bit out of the loop… Paul tagged me, yesterday, I think…but I’m a bit worn out getting tagged, winked at, poked and whatnot at Facebook. I hardly ever go to it, anymore.
    I’m sure Paul meant no harm. And, I think, Andy, you, too, meant to merely raise the issue, not cause any recriminations.
    Communication is so touchy… and online is especially so. Sometimes we all get wound up in words that don’t at all mean what WE think they mean. It helps to remember that all communication is interpretive – it’s not what YOU say, it’s what the listener (or reader, in this case) hears. (this is for everyone who is writing here, including me)
    From the screenshot, Andy, it doesn’t really look like I’m speaking or sponsoring. It looks like I’m in a “group” Paul Chaney wrote to (tagged, if you will). I can see how someone might misinterpret (I’ve been known to do so)… but, that’s not how I see this. In fact, I wish I could go.
    Thanks for letting me chime in.

  11. Zane Safrit February 1, 2008 at 3:57 pm #

    Andy it’s fine you listed my name.
    I know the fellow behind the posting, whatever on this event. You can’t find a better person, really. I can’t anyway. I think at worst it’s an oversight of how a feature on Facebook is used and what it does for someone’s friend list or whatever.
    I don’t know if I was tagged or not. I’m like Yvonne. FB has gotten so…busy, I rarely visit it. Having said that I’m not offended if I was or wasn’t.
    At first glance it certainly looks like something not so great. But then when I realized who’s behind I realized it’s not malicious. You’re right you should check before and after you publish and then check again, 2-3 times. But with FB, who knows where it all shows up?
    I think it’s a miscommunication. Like that prison warden in Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

  12. Andy Beal February 1, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    I think this proves that using blogs and Facebook to spread a message is still in its infancy. It’s too easy for meaning and intention to be lost in translation, and one man’s tagging, is another mans abuse.
    Andy, perhaps you could fly out to Hawaii and help present this as a case study to our class? Dave and I would be delighted if you could join us! :-)

  13. Andy Sernovitz February 1, 2008 at 6:58 pm #

    Oooooh … I’m here in Chicago shoveling 10 inches of snow and you ask if I want to come to Hawaii?
    Unfortunately I’m already booked those days.
    But all around, a great conversation … which is what this is all about. We’ll figure this stuff out together!
    Thanks everyone!

  14. Ann Handley February 1, 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    Wait a sec… I’m not speaking in Hawaii? Damn. Dave and Andy Beal: Say it ain’t so…
    ; )
    Seriously, I know and like Paul and saw his promotion for what it was. That said, I can see how it might be misinterpreted by others.
    The key here is Andy’s observation that social media is far more nuanced than it might initially seem. Sometimes Facebook becomes “in your Facebook” far too easily…

  15. Chris Abraham February 1, 2008 at 8:44 pm #

    Well, it is totally awsome that I am included amongst all of the luminaries of the Internet and the Blogosphere; however, that is very “blog half full of me.” You’re right — it is a misuse.

  16. Steve Broback February 2, 2008 at 12:15 am #

    A non-trivial faux pas by a very good guy. I’m just scared it’s a harbinger of the future. See this 1978 reference:
    Yeah, I wasn’t invited to speak either…

  17. Paul Chaney February 4, 2008 at 8:37 am #

    I’m guilty. I confess. It was a total misuse of the tagging function and, yes, Roxanne is right, I could have used the Share function to accomplish the same thing.
    However, no ill-intent was intended, especially as it applies to the meeting organizers, Dave and Andy. I sincerely apologize to them for this faux pas. It was done out of ignorance of Facebook etiquette, though I realize that’s no excuse.
    Essentially, I’m guilty of the very same behavior that I preach so ardently against, using conversational media as a means to an end, rather than as the end in itself. By tagging them, I took advantage of a group people for whom I have immense respect. Even worse, I brought the conference organizers integrity into question, as it may have been interpreted they were the ones doing the promotion.
    Responsibility for this mishap falls totally on my shoulders and I’ve learned an extremely valuable lesson as a result. If there is a silver lining to my misstep, perhaps it’s that it will prevent someone else from making the same mistake.
    Lastly, if I may speak in my defense, I’ve always been an evangelist for authenticity and transparency in the use of new media. Anyone who knows me (Zane, for example) knows the truth of that statement.

  18. Richard Nacht February 4, 2008 at 10:56 pm #

    I worked with Paul for two years so I would know without a second thought that there would have been no ill intent regarding Paul’s note. Having said that, when I first saw the note and now reviewing it again via the link above, it was and still is not suggestive to me in any way that the listed parties are involved with the conference.
    After all, aren’t we all getting more than used to the fact that everywhere we go on the web we see our friends and our friends friends and people who we might someday be friends with our great-great grandchildren (kidding). Pictures under a label that says “In this note” requires quite a leap to interpret that as “These people are speaking at the conference discussed in the post to the left.” I would think it would require a caption like, “These people are speaking at the conference discussed in the post to the left,” or at the very least, “Speaking at the Event,” for someone to conclude that.
    As expert communicators we should be able to understand more than most what content in a sidebar means. Paul, if I were you I’d sleep quite restfully. For goodness sake, you were posting so that people could save money. It is unfortunate that this backlash may have a negative impact on Dave and Andy. Next time, have the summit in FL or CA and I’ll be sure to bring myself and a few others – I’ve flow to Hawaii before and my restless legs cause too much turbulence on such a long flight.

  19. mack collier February 10, 2008 at 2:41 pm #

    I also removed my name, but really don’t think it was a huge deal. It was questionable as to whether or not Paul was directly involved in the event, and thus had incentive to promote it, or if he was simply wanting to tell us about a cool conference coming up.
    I think this goes back to the earlier comment about such social ‘advertising’ still being in its infancy. I say no harm, no foul. But good discussion, nonetheless.

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