Inside Facebook, any user can set up a Facebook Page, whether or not they are acting in an official capacity. As a result, fans often set up Facebook Pages for products, companies, or brands they like as a place to earnestly express their passion. Brand owners have to figure out how to respond, but usually, these cases are resolved smoothly and amicably.
However, as Facebook Pages are becoming more widely adopted, a new type of “Page squatting” is starting to arise: creating a Facebook Page with the intent of selling ad space on it. A new case (reported on Buzz Marketing Daily) in which someone has independently set up a Facebook Page called “Brooklyn, New York” seems to fall under the latter category.
While the “Brooklyn, New York” page could be seen by some users as the famous borough’s official Facebook home, if you dropped an e-mail to the Page’s administrator, your message would not land in the inbox of the New York City Chamber of Commerce or City Hall. Instead, you might receive the following, grammatically incorrect response (as Buzz Marketing did):
- Level 1. “Basic” $75.00 USD. I will add your facebook fan page to the main page in the “favorite pages” section. You can the post on the any wall in my network of local pages. Since spamming is not allowed, you will be limited to 2 posts per week. This level entitles you to 6 months of service.
- Level 2. “Featured Local Business” $150.00 USD. All of the above, plus I will promote your business with 2 blasts to more than 35,000 – 60,000 fans. This helps you acquire fans to your page which you can then market to indefinitely and usually results in immediate sales. You can create any message or promotion you want for these blasts. Each additional blast is $50.00 USD.
- Level 3. Full Service Social Marketing Plan: $500.00 USD. One full year of service. I will create or optimize your current fan page and promote it in a special custom section on the page called “Shop Locally” which provides permanent links to information about your business. This level includes 6 blasts, and is geared to increasing awareness about your business and in driving revenue directly from facebook. This also includes a consultation on how to best use social media to increase revenue and awareness. Each additional blast is $50.00 USD.
In short, the person who wrote this message created the “Brooklyn, New York” Facebook Page, grew it to 17,000 fans, and is now trying to profit by selling ad space on it to local businesses. He convinced businesses in the borough that he can effectively promote their Facebook presence by posting content to this page’s Wall tab, or by sending Update blasts to fans of the Page.
Unless he has been hired by the city, this approach could run counter to Facebook’s Terms of Service for Facebook Pages. Under the terms, the company writes, “Facebook Pages are special profiles used solely for commercial, political, or charitable purposes. You may not set up a Facebook Page on behalf of another individual or entity unless you are authorized to do so. This includes fan Facebook Pages, as well as Facebook Pages to support or criticize another individual or entity.”
While we imagine cases like this have occurred on Facebook in the past, the historical precedent for this type of incident traces back to the early days of the public Internet. Since the beginning of the web, people have cybersquatted (or domain squatted) on the URLs later sought by famous companies and celebrities. Courts have generally ruled in the favor of companies or celebrities, making the defendant prove that he or she had a legitimate use for the name.
In this case, it’s Facebook setting the rules. Although it’s possible for hundreds of Pages to exist with the same name, Facebook’s Pages team is working to consolidate all Pages named after companies or brands under the official ownership or the brand or its agency. However, whether those policies strictly apply to cases like Pages named after cities is more ambiguous.
Ultimately, we think Facebook should manage this issue as the courts have on the public Internet. The fact that someone wants to make a living running a community’s Facebook Page is a good idea. Many governments, schools and companies lack the expertise internally to do effective Facebook marketing on their own. But if they choose to outsource the task, an official contract should be drawn up like it would for any vendor providing a service to a government or company. The person running the “Brooklyn, New York” Page has clearly capitalized by moving quickly.
Companies are more vigilant in preventing someone from taking their name on the Facebook Platform than governments or cities. A Coca-Cola or a McDonald’s, for instance, has dedicated marketing professionals who spend a good portion of their day monitoring their companies’ presence on social media outlets like Facebook. But like most municipal governments, New York City has other issues to contend with first, like providing public transportation, safety and other basic services to its residents.
If this Facebook Profile brought leads to Brooklyn-based businesses, it speaks well for this type of arrangement. But whether Facebook intends to create a traffic arbitrage marketplace within Facebook Pages is unclear – we wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t and prohibit this type of behavior altogether. However, Facebook needs to make sure such Pages do not mislead the businesses who pay to have their presence listed there, or the end-users who think they are visiting an official Facebook Page that represents their community.
As it happens in the future, Facebook will likely deal with this problem reactively. If they get a critical mass of users — or prominent officials — who complain, then they will terminate or suspend the Page. Although you could argue that Facebook should be proactive about monitoring such behavior to ensure authenticity across the site, that’s unrealistic. People add apps and Pages to Facebook everyday. The growth of the ecosystem would be seriously hindered if Facebook took the time to check each and every one.