[Now Updated -- see below]
In the company’s never-ending quest to monopolize our attention online, Facebook has now unveiled an entirely new feature: “Community Pages” on popular topics. What’s the difference between a Community Page and an (existing) Fan page? Well, therein lies the potential for some fun…
You see, Community Pages look a lot like default Fan pages, but they’re created entirely differently (for now) and have a much different array of content — much of which may not be flattering to the subject. As my NMS colleague Jeff Taylor explained in a briefing this morning, Facebook is currently auto-generating community pages based on the interests that people have listed in their profiles, meaning that the more people who list a topic, the more likely Fb is to create a page for it. And, the default content on the pages comes from Facebook users’ status updates that mention the subject of the community page — i.e., on a page dedicated to Exxon Mobil, you’ll see any public post that mentions Exxon Mobil, and some of them end up being pretty nasty. Plus, since the pages are currently being auto-generated, you can end up with some weird examples (see: stealing cars).
Besides the privacy concerns (do people WANT their content showing up on random pages??), Jeff pointed out a clear and potentially major problem this new development poses for corporate brand management — these pages will effectively compete for attention with companies’ official Facebook pages, particularly because the distinction between the two may not be obvious. For instance, when someone searches the site for a topic, Community Pages now often show up in the search results identified with an abstract icon rather than a profile photo, and with a little note about Community Pages displayed when you click through. This should help folks spot the difference, but only if they’re paying attention — and know what the hell a Community Page is in the first place. Too often, people are likely to click on a Community Page thinking that they’re going to something official, but instead will land on content gathered from random profiles across the network.
In his analysis of the changes, Bill Beutler (another NMS coworker, in this case our resident Wikipedia guru) notes that Community Pages could become great targets for advocacy campaigns. For instance, you want to put pressure on, say, a particular car company? Find the appropriate auto-generated Community Page and get your activists to publish status updates that incorporate both the key terms (i.e., “Toyota”) and your political message. Then, sit back and watch the page fill up with the advocacy points you’re trying to get across to the public. Of course, if the company or brand has an official Fan Page, their updates will also show up on the Community Page, potentially giving brands under attack an incentive to publish constantly (as NMS CEO Pete Snyder suggested during Jeff’s briefing).
So far (at least), the launch of Community Pages doesn’t directly affect electoral political campaigns, since Facebook doesn’t seem to be auto-generating pages for Sarah Palin, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain or other politicians whose names might show up frequently in people’s profiles. But let’s keep an eye on future developments, and also on how folks take advantage of this in the advocacy space. The fact that Community Pages don’t include politicians (yet) doesn’t mean that the new feature doesn’t have political implications — just ask anyone in an unpopular industry who’s been burned by activist-driven online commentary in the past.
Update: Okay, this one keeps getting stranger — while I couldn’t find politicians’ Community Pages using the Facebook search function, Jeff could! Turns out that there seem to be some browser differences, and he could find them using Chrome but my copy of Firefox was blind to them. But here’s a good example of one for Sarah Palin and another on which on Jeff’s search she’s listed as an Activity…talk about fodder for jokes), and others no doubt exist for other candidates. But as Jeff points out, there’s none for Barack Obama…a conscious choice by Facebook?