The Problem with Adoring Fans on Facebook

One of my guilty pleasures in life is “The Incredibles” from Disney/Pixar. There are so many great life lessons in there for adults as much as kids that I probably watch it more than my little ones do. As a public affairs professional I am constantly reminded of scenes from the movie in my daily work.

This weekend I was struck by the problem of “adoring” fans. If you have seen the movie you may recall that the downfall of Mr. Incredible started with his “Number 1 fan”, Buddy, who was constantly getting under foot and creating havoc with his attempts to help out his hero.

The Republican National Committee learned the problem of having adoring fans on its Facebook fan page last week when it was widely reported on a number of blatantly racist and inappropriate fan postings on their page. The RNC took a ridiculous amount of time to notice the postings and remove them and opened itself up to charges of supporting the bizarre ramblings of just a few supporters.

Newsweek commented on the episode here: http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/thegaggle/archive/2009/10/26/more-rnc-internet-follies-racist-images-on-fan-photo-page.aspx

As a government communicator I have always told my colleagues getting involved in social media efforts to make sure they have a person whose job is to scrub all of their communities to ensure that inappropriate posts aren’t finding their way on to the pages when we aren’t looking. I have teenagers so I know better than anyone that the really stupid things tend to show up at 1:00 in the morning and if you aren’t checking at the crack of dawn somebody will find it before you do over their morning cup of coffee.

As I recently perused a number of official government Facebook pages I found a host of examples of misguided postings. One example, was on the page for the Navy’s Chief-of-Naval-Operations where a number of fans are posting advertisements for things from easy loans to Tai Kwan Do studios and the posts are over a week old meaning whoever is managing the CNO’s page is probably only looking at their side of the page and not the “Just Fans” wall.

The lesson learned for both public organizations and private businesses is that you have to know precisely what is being said on your pages. Even though its not coming from you, the world will see it as something you support through your silence and not policing your public face.

Facebook fan pages are very versatile and incredibly useful in building communities around your organization. But, they are also an opportunity for others to make money, embarrass you or take advantage of your poor management. You have to create a routine to carefully scrub your efforts on a daily basis or you will pay a price both publicly and within your organization. It will only take one bashing blog post or news article to set back all the “street cred” you have gained with reluctant leadership in support of your social media efforts.

A small problem with a fan that dealing with now might offend one person can grow into a huge problem later that ruins your reputation.

Don’t forget that Buddy grew up to be Syndrome, Mr. Incredible’s greatest nemesis.

That probably stretches the metaphor a little far but I just like that name…Syndrome. Its a cool evil guy name I think. Those Pixar guys are geniuses.

(This post was originally posted to my personal blog at: http://armedandcurious.blogspot.com/2009/11/pain-of-adoring-fans.html)

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Frederick P. Wellman

@Jean-Paul thanks for your insight. You are right on…it is a delicate balance between truly engaging your community and managing it from getting out of control. I hate telling folks who are delving into social media its going to be a lot more work but if you set up a schedule and cycle you can manage it effectively and protect your organization.

Lynn Doane

Thank you for posting this article. I think a lot of government agencies are getting ready to, or are in the process of jumping onto the social media bandwagon. You give some insight here of things to think about before the leap. A moderator and update cycles are a must.

Frederick P. Wellman

Lynn thanks. I also think you need to clearly list who the admin for the page is. Most fan pages don’t have contact info to let them know they even have a problem.

Salina Washington

Very interesting. Lynn, thank you for sharing this blog post with me. I think a driving force behind this issue is the misconception that your number of followers/fans/members is directly correlated with your “perceived” level of success on social networking sites. More emphasis should be placed on quality vs. quantity.

Frederick P. Wellman

Salina I think number of fans is a measure…but not the only one. We should consider how “engaged” our fans are for example by the number of comments on our posts or fan postings on the page. You have to find measures that gauge your success building a community in social media. Just measuring number of fans is like circulation on magazines. A key yardstick to start with but not a true measure of your social media efforts.

Joe B. Johnson

Managing your community starts with clearly posted business rules that you can enforce with a sense of fairness. How do government sites measure up with prominently displayed rules of engagement?

Frederick P. Wellman

Joe, good question. Most of the official military sites I have looked at have a pretty standard disclaimer that we have all developed together stating that its a family friendly page and ads do not represent commercial endorsement. But those were designed to deal with the Facebook official ads that are on the margins. The lawyers gave us a rough time about people making money off of our official sites. The thing is no one really cares what your rules are if you are a spammer. We are always within our rights to delete content from our walls and comments sections. Its not censorship…its management. On one of the sites I examined just now there are ads for payday loans posted to the flag officers wall on his fan page. That is wrong on every level imaginable but they are not being removed and since there is no administrator contact info listed on the page I can’t even write them and let them know its there.