My Facebook friend, the marketer

Facebook announced yesterday that all your friends are now your product recommendation specialists. Companies are going to set up shop inside the wonderous social network, and you (the users) are going to pitch their products for them. As the WSJ put it:

“As part of Facebook Ads, advertisers will be able to create profile pages for their brands, just as individuals create personal pages filled with their favorite photos, music, videos and hobbies. Consumers can then communicate and interact with companies and brands the ways they do with friends on Facebook.”

Life imitates art. Brands are now your friends. If you say so, dear.

The very nature of Facebook’s success until now has revolved around the ability to control your “inner circle” online. Sure, some folks are just attention whores who will let anyone befriend them in hopes of proving how popular they are (think public relations troops and jokers running for public office, while reminding yourself their popularity is what breeds their paychecks). But the majority hang around Facebook to gossip, get laid, and write on each others’ “Walls.”

Is Coca-Cola going to let Facebook users smear their brand page with poop? Find users a date, or just someone to go drinking with? I don’t think so – therefore users are NOT going to be interacting/communicating with the brands the way they do with their friends. Maybe the company will find you a job…but only if you’re already a word-of-mouth marketing expert.

Money, just not for you

Then there are the micro-economics of the matter, to which Henry Blodget cut to the chase with logical questions:

Will there be no money involved? In which case, people are just going to recommend businesses and brands because they feel like it? Will it be crystal clear what will happen when you sign up as a “fan” of a business? If not, why would you voluntarily risk bombarding your connections with “trusted referral” product pitches if your friends weren’t asking for the information and there was nothing in it for you?

Precisely. Users aren’t going to get paid for endorsing the products. And if they were, their friends would either get sick and tired of it and subsequently “de-friend,” or they would stick their hand out for a cut of the action. The process would become either instant alienation, or a multi-level marketing scheme. Instead, it’ll be boredom, followed by aggravation.

This could turn out bad for brands – maybe worse for their “friends”

The internet is already tough on the unprepared. Serve up a bad product or bad experience and there is a forum or blog someplace ready to pounce. It happens to a lot of companies, sooner or later, but up until now they’ve been relatively safe. Why? Obscurity. Unless the negative critique sits someplace with big search engine juice or gets picked up by a major blog, few hear about it. Not anymore. If you befriend Verizon, decide to buy their products/services, then subsequently rip them to shreds after getting the run around at one of their stores, your Facebook friends hear about it immediately and directly.

This instanteousness will be great for companies and brands that receive uniform thumbs ups from very popular people. Unfortunately, those companies and brands don’t exist, and not everyone on Facebook is Robert Scoble either.

Josh Catone doesn’t think the privacy concerns are a big deal, but his argument is centered on platform usability and stems from previous experience with the introduction of the mini-feeds. Personally, I think all this opt-in, open book interaction with companies could get downright ugly. If you are an everyday Jane or Joe and befriend a brand, get scorched via your wallet and react with the raw deal, you will likely be asked to remove that negative commentary or wait for the lawsuit. And guess what – the company you thought was your friend will know just where to find you. If you say a company wouldn’t do that, you were either born yesterday or you are clinically insane. I’ll even venture to guess that at the first court case, some attorney will try to use the very act of “accepting friendship” as implied approval of the brand – their argument will be you broke that contract.

What is the user community really getting?

Nicholas Carr is “the optimist” – users get “an animated Sprite Sips character to interact with.” That’s fantastic – where do I sign up? Mark Kingdon, CEO of Organic, does one better (without even realizing it):

“It’s a brilliant Trojan Horse.”

I received B’s in history, but I was able to recall this…

When a Trojan Horse arrives, it always has bad intentions.

UPDATE: Already there are legal questions regarding advertising and the use of third parties.