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Facebook chastises firms for luring users to 'Like' them

Leslie D`Monte  |  Mumbai 

Companies luring users to click on the Facebook 'Like' button to enter a contest have come under increased scrutiny by the social networking giant that has nearly 700 million users globally and around 31 million users in India. Facebook has deleted the pages of big brands like Cadbury's Bournville, French Connection FCUK India and Pizza Hut India, and is understood to have sent warning letters to dozens of big companies for misusing the 'Like' button to promote their brands, thus violating the provisions of its 'promotional guidelines' which were revised on May 11, 2011.

"This is a wake-up call for marketing managers and their shortcut-taking social media agencies. In an attempt to quickly get lakhs of fans, brands had started literally bribing them through contest prizes where anyone who commented or pressed a "like" button was automatically entered to win something. This resulted in contest entrants being signed up a "fans" to receive updates they never wanted - and a bad user experience for all. Now the onus is back to building a community the right way - organically, through great content and engagement. At Pinstorm we have never done this for any of the brands we manage, and we have declined work where clients have asked us to bribe and get fans," asserts Mahesh Murthy, Founder, Digital Brand Management firm Pinstorm.


While Facebook wants always companies to adhere to its 'promotional guidelines', "it has started enforcing these very strictly over the last fortnight", corroborates Social Media Strategist and Joint CEO of SocialWavelength.com, Hareesh Tibrewala, adding: "The company views the misuse of the 'Like' button as a dilution of its policy. Many companies may not have read the revised guidelines". He, too, qualifies that his clients have not violated any guidelines.

Facebook's revised guidelines note that "...You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion; You must not notify winners through Facebook, such as through Facebook messages, chat, or posts on profiles or Pages; and You may not use Facebook’s name, trademarks, trade names, copyrights, or any other intellectual property in connection with a promotion or mention Facebook in the rules or materials relating to the promotion..."

Promotions, instead, must be administered within Apps on Facebook.com, either on a Canvas Page or an app on a Page Tab. Further, they should include acknowledgment that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. The apps, too, "must be approved by Facebook", notes social media catalyst and co-founder of Avignyata. You can build your app using any language or tool chain that supports web programming, such as PHP, Python, Java or C# (pronounced C sharp). A Canvas Page is a blank canvas within Facebook on which to run your app. When a user requests the Canvas Page, Facebook loads the Canvas URL within an iframe on that page. This is not a new requirement, but it was not always clear when and where that application must reside, say social media experts.

"When developing the apps, not only must companies ensure that they are approved by Facebook but they also need to take care that some skill (i.e., through judging based on specific criteria) goes into developing the app. For instance, the app should at least ask some questions before declaring a winner. A winner cannot be declared based on chance or luck. Else a company could end up violating Facebook's guidelines since it could be misconstrued as gambling," notes Tibrewala.

A Cadbury spokesperson, meanwhile, said the firm was in dialogue to get the Bourville page up and running. Most of Cadbury brands as well as the new Kraft entrants Oreo and Tang are promoted on Facebook. A Cadbury executive said the firm would be careful in the future to avoid such incidents. Pizza Hut, meanwhile, remained unavailable for comment.

The problem is that fake Facebook accounts abound on the internet and hence the 'Like' button can easily be misused to increase the number of fans on any page. Competition, quizzes and the like that determine the winner by the most 'Like'(s) on an object (photo, web page with unique URL, and others) can be manipulated using fake Facebook accounts. Facebook does prohibit creation of fake accounts, but it doesn't mean they catch all of them.

Facebook, on its part, says it has systems to track and disable fake accounts. It also monitors for unusual activity that is associated with fake accounts, like many friend requests in a short period of time and high rates of friend requests that are ignored.

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First Published: Sat, June 25 2011. 00:28 IST
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