Reuben Binns

Researching Personal Data

Help! My friend has turned into a social media marketing page.

I had a friend who became a marketing channel. Or rather, I had a friend whose personal online profile has now been turned into a social media marketing page for a new business venture. According to Facebook’s ‘See Friendship’ feature, I have been ‘friends’ with this person / entity since November 2008. I can’t be sure who he/she/it used to be before undergoing this incorporeal incorporation. Surgical editing of their profile timeline has removed most of its congenital human appendages, leaving an almost convincing post-op commercial presence.

Why did this happen? Twitter-savvy careers advisors and professional networking experts have long been encouraging recession-era graduates to leverage their personal networks for professional gain. In a time where social media interns get paid (or more often, don’t get paid) to generate ever more Likes and Followers, ‘cashing in’ one’s pre-existing social network may seem like a logical shortcut to building an ‘audience’ for your brand.

If I were feeling mean, I could report this friend of mine for violation of Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy, which insists that maintaining a profile for anything other than an individual person is a violation of their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. One might think one reason for such a rule is to prevent precisely this kind of practice. The possibility that your friends might at any time turn themselves into a brand, and you, by extension, into a potential customer, seems more like a bug than a feature.

But I suspect Facebook’s real names policy has more to do with their crusade against anonymity than moral repugnance regarding the commodification of friendship. In fact, they provide an official ‘Migration Tool‘ by which you can turn your personal profile into a bona-fide business page, converting your friends into Likes. (Quite why my former friend stopped short of this final stage, forgoing legal recognition of their transformation, I do not know.) Much like U.S. jurisprudence has granted corporations the status of people, so Facebook’s policy appears to grant people official status as marketing channels.

As it stands, I’m unsure how to react to the changes my friend has undergone. I feel queasy about marketing pages on Facebook even when they are ‘born’ that way; being encouraged to make public displays of affection towards brands and products, even when I feel some affinity towards them, irks me. Should I ‘un-friend’ this virtual presence? I have no interest in the product it is trying to sell. But I can’t help thinking that somewhere beneath the promotional photographs, product offers and job opportunities, there is a ghost in the machine; the remains of a ‘real’ personal profile, with hilarious status updates, holiday pictures, and friendships which might, one day, be brought back to life.

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2 responses to “Help! My friend has turned into a social media marketing page.

  1. Chris Phethean January 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Great article Reuben! Sums up that ‘Likes’ really are a stupid way of measuring anything if you can just convert friends of a user into likes of a page by migrating to a business page – you immediately got an influx of apparent Likes but most of these people will have never heard of your brand. It is crazy that this is still pushed as something that is so important to organisations, when Likes are shown again and again to be meaningless because of things like this.

    If this is happening a lot, then it really does seem like a very questionable method of organisations creating their Facebook presence as it essentially forces someone’s friends into liking something (until they no doubt realise they don’t like it and unlike it anyway).

    On the other hand, does this show that a Facebook profile can remain active, but be stripped of all the historical posts and content that years down the line you realise you don’t want your boss to see or similar? Users are constantly warned through the media about this, but surely this shows that it is possible to hide all trace of this stuff? I guess the effort that is required to do so is probably more than the average user would ever put in to doing so, though, so maybe not…

    • reubenbinns January 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks for your comments Chris. I agree, it’s not just weird for the (former) friends, but also from the perspective of an organisation creating an online presence it’s totally flawed. I hadn’t really considered it as an example of being ‘forgotten’. Perhaps if I’d tried harder, I could have uncovered some more personal details and worked out who it was. But whoever it was did a pretty good job of hiding their former life using Facebook’s fairly cumbersome timeline privacy tools.

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