Posted April 30, 2010 10:12 am by with 2 comments

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We have talked here about how criminals have used Facebook and other social networking venues to get themselves caught by the proper authorities. That kind of “stupid human trick” doesn’t really affect marketers much. What can affect certain groups of marketers are calls to action like the one taken by a NJ middle school principal as he asks parents to consider shutting down social media completely for the students of the school.

CBS-TV in New York reports

A controversial proposal has students horrified at a Bergen County middle school on Wednesday. The principal is asking parents to join a voluntary ban on social networking.

Eighth grader Ali Feinberg told CBS 2 she uses her iPhone to check her Facebook account “a lot” and some of her friends said the same. Now all have to talk to their parents about getting off the popular social network. It won’t be easy.

“I am very addicted to Facebook,” Feinberg’s classmate Elizabeth Dolan told CBS 2.

The CBS-TV News article has the full text of the e-mail sent to parents so it is worth a look.

Now, take this kind of a “profile” seen above of a middle-schooler, whose ages range from 11-14 years old, coupled with the privacy concerns that are always in place around Facebook then there is something to consider. Much of the principal’s point was about cyber-bullying. No matter how someone uses a social network though, they are still there and can be targets for marketing messages just like everyone else. (Note: It is Facebook “policy” that no one under 13 has a Facebook account but that’s bogus because there is no way to check ages other than that reported by the user)

While I have a middle-schooler myself, I am interested in this subject in two ways. First, as a parent I always wonder what my kids are exposed to online. I can’t police everything and can’t be with them 24/7. Considering what I tried to get away with long before these options even existed, I know that kids will push boundaries. In this day and age, however, that can carry some scary consequences.

Secondly, as a marketing industry analyst, I have to consider what this kind of action can have on how marketers use social networks for targeting specific groups. If there is one group that is going to be considered for social networking “bans” there will be others as well and they may not just be around kids. Heck, for years groups have tried to get advertisers to not advertise with certain entities based on a wide range of social and ethical arguments. Social networking offers endless more ways for that kind of “advocacy” to come to light. As a result, marketers need to be very careful where they tread in this space.

The recent concerns around “privacy bullying” that have been levied against Facebook will continue to play a role in how this kind of activity to ban the use of Facebook plays out in the future as well. Facebook needs this data to be effective for advertisers so Facebook can make money. As Facebook gains more power can or should it be contained and what will the implications be for users and marketers alike whether it is regulated or not?

A take on this can be found from Robert Scoble as he ponders whether there is any reason or any merit to try to regulate Facebook in light of these latest privacy concerns.

So, what can be done about Facebook? I don’t see what we can do about Facebook.

While this subject is complicated and often convoluted it is starting to become an essential point of understanding for marketers. Don’t be surprised if your prized market that is so cleanly defined in a way that only a social networking site like Facebook can provide, gets “targeted” by advocacy groups of all kinds. The result may be that the market you have pinned your hopes on is cruising along one day and then shredded the next. This is hard for marketers to put into their plans but just as things change quickly for the good in the social media world they can also turn on a dime for the worst. Caveat marketerus – Let the marketer beware.

What’s your take on just how delicate social networks may be as you go after your target markets? Is the social networking fabric already so strong that these kinds of actions by advocate’s for groups won’t disrupt the social media universe? In other words, when you look at marketing in these venues is it for the long term or just as long as it exists?

  • This is expected! We still have administrators with prehistoric mind sets running our schools. Children today are digital learners hands down. Instead of cowering from the power technology we need to embrace and utilize it to better teach and prepare these 21st century learners. The kids are gonna use it anyway it goes!
    .-= Mardi´s last blog .. =-.

  • M. Edward M

    You will never get them off Facebook. But you can have a zero tolerance policy for phones etc… during school hours. Yes, I know it makes it even harder on the teachers but that is about the only way to control it during the school day.