Dallas Mavericks Cry Foul on Facebook in “Like-Gate”

Dallas Mavericks logo

Dallas Mavericks logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia.)

The Dallas Mavericks and 70, that’s right, 70 other companies owned by entrepreneuer Mark Cuban have thrown down the gauntlet to Facebook after a perceived shakedown.

As I recently wrote here, Facebook’s last update to EdgeRank cut the reach for brand pages by an average of roughly 50%. At about the same time, the company introduced Sponsored Stories, which allow you to pay to reach more of your own followers. For pages with larger fan bases, this could get very expensive very rapidly.

Noted Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban saw how much it was going to cost him and promptly announced that he was de-emphasizing Facebook’s involvement for the team, as well as for 70 other companies that he owns. In statements quoted in ReadWrite, Cuban made the following observations:

The big negative for Facebook is that we will no longer push for likes or subscribers because we can’t reach them all. Why would we invest in extending our Facebook audience size if we have to pay to reach them? That’s crazy.

In many respects it has already blown up on Facebook. Their search for revenue has severely devalued every brand’s following and completely changed the economics of consumer interaction.

Talk about a public slap in the face! To make matters worse, the whole Sponsored Stories methodology has been getting scrutiny in court. Janet Tavakoli notes on The Huffington Post:

Reuters‘ Dan Levine just reported  that U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg would ‘very shortly’ rule on the revised settlement Facebook was required to submit after he rejected its earlier proposal this year. The problem is that, among other things, Facebook’s ‘sponsored stories’ violated California law. Users’ ‘likes’ were being used without compensation to anyone but Facebook, and users had no way to opt-out. Never mind the problems Facebook has in Europe, where privacy laws are much more stringent. […]

The problem all along is that what Facebook claimed were ‘sponsored stories’ were actually hijacked by Facebook when users merely ‘liked’ a product. Users were unaware that years later this seeming innocuous action could result in Facebook using this as an endorsement in advertising without compensating them. Moreover, at the time users expressed no wish to make their preferences public as a ‘sponsored story.’

Whether it is a true case of bait and switch or just really poor timing on Facebook’s part, the whole situation is finally getting some media traction under the name of “Like-gate.” Noted voice in the Open Web movement Marc Canter makes an astute observation:

They think it’s perfectly fine to have Facebook’s paywall charge brands to sneakily insert ads, which look like stories into user’s activity streams. This is because these people don’t really believe in the free and open web.

They think that it’s ALL about exploiting and manipulating and tricking people — so that THEY can make money [off] of these tricks. That’s their interpretation of the opportunities that our free web gives them. That’s why they LOVE Facebook.

There is a lot to be said for his view. I work with SixEstate because our methods are based on achieving the best possible results by creating the best possible content. The tricks and manipulation that he refers to are the same things that annoy the man on the street and leave him with a debased view of marketing as a whole.

Thankfully, those sort of shenanigans are becoming less and less effective as social signals become more important. While there will always be those who try to game the system, the ubiquity of social media and human nature combined ensure those choosing that path will be outed. Backlash can be an unpleasant thing.

Last Wednesday, Facebook did what has been perceived as a response to the views of Cuban and others. VentureBeat fills us in:

Facebook today launched a new section that allows members to view more updates from the Pages they follow. The release could be enough to proactively stop a dustup from erupting into something bigger.

Called ‘Pages feed,’ the new feature is essentially a Pages-only filter for the News Feed. The option is accessible from the left-hand menu and is rolling out to all Facebook members globally starting today, the company confirmed to VentureBeat.

‘This new feature surfaces updates just from Pages you are connected to,’ a Facebook representative told VentureBeat. ‘It’s a ‘Pages only’ view of your News Feed, making it even easier for people to keep up with the Pages they care about most.’

Even if it is a response to the critics, it’s a faux solution. Few people bother to toggle from the main feed to the “Most Recent,” so I’d be willing to bet that the Pages’ only feed will also find itself frequently neglected. It’s a nice idea, but bound to fall prey to the same human behaviors that result in links below the fold seeing so much less traffic.

What do you think? Are you adopting Cuban’s approach and de-emphasizing Facebook? Or are you experimenting with Sponsored Stories?

About George Williams

George “Loki” Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.

  

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  1. Clearly, Cuban is making the right call here. The key lesson in marketing in recent years is you need to know who your customers are and win their permission to communicate with them.

    To have this permission then held hostage by a third-party is inexcusable. Facebook has shifted from facilitating direct communications between brands and fans, to restricting them.

    I don’t see how this policy can survive.

  2. Loki says:

    Facebook has a long time stance of asking forgiveness rather than permission. The Pages Feed is another example of this in action, attempting to ameliorate the damage brand-wise.

    I look forward to a few years down the line when Facebook ends up relegated to AOL-like status. My money, short term at least, is on Google’s new social toys.

  3. Mariah says:

    As a user and advertiser, Facebook has been nothing but disappointing in the last few months. Give it 3 years and Facebook will be follow Myspace’s tracks into no-man’s land. That said, I don’t think Google will provide the new preferred toy.

    • I think Google will rise to the top, but who knows what disruptive technology may replace it. The interesting thing is that this comes just as MySpace has rebooted itself in a new quest for relevance. It would be ironic if MySpace managed to somehow gain ascendancy again.

      Thanks for chiming in, Mariah!