2194922652_5233488543_m (2)In 2009, noted author David Meerman Scott, who wrote the insightful book The New Rules of Marketing & PR in 2007, wrote a book titled Lose Control of Your Marketing. Although we don’t agree with the primary premise of Scott’s book (Why marketing ROI measures lead to failure) the title reflected the popular idea that with social media, companies can benefit from a more hands-off approach to marketing. Shared tweets, “liked” Facebook updates, and blog posts happen without the ability to really control them anyway. In the past, this has been framed as one of the more romantic aspects of social media marketing.

There is a dark side to losing control, however.

Yesterday as I scrolled through Buzzfeed.com on my lunch break, I was stunned to see an article summarizing a now long-standing complaint about Facebook and to a larger extent, social media in general. According to the article (which we must warn you contains some graphic photos and inappropriate language), people are posting offensive material making light of rape and other violent acts against women across numerous social media platforms including Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. An effort tied together by the hashtag #FBRape (a hashtag on Twitter helps people search by common keywords or a conversation) is pressuring Facebook particularly to respond to this offensive content.

On Facebook, it is possible to report offensive pages and/or posts and if Facebook sees fit, those posts or pages can be banned. Here is the mind-blowing problem, however, More often than not, Facebook refuses to ban this type of offensive content. What really is confusing is that by the same token, Facebook bans pictures of women who participate in the The SCAR Project, a photographic journey that presents women who have had single or double masectomy. Ostensibly one could argue that the pictures from the SCAR Project show women in the nude, but is that truly more “offensive” than rape humor? A New York Times article notes that Facebook has issued a statement indicating their methodologies for evaluating content need some work, but the statement is not strong and in some ways seems to exacerbate the problem. For example, Facebook notes, “ In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria.” At what time was such content ever appropriate?

The Business Issue

Personal feelings aside, there is a very real problem marketers are experiencing because of Facebook’s failure to ban offensive content. If you are investing in Facebook advertising, it is possible that your ad may appear right next to one of these offensive images. To see how this works, take a look at this screen capture from my own Facebook page where I initially posted the Buzzfeed article:

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 3.52.43 PM

My content is on the left and Facebook ads are showing up in the right column. Now imagine if someone posted one of these extremely offensive pictures that #FBRape is trying to get Facebook to ban. Do you want your ad or promoted company page showing up next to content like that?

If you’re not sure this kind of ad placement impacts how a brand is perceived, think again. MSNow.com reported on May 28th, 2013 that 13 companies have pulled their ads from the platform because they don’t want their brand associated with these types of messages. Other big brands like Dove that cater to a primarily female demographic are not just being pressured by the #FBRape group. The Dove Facebook fan page is filled with comments from “fans” who are disappointed in the company’s refusal to stop their Facebook advertising campaign.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 3.59.25 PM

Dove and other large brands are trying to make the case that they can’t control exactly where their ads appear, and thus they are not responsible for the content that individuals on the platform post. The company’s failure to respond to the comments shown above is also a faux pas in today’s 24/7 marketing world. These are loyal fans expressing disappointment and announcing their abandonment of the brand. You need to have a response to that if you’re a company, especially a company the size of Dove.

You’re Losing Control

This issue highlights in one fell swoop a lot of ways in which the world of marketing has evolved over the last decade. No longer can you simply place an ad in a publication and know that your job is done. When you engage in real-time marketing, you need to be ready for issues like this to arise at any moment. You need to have a flexible marketing plan so that if you need to abandon one platform, you still have other places to promote your company. You need to have a damage control plan long before damage rears its ugly head.

This is not to scare you away from social media marketing. However, this exact kind of situation is why we always preach that research and preparation must be completed before any company jumps into social media marketing. The winds of change can blow through your campaign and how you respond early on may determine your brand’s future.

Would we recommend pulling ads from the Facebook platform right now? We would, particularly if you are a company that in any way frames itself as interested in humanitarian issues. People are ready to point out inconsistencies in brands that are investing in Facebook advertising today. Is it worth the risk?