Facebook privacy controversy does nothing to damage its reputation

May 25, 2010
Facebook sentiment chart

GoogleFacebook privacy” today and you would think that recent allegations about Facebook’s privacy breaches could potentially threaten its very existence. “Could privacy be Facebook’s Waterloo,” asks BusinessWeek. “Has Facebook Gone Rogue?” is the title of a NPR segment on All Things Considered.

It harkens me back to 1996 when I sat in on a focus group for PhotoNet, a former client and pioneer of online photography. The group members claimed they would never post their personal photos online because of privacy issues.

Skip ahead nearly 15 years, and it’s a requirement for every overly engaged parent to post photos of their six-year-old’s weekend soccer game on Facebook.

Against that backdrop, Mike Lizun, here at Gregory FCA, was interested to learn how the current privacy controversy might be threatening the image and reputation of the world’s largest social network, with some 400 million users.

He asked Brian McDermott, our director of media research, to fire up Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics to identify Facebook’s online sentiment by analyzing over 100 million blogs, forums, message boards, tweets, and traditional media.

After following the media, we expected to see big damage to Facebook’s image as it deals with criticisms from everyone from Sen. Chuck Shumer to a group called Quit Facebook Day, which claims to have 15,000 members ready to quit Facebook on May 31, 2010.

Well, guess what? Just like the online focus group that wrongly predicted the failure of online photo sharing, the current media and political backlash against Facebook has had no impact at all on the brand or consumer sentiment toward it. In fact, Facebook continues to enjoy a positive 4.6 sentiment rating, with five being the highest and negative five being the lowest.

LIKE: Facebook’s sentiment stays positive (click to enlarge)

What accounts for the disparity between the media reports and the consumer reality? First, as the focus group showed, consumers always seem to be more concerned about privacy in the abstract than they are in reality.

How else can you reconcile our willingness to share personal details online, but then object if an entity gathers and uses this information for marketing? Or how about the credit card anomaly?

We gladly hand over a credit card to a tattooed waiter who looks they haven’t slept in three days. But entering those numbers into a secure online retailer’s website? Well, that makes us squeamish.

We all seem to guard our privacy heroically at times only to misuse it by telling anyone and everyone all we can about ourselves. And that’s the very nature of Facebook. For many, it provides a place to tell our stories and share the very intimacy many of us seem to be missing in real-world relationships.

That’s a powerful attractant that seems to easily overcome any concern we might have about our personal information ever being used against us. After all, you would think that so much negative reporting and buzz would impact the brand called Facebook. But for now, I have to run and update my status.

UPDATE: Media continues to follow this story, and I left additional thoughts on CNET’s coverage and The Wall Street Journal’s coverage.

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