August 13, 2010

It’s, Like, So Confusing

Following up on last week’s post about how Facebook is changing the meaning of “like” online, I’ve been noticing more disconcerting behavior on Target’s Facebook page.

Until yesterday, Target hadn’t posted anything to its wall since July 26th. It wasn’t clear if they were building a strategy internally, but the new post makes it obvious that they’ve decided to ride out the storm by ignoring it and letting their customers duke it out on their wall. The new post links to specials for college students and makes absolutely no reference to the controversy. As of this morning, there are 303 comments on that post and 367 people “like” it.

Target clearly isn’t going to mention the issues, respond, or engage in a conversation on Facebook. Interesting strategy, and we’ll see how it plays out. But as I’m watching this case study develop, some themes are emerging and raising some problematic flags.

As one might expect after what seems like an eternity online, the commenters are no longer mostly people upset with Target’s actions. And predictably, as seems to happen with so many discussions about politics and homosexuality, the discussion is devolving pretty quickly. Some users are flagging each other for bad behavior, just because they disagree with the person’s opinions. Some are insulting other commenters, and the whole wall is becoming a referendum on a political issue. I haven’t read every comment, but I’m confident Godwin’s Law is proven there somewhere.

None of this is new behavior to be sure, but has this happened before on such a mainstream company’s page, especially while the company itself is ignoring it? The fact that it’s Target makes for some interesting issues.

For example, if you read a sample of the comments closely, you’ll find a potentially worrisome information literacy problem. If you go back to the beginning of the comments thread on the August 12 post, there are some users whose entire comment consists of, “If you don’t like Target, why do you ‘like’ this page?” or “If you don’t like Target, why did you become a fan of them?”

It’s unclear to me whether these folks realize that users have to like the page in order to comment or if they’re just being snarky about it. Even though these folks had to “like” the page themselves in order to leave their own questioning comments, I’m leaning towards believing that they truly don’t realize that “like” now means “comments enabled.” As David Lee King said on my previous post, “it looks like the ‘Like’ but­ton is really an entrance fee/ticket, or the ‘door’ to the event….” But there’s a large group of people out there that don’t realize that “like” now has subtext and is loaded with new meanings and requirements. I worry that they truly don’t understand that the boycotters have no choice but to “like” Target if they want to participate in the discussion.

"Why are you guys even a fan?"

Other commenters honestly can’t seem to understand why someone who is upset with Target would be posting on the company’s wall in the first place. It seems that there’s still a disconnect between “a company’s web presence” and an interactive, community.” Heck, this is true even for Target, which continues to ignore the community and treat its page as a one-way announcement channel. A lot of folks participating in this thread haven’t made the mental leap from “Just Target” to “Target + Others” as a new norm, even though they’re able to scratch their heads in the comments themselves.

"I just wanted to 'Like' a Target page...."

Close reading of the threads also makes it clear that quite a few Target fans didn’t know anything about the controversy until they visited the Facebook page and saw the comments. This further confirms the ongoing switch from a small number of “official,” mainstream news sources to personal news streams on social networking sites. More and more people are getting their news online from their networks, not from newscasters. (Incidentally, if you need to make a case for why your library should be on Facebook, this is a pretty good reason – in order to be part of your users news stream.)

"What did Target do?"

Overall, there’s a lot going on here, and I encourage you to keep tabs on Target’s page to see how it plays out. It can be difficult to dip into the emerging incivility and disrespect, but it’s educational, especially for any organization that has a Facebook presence. These types of cases are illustrating how the shift from us going out to find information to it coming to us, filtered through our networks, will have an impact on organizations. They also expose a whole host of other issues, from information literacy gaps to privacy concerns. For example, I was going to erase the names of the commenters in the screenshots, but technically it’s all public information, so why hide it? Do the people leaving rants and invectives on the Target post/wall truly understand that those comments are completely public?

On Facebook, 831 people “like” confusion, but I’m not sure anyone really likes it in the Target context.


12:35 pm Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. “I was going to erase the names of the com menters in the screen shots, but tech ni cally it’s all pub lic infor ma tion, so why hide it? Do the people leav ing rants and invec tives on the Tar get post/wall truly under stand that those com ments are com pletely public?”

    GREAT POINT. Thanks for sharing this Jenny.

    Comment by Justin Hoenke — August 13, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  2. > users have to like the page in order to com ment

    Ah, I hadn’t realised that in the previous discussion, but then I haven’t tried to comment on a facebook company page, I only talk to friends. Is that true of all company pages? If so that sounds like FB have not thought things through properly.

    Comment by No — August 16, 2010 @ 8:32 am

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