Facebook has been in the spotlight recently, and for all of the wrong reasons. A month ago, Facebook launched Open Graph, a platform for "personalizing" third-party websites without the need to log into your Facebook account.
The result has been heated debate over Facebook and whether it is violating the privacy and trust of its users.
Could the controversy affect businesses though, specifically your small biz? While the verdict isn't in yet, the Facebook Open Graph and the privacy issues surrounding it are definitely issues that small business owners, especially those with web-based companies, should be following.
Businesses should look at Facebook's privacy issues from two perspectives: how they could potentially impact the business your customers bring, and how they could impact you and your employees.
Impact on Business from Customers
The Facebook Open Graph allows developers access to the broad sets of user data – friends, preferences, interests, etc. – that can then be used to enhance third party websites and apps. The best-known use of the Open Graph currently is the "Like" button, which can now be found on hundreds of thousands of websites.
These Open Graph additions are important: they give websites and businesses a direct hook-up to Facebook's 425+ million users. That's not a small pool of potential customers for a business. Actions such as liking a web page appear on Facebook news feeds, spreading a business's message across Facebook. It's essentially free traffic and free publicity.
While some people may be turned off by a business using Facebook Open Graph plugins, that number is likely minuscule compared to the potential reach of integrating Facebook into its website.
However, there are limits to what people can handle: using detailed personalized information from customers could freak them out. That's what happened with Facebook Beacon, a controversial and failed attempt by the social network to personalize the shopping experience. Luckily, common sense (think about what would freak you out) and having a constant dialogue with your customers can help you avoid this type of privacy snafu.
Impact on Employees
While it's important to think of the impact of Facebook privacy on the bottom line, it's also important to consider what could happen with your employees.
Today, it is simply more difficult to contain information on a Facebook profile just to Facebook. There are dozens of different privacy settings, none of which guarantee that profile data won't be spread across the web. All it takes is one friend copying one picture to his or her hard drive.
That's why it's more important than ever to have a social media policy as your business grows. Even better, build a team with common sense: the smartest of the bunch not only keep compromising photos off of the Internet, but they never get into those situations in the first place.
Overall, Facebook's a potential gold mine for customers, but it's also a potential source of major embarrassment. As a small business, you can't afford to ignore Facebook's increasing reach, so find ways to extract business value from it while minimizing the privacy risks, both with your customers and with your small business team.