Feeling Naked: A Tale of the Disappearing Facebook Fan Page

By Rachel Reuben - Tue, Oct 6, 2009

General, Social Media

Feeling Naked: A Tale of the Disappearing Facebook Fan Page

On the evening of Wednesday, September 30, the SUNY New Paltz Facebook Fan Page mysteriously disappeared. At first I thought it was a temporary glitch, but when it was still inaccessible on Thursday afternoon, I knew something was up.

The vanity URL (http://facebook.com/newpaltz) redirected to the Facebook home page. A search within Facebook for our university did not return a result with our page in it. Our fan’s profile pages no longer had our page listed as one they were a fan of. It was completely gone.

Since I built our Facebook Fan Page in November 2007 it has become a very active, vibrant space for us to connect with prospective students, current students and alumni. We have just under 5,000 fans. In the two years we’ve had the page, we’ve used the “message all fans” feature twice. We post status updates regularly, we share photos and links, and we quickly respond to all wall posts. I’m feel pretty confident in assuming there was no chance of a terms of service (TOS) violation, which is what many people immediately suspected.

So, what’s one helpless admin to do when their Facebook Page goes missing? Here’s all the avenues I tried:

  • After tweeting about it, I received a bunch of DMs with secret/cryptic inside e-mail addresses within Facebook, and I sent e-mails to all of them.
  • I e-mailed info@facebook.com, help@facebook.com, appeals@facebook.com
  • Brad J. Ward of BlueFuego called me to offer his help by reaching out to his contact within Facebook.
  • I reached out to a couple of other well connected individuals, all said they didn’t have a single contact on the inside. One friend said he knew people inside, but they’re are generally unhelpful.
  • I tweeted more.
  • One contact suggested I go through Ad Sales. I followed the ‘advertising’ link on the Facebook site and pretended I had an ad budget of $50-100k and filled out a custom contact form saying I was interested in advertising, but my page seems to have disappeared. (Oops, don’t tell anyone I don’t have an ad budget at all.)
  • I discussed this situation with virtually everyone I interacted with at the HighEdWeb Conference this week, including Mark Greenfield’s first session, desperate for any contacts. Lane Joplin even started a RT campaign on Twitter to save the page.

I didn’t get a response or have success from any of these attempts, except Brad J. Ward. On Monday, October 5 while out to dinner, Nick Denardis was checking the Twitter stream and saw BlueFuego’s tweet that our page was back. When I called to thank him, he told me Facebook reactivated our page, that the same thing previously happened to the University of Florida, who had over 20,000 fans, and Facebook never explained what really happened. The reason for the disappearance remains a mystery, the number of fans are still buggy, and I have to re-add in my admins behind the scenes, but thankfully the content is all there. Thank you so much, Brad.

During this five day disappearance, I gave a lot of thought to the importance of our Facebook Page, the over reliance on third party vendors for services we do not pay or contract for, and what we’d do if it didn’t get restored. I also thought a lot about the fortress that is Facebook, what awful customer service they have, and how one of the biggest players in the social media space clearly isn’t using social media as a listening tool like many other intelligent organizations are.

Why are so many of us investing such a great deal of time and resources in a company that is so unresponsive? Is this the best strategy? I don’t have the answers, these are just issues I’m grappling with right now, as I felt pretty panicked and helpless during the five day outage. This situation gave me pause to figure out which tools are the most effective — and reliable.

What do you think? Are we putting too many marbles in Facebook’s basket? Is it worth the risk?

Photo by lassi.kurkijarvi


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This post was written by:

Rachel Reuben

Rachel Reuben - who has written 33 posts on .eduGuru

Rachel Reuben is the Director of Web Communication and Strategic Projects at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she has worked in various Web communication, public relation, and marketing capacities over the last 11 years. Her areas of interest include eRecruiting, the use of social media in higher education for marketing and communication, as well as information architecture and user experience. Read her complete bio.

RachelReuben.comRachel on Twitter Rachel on LinkedIn  Rachel on Delicious Rachel's SlideShare Presentations Rachel on UWebDRachel on Facebook


46 Responses to “Feeling Naked: A Tale of the Disappearing Facebook Fan Page”

  1. Kyle Johnson Says:

    I think the sad reality is that FaceBook is so big that they don’t get a rat’s $&^ about universities, and there isn’t really much we can do about it. Facebook likely doesn’t few us as partners but more like leaches they mostly ignore. Universities no being on Facebook simply won’t affect Facebook at all. People will continue to flock to Facebook until they start losing user pages, and even then it’ll be awhile before anything changes.

    The thing I would (and will) look at is how to get the contact information for fan pages out of Facebook. Do that on a periodic basis and at least you can contact everyone when this happens again.

    Reply

  2. Bruce Floyd Says:

    As one of the admins behind the University of Florida Facebook page, I obviously feel your pain. If it wasn’t for Brad at BlueFuego, we would have had a difficult time getting the page restored.

    So, yes, thank you Brad!

    As an aside, I have gotten very good customer service from Twitter and YouTube.

    Reply

  3. LeRoy Lee Says:

    This is a difficult problem. Facebook works because that is where a large portion of our audience already resides. To say Facebook holds all the cards is an understatement.

    I suppose, like any web service that we as higher ed offer we should have a contingencey plan. I think we really lean on these social tools without a backup plan. If these were internal tools we would build all sorts of reduncancy into the system. Your story should probably be a wake up call to all of us. What would a fail-over for facebook look like? How much would we really be willing to spend on it and develop on it? How mission critical is our Facebook presence?

    Reply

  4. Eric Stoller Says:

    I think it was part of a scheme concocted by Brad ;-)
    I know that he’s now at the top of my go-to list for Facebook help.

    Thanks for sharing this story. It gives us all a valuable perspective into what we can expect if something goes wrong with out Facebook pages.

    Reply

  5. Tim Windsor Says:

    As LeRoy says, we’re really stuck. Facebook is *the* place online where nearly 100% of our key audience lives. We depend on their consistency and kindness. Similarly, YouTube, iTunesU and Twitter.

    Perhaps this is a topic handled best as a group at one of the conferences. We can’t exactly act as a cartel — we have nothing to withhold — but we can say “pretty-please” in a loud and convincingly unified voice!

    Reply

  6. Bradjward Says:

    Glad to hear things are back to normal, and you bring up some very important questions to consider! Free doesn’t always equal fantastic!!! Also good to know we can still help within a community, even with ‘well-connected individuals’ involved. :)

    PS - BlueFuego, no space. It’s a branding thing…. LOL! You’re not the first and won’t be the last. :)

    Reply

    • Rachel Reuben (author) Says:

      @Bruce I haven’t had any issues (yet) to deal with Twitter customer service, but agree that YouTube has been fantastic.

      @Tim I had quite an army here at the HighEdWeb Conference starting a RT campaign on Twitter and talking to their connections, and even that didn’t work.

      @Bradjward Space removed. :) I wouldn’t say things are back to normal, but it’s better than not being there at all. The discrepancy in fan numbers is disturbing, especially if we really are starting from scratch to build back our near 5,000 fans. I sure hope that’s still going to get fixed.

      Reply

  7. Rachel Reuben (author) Says:

    P.S. I’ve asked my friends at LifestreamBackup (http://lifestreambackup.com) if they’re going to add a backup option for Facebook Fan Pages, and they reported the API doesn’t currently allow for this, but are going to see if they can find another way. I highly recommend their service.

    Reply

  8. Norma Says:

    I suspect that until something bigger than Facebook comes along, customer service will continue to be a backburner issue for them. When you’re the top dog, you don’t have to care.

    Reply

  9. Kyle James Says:

    I still stand by my statement that these pages on sites like this should be used as Landing Pages. Syndicate content and include call to actions for your email newsletter, student blogs, videos, interactive map, podcasts, etc and drive that traffic back to your website where you aren’t in someone else’s “walled garden”. Because when something like this happens you are helpless.

    Reply

    • Rachel Reuben (author) Says:

      @Kyle I really don’t agree with you. Facebook = “SOCIAL media.” Social media does not = robot activity of feeds and outposts and landing pages. Facebook is about conversations, relationships, dialogue, and a comfortable environment. There have been many research studies showing students are not comfortable asking questions and talking to others on the university’s main site. They won’t be comfortable there if we’re just using it as a landing page with robot activity.

      Reply

      • Kyle James Says:

        I’m not saying that you can’t have conversation on Facebook nor am I saying that you shouldn’t post Events and things like that on it. It’s a great tool to be leveraged! What I am saying is that you are losing control to an extend.

        Giving up control is partially what causes potential students to feel comfortable with engagement on the platform, but as you noticed you inevitably are at the mercy of Facebook and their “don’t be evil” intent. When you are talking about 300 million accounts things do and will fall through the cracks and it will be very hard to have your voice heard.

        This shouldn’t be what happens, but with a “free” service what real obligation besides goodwill does Facebook have to fix your problem? You aren’t paying them. The adages “you get what you pay for” and “there is no such thing as a free lunch” both still hold true. That’s all I’m saying…

  10. Greg Bates Says:

    I had a musician fan page I manage disappear last night. I still see the back end and it shows up in search and in fans list of pages. I can even get to some of the content thats been posted through links we’ve posted on Twitter.

    When I try to go to the page, I get a page that says “The page you requested was not found.”

    I’ll keep checking back here to see if you guys come up with an explanation for why this is happening, and will be sure to let you know if I find anything out.

    Cheers,
    Greg

    Reply

  11. Kemp Edmonds Says:

    *throws up his hands and says* we go where the students are. We should be petition facebook to get offline back ups of our communitues, particularly content. Maybe the city if new plats wanted their facebook URL? Sounds like a nightmare glad it’s over. How was the conference? Highlights?

    Reply

  12. Heather Hickerson Says:

    Yay Brad J Ward! Brad sounds like a superhero in this story. I haven’t had this problem with my university fan page but now I’ll know what to do if I do. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  13. Ken George Says:

    Another cautionary tale about the perils of social media (and poor customer service).

    That said, I have no intention of not moving into these spaces agressively.

    FB Petition anyone? I’ll gladly sign.

    Reply

  14. paper search engine Says:

    very good article ,thanks

    Reply

  15. Sarah Says:

    This same thing has happened to a FB page for a non-profit organization I’m a member of. We thought originally a disgruntled former employee took it down somehow, but now I don’t think so.

    Since we’re small potatoes compared to a college or university or corporation, I don’t know how we can get it back. I hope it is just a glitch and it’ll reappear like yours did.

    I wish there was a way to back up your fan list somehow (short of copy/paste).

    Reply

  16. Billigt bredbånd Says:

    It seems facebook has errors just like every other website. It happens, especially when a website has a database as large as facebook does!

    Reply

  17. Eric @ Solid Wood Flooring Says:

    Sadly, I hear about issues such as this with FB daily. It seems that it just keeps getting bigger and losing sight of it’s original focus and by doing so becomes more and more big corporate minded.

    Reply

  18. Jarrett Gucci Says:

    Great post. I just recently had a client ask me to create a custom Fan Page on Facebook and I never have done it before but said I would figure it out. This post really helped and the final product (http://www.facebook.com/cherylburkedancestudios) gave me a new idea of offering this service in my company at a fraction of the price all others are doing it. I think these new “Facebook Websites” could be a great way for business owners to stand out on Facebook. It is also a good way to look different if you are using it for personal reason.

    Thank you author

    Reply

  19. wilhb81 Says:

    Rachel, I bet it’s one of the most unforgettable yet horrible nightmare that you’ve ever encountered on Facebook, isn’t it? Honestly, Brad was the big savor in this case. Without him, it’s impossible to get the page back…

    Reply

  20. Michael Staton Says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Facebook is in a place that the technology marketing folks call “The Tornado,” which is the period of time in which the mainstream market moves to adopt a new technology. By nature, the mainstream market is pragmatic, which means they think “oh fine, I’ll go get one of those thingies” and they typically pick the visible leader, called “the standard,” which is obviously Facebook for Social Networks/Media.

    Now, if you read the book “Inside the Tornado” by Geoffrey Moore, you’d part see a stroke of genius and part vomit on yourself. There are a few rules to being a company inside the tornado, according to Moore. One of them is “Ignore the Customer.” Seriously, I’m not joking. It’s a rule.

    The reason? Another rule: “Just Ship.” Meaning, just grow, grow, grow, and put all your energy focused on growth. Facebook believes this so much there’s even a VP of Growth and a whole Growth department.

    Why get so many customers if you’re just going to piss them off? Well, the reality is that pragmatic customers will typically pick the standard, and will forgive the standard for being a jerk once they figure out customer service, etc.

    I had a sit down with Facebook’s head design strategist, Aaron Sittig, during which he said “having a start-up is more about the art of what not to do than what to do.” There’s a million things you need to do, and a million good ideas, and carving out what’s less important and throwing all your weight into what is important happens to be an art that many start ups fail at. And because of that, they die or end up just mediocre.

    Wait, there’s hope! Another rule: “Design in Partners.” Facebook made a conscious decision to not develop special relationships with Higher Ed, specifically because they knew companies like Inigral would build things like Schools on Facebook and THEY would focus on learning enough to actually serve what Facebook considers a niche market. Our investors, Founders Fund, backed us in part because our mission was to figure out Facebook for Higher Ed. And, we’re starting to get there: http://blog.inigral.com/inigral/topics/facebook-in-higher-education-facebook/

    Hope that provides a different context/analysis for you. Hope all is well.

    Michael

    Reply

    • Matt Says:

      New Paltz seemed pretty happy with the features Facebook was already providing.

      To the extent that what your company is offering is additional features geared toward schools, that’s awesome, but not really on topic here.

      Or are you suggesting that schools need to pay protection money to a well-connected third party like yourself to be treated fairly in the wild west that is Facebook?

      If so, yuck.

      Reply

  21. Christina Smith Says:

    Rachel-

    Well-written post. I’m sorry you had to go through that. Facebook and Twitter (and others) provide a great way to connect socially but they do fall short when it comes to gathering data and retaining control of your content/page. The same things that draw us to Facebook (the fact that it has so many users and that it’s free)are ultimately what becomes its downside — as you found out the hard way.

    There are multiple alternatives to relying on a public social networking site for your membership and content management. You can build your own internal networking site with content management but this can be pricey. Or you can partner with a company who specializes in these sorts of a solution. Sometimes the answer that best fits is a combination like Kyle mentioned above using Facebook as a “landing page” to draw them into your university community. Some private communities even allow for connections back to public sites like Facebook through Wall postings and managing of multiple social networking profiles through your site.

    Choosing a private online community does ensure data security, can provide ad revenue, features your branding and offers reporting and messaging features far beyond what the free software does. You can get an idea of what’s possibe by visiting SUNY Cobleskill’s alumni site:

    http://cobyconnection.cobleskill.edu/

    Good luck with whatever you decide.

    Reply

  22. bohol Says:

    Rachel, you throw some serious questions on whether we should burn our midnight candle making Facebook another Internet behemoth after Google. Such incident of fan page disappearance seems very mysterious. And for Facebook not returning your inquiries on the disappearance, that is very unethical of them. This is the very reason some institutions have started to build their online community without relying on third-party service like Facebook. A community software like Dolphin or VBulletin(for a forum) is perhaps a better way to go if we are thinking of long-term investment and of course “sustainability.” We may not be paying Facebook but we have the right to exist if we don’t violate their TOS.

    Reply

  23. Matt Says:

    Michael Gilbert wrote what I think is a very insightful blog post back in June, that triwes to set out a set of best practices for how to use social media (facebook especially) without becoming dependent on their good graces (not to mention not requiring people to join them to interact with you… for students we often assume that they are 100% on Facebook, but that’s certainly not true for alumni, faculty, or staff.)

    Anyways, great article.

    http://news.gilbert.org/OutsmartingFacebook

    - Matt

    Reply

  24. wordpresswell.com Says:

    can i get Brad’s e-mail address? hehe, we had our Snowboard fan page deleted due to authentication failure I suppose, who owns snowboarding? I agree they hold all the cards, but once they start flexing power we will see a mass exodus

    Reply

  25. Karen Dimmick Says:

    Wow - they’re some powerful questions you’re asking! I’ve just had a friend’s Fanpage disappear and he’s currently in panic too and your post has given him some email addresses at least to attempt to sort the problem out!

    I’m just at the start of building up my Fanpage (less than 100 fans so far) and I’ve also been wondering the same thing - is it worth it?

    I’ve been told that in the “future” fans via social media will be more important than your “list” because they don’t have to give you their email…. but if Facebook can just randomly removed your Fanpage and essentially leave you without a business, I’m not entirely sure they are the way to go.

    I’d love to see a new company come along and provide something like Facebook, with much better customer service, who are also open to the fact that businesses want to promote (not spam) and get their message out there. Because frankly without businesses and entrepreneurs we wouldn’t have an economy! And if people have chosen to become fans, they’re interested in the message you’re spreading, so let them join in the discussion!

    Reply

  26. Olivier Says:

    Welcome to the cloud, where your data is neither available (may be offline), nor safe (may be deleted), nor secure (may be copied).

    Facebook strikes a balance between spamming email, and a dedicated website. I personally much prefer RSS for that, but RSS adoption seems quite low, since it’s a bit more technical.

    In your place, I would use Facebook as a gateway to a true RSSed website. People may not follow you, though.

    Reply

  27. Anna Savoy Says:

    Wow, this is intriguing and I am very glad to have read it. It’s a good reminder to be on guard. We do spend much time on Facebook, and as social media goes, I’d hate to put all my eggs in one basket. Or most of my eggs in one.

    Reply

  28. Mitch Says:

    It’s amazing how much we talke for granted and really just how inaccessable the people at Facebook are, esepcially considering how much more of a tool it is becoming for so many people. This is a post that really provoked some thought on this that I think it may have taken me a while to get to.

    Reply

  29. AMor Says:

    Hi, I had the same problem !
    Facebook really sucks and don’t deserve to be be a role-model on the Web.

    Reply

  30. Mark - Billig Bredbånd Says:

    I must say that if you think Facebook has gotten too big for its own good and showing signs of customer service neglience, then try dealing with Google’s non-existent customer service :)

    Reply

  31. Richard - an SEO guy Says:

    How timely this post is in light of the recent FaceBook outage and the upcoming movie release. I haven’t had a client’s Fan Page disappear but know that if it did, I would be highly concerned and frustrated as shared by numerous comments above.

    Reply

  32. kanpur WebDesigner Says:

    Hi,
    I think social networking is a best platform that promote your business a short time.

    Reply

  33. Liam Says:

    This is when someone drops the d-bomb: Diaspora. I can see how this is going to work. :D

    Reply

  34. Billig bredbånd Says:

    I had the same experience with another FB page which was very active and suddenly gone. As my company was spending a lot on FB advertising I got a answer from my contact person who could not give any explanation but the page came right back up. Must be some kind of automatic filter.

    Reply

  35. David Says:

    If it is felt that facebook treats universities with low significance, imagine how an individual like myself feels in the vastness of the Internet with the 900-pound gorillas (Google, Facebook, Craigslist, etc). I’ve faced my share of woes with those providers of service which I need to run my website venture.

    I recently created a facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/This1That1Whatevercom/156625884379306 for my website http://this1that1whatever.com/ which utilizes many Google services such as Analytics and AdSense, not to mention the mighty search engine (to get found). Now I am trying to leverage facebook for my site promotion. I am pretty much at the mercy of the providers, and trust in them providing service on a continued and continuing basis.

    When I read the article, it reminded me of my hosting server going down and my site disappeared while waiting for resolution by my hosting provider. It is not a good feeling to see one’s property disappear!

    Reply

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