Feeling Naked: A Tale of the Disappearing Facebook Fan Page

photo of the Facebook fortressOn 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

  • Kyle Johnson

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Bradjward

    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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • Norma

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • *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?

  • Heather Hickerson

    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.

  • 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.

  • very good article ,thanks

  • Sarah

    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).

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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…

  • 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

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Matt

    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

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  • 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.

  • Itu2019s 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.