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