Gaping governance holes remain in Facebook Groups for business

craig

There’s never a dull moment in the world of Facebook Groups.

After extolling the virtues of one Facebook Group from outer Melbourne last week, I encountered the opposite experience in another national business Group during the week.

In this case me and my business were actually defamed by a competitor who made a false claim about my business and also failed to disclose their clear conflict of interest in their response to my post. The same competitor has a history of trolling in an effort to quash my views on their favourite website platform.

These are real situations that could well compromise my business, its earnings and its reputation.

So why do things get so nasty in these Groups? And why would you continue to be a member of them under these circumstances?

Limited built-in safeguards

As outlined in this blog a number of times before, Facebook isn’t designed for business-to-business interaction, which is instead an afterthought to the consumer market it was intended for.

Unlike LinkedIn, where it is clear who you are and what your business interests are, in Facebook there is no obligation to include your business name, so you often don’t know who exactly you are interacting with.

There is every chance in fact that it may be a competitor and/or someone with a vested interest or agenda.

Therefore the onus falls on the Group administrators to ensure that the range of business requirements around anti-competition and defamation are met and agreed to when new members join their Groups.

However in my experience, some administrators are simply not cognizant of the tactics less scrupulous members of Groups will try on in order to win new business for themselves or their associates.

In many Groups, disclosure of member business names isn’t even enforced, opening a Pandora’s Box of transparency issues.

Un-patrolled guerrilla tactics

This lack of control can mean that any time a Group member puts out a call for recommendations of products and services, it can appear that endorsements are coming from an ordinary member when in fact it is coming from someone with a vested interest in whatever they are recommending.

It also means that unscrupulous members can also use other groups and connections to shore up their opinion on a product or service.

Therefore, what can appear to be an overwhelming endorsement of a product or service by members of the Group, may in fact just be the result of an orchestrated trolling campaign to push an agenda or simply failing to disclose they have a vested interest in promoting their view.

Business is different

Anyone who has been in business long enough would understand the commercial and even legal ramifications of this behaviour. However, Group admins are proving slow to create guidelines around transparency and/or enforce them.

In conveying these compromises to one Group admin I was told members can do their own due diligence on an opinion prior to acting on it.

But to me this approach is either naïve or misguided.

Without any disclosure of a conflict or even the business the offending members represent, it’s almost impossible to tell how legitimate their comments really are – or if they’ve been persuaded by another member to make the endorsement.

The most obvious way to understand the motivation for a view is to ensure the member’s business name is disclosed in their profile. However, few Group admins enforce this fundamental necessity of transparency.

Real deals being done

What admins are forgetting is that there are real and often valuable business transactions being conducted in these Groups. And without due guidelines and their enforcement, unscrupulous members will go to pretty much any length to secure the business on offer.

As a result, I have a very real case of defamation and unfair competition to consider. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before legal action is taken not only against a perpetrator, but potentially against a Group admin for not properly policing such anti competitive behaviour.

However, the Facebook Group baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. If guidelines are created and enforced, there is no reason why business Groups cant be a brilliant forum for all things business, as some business Groups have proven.

But Group admins have to be across the guerrilla tactics that many members are proven to use if they want to maintain integrity in their respective Groups.

And why don’t I just leave Groups that have loose governance? Well that would mean the competitor wins.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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