A Nagging Question: What Happens if Facebook Decides to Shut You Down?

I had just finished a presentation at ERE and was walking though the event reception area when a voice from behind me asked “what happens if Facebook decides to shut you down?” I turned to see who had asked such a bold question. I recognized the inquiring voice to be John Sumser. I thought to myself: ‘we are Microsoft, why would they want to shut us down?’ After all, Microsoft owns part of Facebook, which would not make sense. My reply to John was: “great question, John, but I have not really thought much about it. I am not really worried about it.” After a few more minutes of cordial conversation, I departed to the adventures of the day. But over the next months, I was nagged by the question which I really did not have an answer.
Now, I have an answer. I know firsthand what happens when Facebook decides to shut you down.

My experience began on November 4th, when Facebook decided to deactivate all the corporate accounts that I manage; all 13 of the Microsoft IEB (Interactive Entertainment Business) and MCB (Mobile Communication Business) Facebook pages were not working. Ugh. No warning letter. No telephone call from our Facebook rep. No explanation. I was totally out of control with nothing/no one to leverage — a place that a Microsoft employee seldom visits.

This marked the beginning of two frustrating weeks. After reading, rereading, and following the Facebook’s seemingly contradictory generic multiple choice reasons for the status of my Facebook pages, I optimistically emailed the suggested aliases. When I inquired to the faceless aliases, all I received was a link to FAQ list of different situations that could cause account deactivation. There was not even a hint as to whether it was for too many RSS feeds or if it was for inappropriate use of the platform. I even was excited when I received the auto-response emails.

To say that Facebook is faceless when I needed assistance is an understatement. With all growth and popularity of the social networking site, a complementary growth in customer care is not evident. I can understand that when you have 500 million customers it is difficult to have personal customer service, but there is much room for improvement. I find that ironic—a platform that creates opportunities for interpersonal conversations is not there to assist. And if it wasn’t so tragic, I would be more amused.

After following the directions outlined on the Facebook customer service emails and hearing nothing for three days, I decided on another course of action. I imagined others must have experienced a similar fate with Facebook, so I decided to investigate (that is what sourcers do).

I searched Facebook and discovered others had shared my experience. I reached out the Facebook employees who were discoverable and messaged them. The silence was deafening. In desperation, I reached out internally at Microsoft. I emailed two distribution lists that had over 5,000 members. I received the name of one Facebook contact that included a cell phone number. Out of courtesy, I emailed the contact, describing my plight. He responded to my email 24 hours later with a cut-and-paste explanation from the FAQs that I previously received. I called the contact for more specific information.

For some reason, someone at Facebook deemed our Hardware Engineering page “fake.” Accordingly (and without notice) they deactivated the page. And because all pages were built off of this page, all of the pages were deactivated. It was deemed fake even with a Microsoft alias. And, my Facebook contact indicated the team was working on rectifying the problem. I was relieved that the problem was being resolved, but I was still left with the nagging question—why were the pages deactivated?

I kept testing the Facebook pages to see if they were activated; we were now at the 10-day mark. I called (and emailed) my Facebook contact again. Furious, confused, and at my wits’ end, I used all the Microsoft leverage that I could muster to have the Facebook contact understand the irreparable damage they were doing to our social media efforts at Microsoft. On Day 11, my contact indicated that Facebook was comfortable with the pace in which my problem was being resolved.

I was livid. I decided to write a blog post telling the world the truth about Facebook. I described in detail the faceless police state that Facebook had created. I went on and on with my cathartic endeavor. Some time ago, I created 24-hour rule flame mails; that is, I would write what I felt in the heat of the moment, but save it as a draft. Then, I would reread the message after some time had passed. I recalled that my immediate goal was to have my Facebook pages re-activated as opposed to righting this grave injustice that Facebook had done to me.

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Day 12 began with a call to my Facebook contact. I used humble appeals; my best logic; and storytelling (the marketing strategy, not white lies) to motivate the actions that I needed him to take. I hung up, not certain I had persuaded him to act, but I was all out of ideas. At this point, I still do not why it happened, how we can avoid this in the future, or when our pages will be re-activated.

On Day 13, my Facebook pages were active again. I was ecstatic. I was back in the social recruiting game, and best of all, I still had that special touch when it comes to the art of persuasion. Then I noticed an unread email. I was copied on an email from a marketing executive at Microsoft to a different contact at Facebook requesting his assistance for my situation. It was really her juice that created action on the part of Facebook.

But I am still left with nagging questions. I learned that a person can only have one Facebook account (I had created a personal Facebook account and a Microsoft Facebook account); I do not know why Facebook did not point out the error of my ways during the 18 months both the personal and the Microsoft pages existed concurrently. And what is aggravating is this: why didn’t Facebook suggest that I was not abiding by the rules and provide an opportunity to rectify the situation?

My big takeaway from this experience that relates to social recruiting is that when I use platforms that are primarily designed for the consumer as opposed to the business enterprise, there are many risks involved. Those of us who are connecting platforms in ways that were not originally intended need to remember that the social consumer platforms are always in beta and don’t make big bets in the frequently changing platforms until those organizations are sensitive to input from business. I still believe that Facebook represents a great opportunity to engage the targeted audiences sourcers and recruiters seek, but have been painfully reminded that I need to anticipate those nagging questions.

I will close this story as it began by asking the question: what happens if Facebook decides to shut you down?

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.

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6 Comments on “A Nagging Question: What Happens if Facebook Decides to Shut You Down?

  1. Same applies to the (NOW PAID REQUIRED) ning platform.
    TRY to get an answer to any problem you’re having.
    I dare ya’.

    I’ve decided to stop trying.
    I can’t stand the aggravation.

    This (if anything) will be the death spiral of social networking. The geek squads on the inside of their fortressed walls forget that the rest of the world isn’t as tech savvy as they are so they ignore your pleas for help.

    Being asked “Is your computer plugged in?” isn’t even an option anymore. It’s just dead silence.

    A phone number to call? Forget about it. You’d have to be skilled at finding numbers (like few are).

    They know it.
    They have us where they want us.
    At their mercy.

    We have (only) ourselves to blame.

  2. Marvin,

    I wonder whether someone who doesn’t like Microsoft as much as they should decided to create some mischief by clicking the abuse button and then falsely accusing your page as being spam, fictitious, etc.

    Facebook makes it pretty easy to draw problem pages to its attention, although the choices that it offers are pretty limited. Maybe someone was just trying to complain that they didn’t think your job opportunities were good or that Bill Gates doesn’t do enough good for those in Africa and trying to get a good education. (Note my sarcasm — what he does is inspiring and my brother-in-law spent some time with him a couple of years ago in Sudan)

    I’m agreeing with your frustration at not being able to quickly find out what you did wrong — if anything — and therefore not having a path to fix the problem and notify the appropriate person or department that you had done so. I don’t blame Facebook for trying to keep its site as clean as possible and to get rid of the scams. That’s a never ending battle they must be fighting, but clearly Microsoft is not an organization they should be targeting.

    It would be helpful to you and the rest of us voiceless folks to know what happened that caused them to notice your accounts and whether you followed the correct procedures. If you didn’t have that friend in a high place, you probably still wouldn’t have your Facebook pages. And that should be a scary thought to all of us.

  3. We are at their mercy, as Maureen stated. We get comfortable with the initial set-up only to be surprised when a new toll springs up. A benefit that was once free suddenly has a fee…and yes, a benefit that happens to be key to the whole relationship.

    I have this recurring nightmare that I have all my stuff on Carbonite…my system crashes…I call them to recover my stuff, and they say, “We’ll be needing your credit card…”

    Talk about hostage holding.

  4. The nice thing about Facebook is that even though they took your data down, they got it back for you. When Flickr nukes an account or group it’s gone forever. They couldn’t get it back even if they wanted to… or so they say.

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