The Power of Social Media: Are Companies Overreacting?

Yesterday the world seemed to be a-buzz—and a-twitter—with reactions to Facebook’s announcement that they were changing their Terms of Service (TOS). I’m not just talking cyber world either; I’m talking the Washington Post, WTOP radio, NBC TV news—“real” news outlets.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read about the TOS changes was “so what?” I’m not a risk-averse person and as far as I’m concerned, if Facebook wants to find a way to use one of my status updates or Lil’ Green Patch requests at any point in the future they can have at it. The second thought I had was wow, Facebook has really gone mainstream if WTOP is featuring the story every 10 minutes.

Then, just as my coworker and I were talking about it this morning, he read online that Facebook has recanted the changes to the TOS. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, announced this decision early today on Facebook’s blog, and told users that they will play an integral role in developing new terms that “reflect the principles and values of the people using the service.”

This reversal brought to mind a handful of recent similar situations in which a company puts something out there then takes it back after the public slams it. It happened when a Motrin campaign ignited the wrath of millions of parents who were offended by an ad that basically poked fun at moms who carry their babies in body slings. After a public outcry on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, Johnson & Johnson pulled the ad both online and in print and published an apology on their website. It happened when Molson Coors Brewing Company pulled a photo contest on Facebook after a flurry of negative comments that the contest encouraged irresponsible and underage drinking. And it happened when Site Meter, a service that provides website tracking tools, launched a new version and within a day rolled back to the previous version after users (including me) went ballistic about the new version. (note: even though the post from the Site Meter blog is dated 2006, it actually was written in September 2008; I'm not sure why the date is wrong.)

Being in the association frame of mind I’m in right now since I’m leaving for ASAE’s Great Ideas conference in a few days and will be live blogging the event, I couldn’t help but think back to a post on Acronym that posed the question Do associations overreact to criticism? At that time, I commented that associations shouldn’t put too much stock into negative blog comments and shouldn’t rush to action as a result of member feedback. However, after this Facebook reversal and the others I just cited, should I be rethinking my stance about associations reacting to criticism? If the ways of the word are evolving towards a “power to the people” dynamic, does that mean that the same will be true for associations?