How Should Brands Navigate Our Relationships With Facebook?

On February 4, 2004, Mark Zuckerberg sat in his Harvard dorm and launched the beginnings of a social network that would change the world as we know it. Facebook has altered the way we organise our lives, how we build relationships and even how we speak. Walls are no longer the foundations of buildings and posting on them takes on a whole new figurative meaning.

So how did a group of cash-strapped university students create a platform that would go on to connect over 1.2 billion people worldwide?

Perhaps Zuckerberg said it best in his reflective 10th anniversary post: “We just cared more”.

I’m sure you’re all aware of the Facebook doomsday news coverage that hypes up the falling user numbers (one of my colleagues Liz looked at that myth quite succinctly in her Friday TechMunch: The Demise of Facebook? Maybe Not…). The numbers speak for themselves but what bothers me is not user stats, but the impact of Facebook on the individual, as opposed to the collective.  Something that, by my own admittance, is hard to quantify yet equally as important to explore.

This is a quote that I read about the Facebook “Look Back” function that was launched to mark the anniversary of Facebook on 4th February 2014:

“Oh wow…. my seven years on Facebook, this is brilliant! Funny and actually makes you appreciate the hidden emotional connection you have with Facebook!”

This wasn’t written by a famous celebrity or a social media-hack. It was posted by my friend Mark, and appeared on my timeline. The Look Back function has been met with a predictably mixed reaction from the press. Some say that it’s “cheesy” and others have questioned Facebook’s chosen algorithm for the project.

My timeline has showed a different story to what has appeared in the press; a story that illustrates what day-to-day Facebook users actually think. On my timeline, people are commenting on their relationship with Facebook ON Facebook. This concept of “Facebook history” appears to run parallel with our “real life history”.  People are thanking Facebook for guarding their memories and celebrating the platform for adding value to their day-to-day lives.

While watching my own Look Back video, I too felt an “emotional connection” to the social network – something I haven’t vocalised before. So just what is this mysterious emotion?

This emotion differs from user to user, but a good test to gauge this is to watch your own video and ask: What would I do if Facebook broke and everything was lost?

My answer led me to think of Facebook as the modern day equivalent to leather bound journals. Instead of them getting lost, found and shared out of context hundreds of years later, we are able to share the highlights of our lives with friends and loved ones, in real time, across the globe.

Facebook has strengthened our day-to-day relationships and has allowed us to keep up with those that we may have lost contact with. It also allows us to go back through and reminisce about our own lives, our friends’ lives and even the lives of those who are no longer with us.

In my opinion, Facebook remains one of the few places where we can capture and share our best and (sometimes worst) memories with as many friends and family as possible. Zuckerberg continues to develop tools that make this ever easier. For example, tagging and posting functions allow us to record these memories in collaboration with each other and document our friendships with others. Most importantly, it seems that we have learned to trust Facebook to keep these memories safe on our behalf.

But what does this mean for brands? The deep and (usually hidden) emotional relationship that users have with Facebook is, for me, the exact reason why brands need to be careful of the footprint that they leave on our timelines – especially when it comes to developing content, paid and targeted Facebook posting. With the introduction of paid promotion the user can sometimes find posts in their time lines that they have not necessary signed up for. We’ve spent years nurturing our profiles and timelines and the last thing we want is a personally irrelevant brand paying to tread all over it.

Like it or not, Zuckerberg and his team have become the gatekeepers to our timelines. With their minefield of Facebook algorithm updates, it is often frustrating to us as communications and marketing professionals that harnessing this powerful marketing opportunity on behalf of our clients is becoming more and more difficult.

In order to make the most out of Facebook, I believe that brands and their agencies need to be more sensitive to the emotional relationship we have developed with the world’s largest social network. Facebook, despite its iconic status, has managed to maintain its original humble relationship with its users. Brands, as content creators, we need to be mindful to the fact that being part of Facebook’s community is not a right, but a privilege. We are not allowed to change the environment but we are allowed to visit, add value and hopefully be invited to become more permanent. Failing to recognise this, brands run the risk of being left out in the cold.

In answer to my original question, “How should brands navigate our relationships with Facebook?” maybe we should take a leaf out of Zuckerberg’s book:

“I feel a deep responsibility to make the most of my time here and serve you the best I can.”

To make your own Facebook LookBack video, head to