Surviving Sudden Social Network Changes


We’ve all been there before: One of the social networks we use regularly suddenly changes its features, and we’re left scrambling to figure out the impact of those changes. Remember when Facebook narrowed the custom tabs within Pages, requiring major overhauls?

And now what are we going to do because the “New Twitter” features are wider and cover our painstakingly designed custom backgrounds? Why did they make those changes? Are they trying to drive us crazy?

When we use a social network religiously, we feel a sense of ownership. Which is what the social network’s parent company wants us to feel: a sense of loyalty. But with that sense of ownership, we feel entitlement as well. Entitled to being part of the process of change, to be able to give our input before change happens, to be able in some way to control the change.

While some smaller companies do gather input from their users to determine modifications of their services, most larger ones, like Facebook, will make changes often, and seemingly at random. We’re left scratching our heads or panicking because of the potential negative impacts of the new changes on our social media presences.

We all need to remember a few important things about using social networks for our work:

  • We are not in control. Hard as it is to accept, we are not in control of the whims and fancies of Mark Zuckerberg and his team of whippersnapper 20-somethings whose tech changes are pulling the proverbial rug out from under us on a near-weekly basis. Understand that if you are using social networks as part of your work, you are creating multiple dependencies on somebody else’s business model to succeed.
  • If they go down, we will lose something. Our dependence on social networks is different from our dependence on an Internet Service Provider. If your ISP goes down permanently, we (hopefully) have a backup of our websites and can upload our site files somewhere else. But what if our Facebook Page or Twitter account or LinkedIn profile is gone one day, along with all our friends, fans, followers subscribers and contacts? Now what?

In order to stave off panic and mayhem, here are some actions we can take:

  1. Find a way to back up. If you have a blog, most blogging platforms offer instructions or a tool to back it up. Backupify is one of a number of automated backup tools for social networks which covers Facebook (personal accounts), Twitter, Flickr, Google Apps plus blogs.
  2. Develop a contingency plan. What would you do if you lost your Facebook Page and thousands of fans tomorrow? What if Facebook was gone forever? Now where would you go? And how would you get in touch with your thousands of fans, much less migrate them over to a new service? Right now, the only way to back up a Facebook fan or “liker” list is to copy and paste from each window’s worth of fans (50 per window-full), and paste into a document. That’s tedious but not unbearable at several hundred fans but what if you have over 10,000? These are problems we need to figure out, or hope someone else already has — and connect with their service.
  3. Be vigilant. Make sure you have someone on your team or are connected with someone who makes it a point to be on top of development changes on the core services you are using. And think globally: who can you follow or team up with in another country and time zone who can be on call to address major changes that happen suddenly?
  4. Have a plan for change. Were you ready for the Facebook Page width changes? If you consult clients, did you notify them the moment you knew changes were pending and lay out a plan in advance for handling the necessary modifications for their custom FBML Pages? What about Twitter? Until I saw New Twitter, I was unaware of how the feature changes would cover up some key branding and information on my Twitter background. The moment I saw this, I notified my company’s production team to make sure they were addressing them even though some of them did not yet have access to New Twitter. Determine the costs involved in making these fixes to adapt to social network feature changes and decide what you’ll pass on to your clients.

One thing I think some of us who manage social media for clients may have neglected is to put into our proposals and contracts a disclaimer that states that we are not in control of third-party social networking services and to spell out what we can and cannot do if something changes or permanently disappears. Do you have these in place? When using social networks for work, expecting the unexpected is probably your safest stance. You can never be too prepared.

How are you prepared for sudden changes on social networks? How have you handled recent changes from Facebook, Twitter and the like?

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I hate to admit that I’m one of those who’s mostly dependent on social networking sites and thanks to your advice, I’m now making instructions for plan B just in case plan A fails. It’s just hard to start from scratch, especially when you have already thousands of followers. You’re right; we don’t control these sites so better back it up. Thanks!

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