When a Facebook Page is Merely a Billboard

On Sunday, the Tri-County Times published my Letter to the Editor about the City of Fenton’s Facebook Page. Instead of recounting the events that led to my submission, I will post the letter here.

When a broken water main on Hickory Street in Fenton was reported the Thursday before Easter, residents were told that repair would take place the following Monday—despite flooded basements and backed-up sewer lines. My husband and I watched water flow down Hickory Street, turn down Barnes, and run down Silver Lake Road toward Adelaide for days. Without a clear explanation from the City about the cause of or solution to the problem, my husband took to the City of Fenton Facebook Page to civilly express his disappointment. His post was deleted.

The power social media can lend an institution is incredibly valuable. Individuals today have an audience by way of social media, and they know it. Institutions, companies, and even cities should realize it, too. People will always have opinions (good and bad) to share. Social media allows entities like the City of Fenton an invaluable opportunity to take part in that conversation. Once upon a time, a customer with a bad experience would tell a few friends. Today, that customer can tell hundreds—who might tell hundreds more—with the click of a “share” button.

When my husband posted on the City of Fenton Facebook Page, the city was offered a chance to intercept negativity, to explain, to clarify. Why would anyone want to throw that opportunity away? If Fenton is simply looking to broadcast its own messaging to an uninvolved community without any feedback, perhaps social media isn’t for them. After all, shouldn’t social media be “social?”

While drafting this letter, I also tweeted this.

Much to my surprise, I received a response from the @DowntownFenton administrator within 24 hours. I was promised that the matter would be looked into, and it was! I actually received a very nice email from New Moon Visions, the marketing firm who helps to administer the City of Fenton Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The email I received explained that the City of Fenton’s Facebook Page was not intended to be a public forum. In fact, I was directed to a “Facebook Comment Policy” for the Page that indicates just that. “You may submit your comments, but please note this is a moderated online discussion site and not a public forum. ANY COMMENTS WHICH ARE INTENDED FOR PUBLIC DEBATE WILL BE DELETED IMMEDIATELY!” And shame on me for not finding it myself. (Although, I must point out that the policy is posted as a Note on the page, and requires much scrolling on the Notes tab before it can be found. Adding a separate tab exclusively for Page activity guidelines would likely be much more effective–people might notice it and review before posting.)

I have to admit that New Moon’s response caused me pause. Was my already-submitted Letter to the Editor of the Tri-County Times out of line? If there were posting guidelines available–hard to find or not– maybe the onus was on individuals to post accordingly.

After some consideration, I’m holding firm. Perhaps the City of Fenton is looking only to broadcast its own messaging, but I think that’s a shame. Facebook, and social media in general, can be and should be so much more. Why couldn’t this explanation from New Moon’s email have been posted in response to my husband’s Facebook comment?

Please note that the purpose of the Facebook and Twitter accounts is to promote the positive events, programs and initiatives of the city. We truly love Fenton and hope that these communication tools are a way for others to share and promote their love of Fenton as well. We invite questions from residents and visitors and do our best to respond quickly and/or direct the questioner to the correct phone number or email address for additional information.

If there are questions, complaints or concerns regarding city services, we ask that you contact Fenton City Hall at 810-629-2261 or you may email the city here: http://cityoffenton.org/contactus.asp. The City of Fenton will be happy to assist you in those matters.

Truly, the response I received on Twitter and the follow-up was pretty impressive. It seems to me that New Moon understands the importance of providing customer service via social media. Maybe one day this philosophy will extend to Fenton’s Facebook presence.

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3 thoughts on “When a Facebook Page is Merely a Billboard

  1. Why on earth would any self-respecting marketing firm see Facebook as one-way communication? Communication is the engine that drives social media. We’ve all dealt with negative feedback in our Facebook spaces, had to take a deep breath, and waded in to engage. Surprisingly often, the aggrieved party appreciates that someone merely responded. This is an opportunity lost when people don’t grasp that Facebook is the world’s largest discussion.

  2. I’m hoping to post an update tonight, but it turns out that (as I suspected) the marketing firm is not the source of the Facebook policy. The city drafted it before starting work with New Moon. It also sounds like New Moon is hoping it will be revisited.

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