Sneaky Social Selling 101: Make (tainted) money from Facebook Groups via Sgroups

Alexia coined the phrase and I like it so much I bought the company, er, no I mean I liked it so much I stole the term too. I have a few groups I created on Facebook, one of which is the Dear L Drivers group. I didn’t look at it for a whole while and next thing there’s 600 people in the group. I’d love to see 1000 or 2000 people in the group and getting them to engage with each other. But. The evil side of my mostly evil brain was thinking “Couldn’t these groups be used by spammers or sneaky sellers to make money?”.

For example, imagine if a car parts company offered me money to to send a message to all members with some special deal they were offering? Does Facebook say no to this? Imagine if some insurance company offered to buy into the group and take it over and offer cheap insurance to the most young members of the group? What could Facebook do about it besides close the group? Not worth suing the insurance company. There’s probably something in the terms and conditions to prevent this, maybe a law nerd can check it out? I can just see the Pay for Post opportunists coming along and doing something like this. Build something up and then flip it. Isn’t this the business model of so many web apps these days? Build up a massive audience and make money by selling it to Google and the like?

Just look at all the groups that instantly pop up in Facebook surrounding a news event. Within minutes/hours there was a group for Benazir Bhuto and her murder. It currently has 800+ members. I wonder will we see spam groups or “sgroups” start popping up more and more just to get the attention of people in Facebook who love nothing better than to join a group on something that’s in the news? Big event, get people signed up and then sell them out. Or how about creating a “silly” or “fun” group on Facebook such as the I Use my Cell Phone to See in the Dark Group which has over 400,000 members. Imagine flipping that? How much would people pay for access to those people? I wonder are Facebook going to start offering some revenue share deal with these groups actually? That’s one way of stopping potential abuse. Many of these groups have been created by bored college students. But college students are idealists and would never sell out for beer and pizza money so we’re safe there…

But but, we can do positive things too. I freewheeled about this over and Twitter and JP Rangaswami came back with a few very salient points:
Am I really the owner?

“Who owns the group?”. The administrator? The initiator? I would have thought “its members”

Your group or community won’t last long if you sell them off:

as Julius Henry said all those years ago, I wouldn’t want to belong to a group who sold me as a member.

But he also points out that buying or hiring a creator is about their potential:

Ah but. “a salesman is only as good as his NEXT sale”. So when I buy a creator, it is for what she WILL DO, not what she DID.

And that there is a positive way to make money from a group/community you brought together. Get yourself noticed and get experience in looking after a group like that and don’t sell out, don’t do sneaky ads, instead use your skills to gather a community for a company or other interested party. It’s harder to do than just selling out though but I hope it becomes the norm. They’re now refering to people that do this as “community managers” which is a term that bothers me a bit and it’s not just me!

So, being an evil and making money is still a choice. With pay per post tanking, I really do wonder will their people start ruining Facebook too?

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14 Responses to “Sneaky Social Selling 101: Make (tainted) money from Facebook Groups via Sgroups”

  1. Daithí says:

    Who are you calling a nerd? ;)

    This is also an issue with Facebook applications – look at the average FB page with the most ridiculous of applications (”would you like to Say Howya to your friends? Install the Say Howya application now!”) and the access to data you give to the app (and its unknown developer).

    When it comes to spam-messaging your group members, it’s a clear violation of FB terms (thus allowing them to cut you off if you did it), although FB offer little or nothing to the individual user by way of protection against evil people like you (the no liability clause runs for pages). Individual FB users could chase you directly under data protection (and FB’s jurisdiction and arbitration things, normally an obstacle to any legal fun, wouldn’t be relevant in that case) although realistically I’m not convinced there’s much of a chance of success, in particular given the reliance of (for example) the 2002 data & privacy directive on the idea of email and SMS as messages sent to you (with consequent doubt on whether a message w/in FB is actually covered: ‘”electronic mail” means any text, voice, sound or image message sent over a public communications network which can be stored in the network or in the recipient’s terminal equipment until it is collected by the recipient’ – we could argue it either way) and beyond that there’s the whole consent issue…

    It’s interesting in comparing it to the applications because FB tries to get involved more there (by making the app developer agree to detailed terms) but tries to have it both ways by then saying to the user that they are not responsible for anything evil that the app developer does with the data! I don’t think as much thought has gone into the groups thing (although of course the app people get more of your data so the need was more pressing).

    You also see this phenomenon (of trying to latch onto popularity) on walls of popular groups, comment pages on high-ranking GooTube videos, etc. I think in practice FB would just kill a group they were getting complaints about, the bulk of the FB terms are about giving them the power to do what they want when they want as we know well.

  2. Oh, MUST you give people ideas? :)

  3. Alexia says:

    @Daithi: I love it when you take law :)

  4. Alexia says:

    talk* law, even

  5. walter says:

    Do you really think people with that much time on their hands are worth selling to ? Come on. Most facebook groups aren’t very active. People tend to join groups then promptly forget them. Do you really think these are attractive to marketers ? Compare this to the liveness of twitter or jaiku – now _that’s_ where some astute marketers could make a killing.

  6. Damien says:

    Walter, that silly Cell Phone in the Dark group has more people in it than the entire userbase of Twitter. That group is not the exception.

    The average Facebook user is on the site 22 minutes a day. It doesn’t matter if the group is active or not. The group members are, not the group. People with time on their hands buy in more quanities than those without time on their hands. Those without time though are willing to put a premium on their purchases but are heavily influenced by peer recommendations and good branding.

    Being able to send a newsletter to 400k people from the Facebook demographic in one go is worth a good deal of money but would merely be short-term gain. Look at all these “lead generation” companies that earn a fortune by doing stuff aking to this.

    The group thugh would almost die there and then. Even with a tiny conversion rate, that would be worth it to the same people who happily send unsolicted mail to anyone in their address books or mailing lists they purchased.

  7. James says:

    I’m pretty sure that maketers would love to get their hands on 400k people who would be inclined to join a group called “I use my cellphone in the dark”. A disproportionately high amount of them are the same types of people who buy bananaphone ringtones. Also, the type of people who click twice to join a group are the same ones who click twice to read a message received from the group, click to visit the website contained in the message, click on their banner ads/sign up to some free stuff just for a look, etc. This will definitely be an issue in 2008.

  8. walter says:

    Damien, The groups are dead already. Sure – the numbers look good but where’s the active participation ? There’s not much point targeting a group of nK users if no one is listening.

  9. James says:

    Not if you write on the wall, but if you do a ‘message all members of this group’ then it actually sends them an email. I got a Happy New Year message from the “Shut the fuck up L drivers” group and it could easily have included a link to some targeted advertising.

  10. walter says:

    @James The ‘Happy new year’ probably came from the group admin. My point is I don’t see a lot of active participation by members. Most seem to join groups then do nothing. It makes me wonder: what is the point of facebook groups ?

  11. James says:

    I totally agree walter – Facebook groups are fairly pointless since people just join it and do nothing usually. The message probably came from the group admin, and that’s where I see the sneaky social selling coming from. Remember all those scams like the website where a guy wants to get 1 million hits so that his girlfriend will have sex with him or something like that, and it turns out that the guy has a clever way of making money from it (not always pay per click advertising, sometimes data-mining or spreading a virus or something). I’m surprised I haven’t seen any of this on Facebook with all of the ‘lets get to 1 million users! Pass this around to everyone you know’. Shady marketing people could get very creative here I think.

  12. walter says:

    @James My gut instinct is to refute such a claim and think “People aren’t that stupid”. Given the spectacular success of facebook apps such as ‘poo fight’ I think my gut might be wrong. With Facebook, we’re not exactly talking about the most sophisticated of users, so yeah I’ll concede that if you’re in the business of marketing ringtones, facebook may be a godsend.

  13. James says:

    In the words of Bullet Tooth Tony: “never underestimate the predictability of stupidity” :) A little part of me dies every time one of my friends installs the likes of “poo fight”. So much for the human race…

  14. Damien says:

    James nails it. Get them in, get the numbers, sell them out. Anyone in a Facebook group is a real person. No need to worry about fake emails being used to sign up to something.

    It was me sent the Happy New Year message from that group.