Craig Hodges

Three Cheers! Facebook

Keeping an eye on Facebook Policy can be more rewarding than using it. Just recently one small tech change arguably triggered a significant policy change. Facebook has opened its doors to the alcoholic beverages industry. Get ready for alcohol branded applications!

On the 8th of November 2008 I received what seemed to be a run-of-the-mill developer notification that Facebook policy had changed. Carefully reading through, I understood that Facebook was now open to having the alcohol industry engage with a segment of their members, albeit a enormously sizeable one.

Technology Change Leading to Policy Change
A recent Facebook platform technology upgrade, made available in August 2008, was now allowing those savvy developer types to incorporate demographic restrictions into their application installation process. This meant that certain age limit restrictions could be set on those people who wanted to install applications. From another perspective, Facebook was now offering application developers the rudimentary power of segmentation. Three cheers I could hear the marketing teams cry.

Simple upgrade yes, but what happened next was significant. The knock on effect of this technology change saw Facebook then faced with a host of new questions.  Would Facebook take the opportunity to reconsider its policy relating to restricted or adult only content? That is, should Facebook open its online social network to a range of legislated products and services with real world demographic restrictions? I can just picture that clever Mark Zuckerberg wondering, how many worms are in this can?

Marketeers Watchful Eye
For any network with 100 million members worldwide, this was undoubtedly a significant question, particularly when you have the astute attention of teams of calculating online strategists, brand specialists and audience hungry advertisers all charged with promoting regulated products watching your every move.

Of course what these marketing folk wanted to know was straight forward. How would this help them?  Would this translate into new opportunities for promoting alcohol, gambling or the like within Facebook? And would they, as 3rd parties, now be given the green light to build dedicated applications that promoted their adult brands?

Put it to the Vote
Whilst I have no inside story to share, it seems that it went to the vote within Facebook, and the internal policy vote came back in favour of a policy change. Whilst not all restricted content policy shifted, a ‘yes’ came back in favour for opening the network to alcohol related content. (I should fess up at this point, my company also directly lobbied our Facebook contacts for this very change)

Here is a snippet from that very announcement that came in a recent Facebook Developers News Feed;

“Effective immediately, applications can now contain content promoting, facilitating, or referencing the sale of alcoholic beverages — content that was previously prohibited — as long as the Demographic Restrictions feature is used in the way specified by the new policy on the Platform Policy page of the Developer Wiki. Additionally, effective noon Pacific time 6 January 2009, we require that all content related to alcoholic beverages — including unbranded, generic drink images — be available only under Demographic Restriction.”  

So what happens now?

My guess is that alcohol companies, strategists, media agencies and creative gurus are going to see a new dawn. Perhaps I should be more forthright, some enlightened brands will act on it immediately and start experimenting, while other poor sods will fall into that hellishly stifling world of risk adverse inspired 'wait and see' posturing! (PS Please don't call me if you are the later group) 

In a nutshell, I can see that those lonely and isolated, yet colourful flash based alcohol branded webpages, the likes of which were recently reviewed by Peter Gurrie in his insightful article ‘Road test’ in Digital Media (See page 44, Edition 7.0 2008) are going to fade away. Come on - so they should, afterall no-one wants to go to a drink site alone.

In their place will come (naturally after several iterations) full featured interactive branded applications that build online communities and give their evangelists and supporters a suite of communication tools and platforms to bring the brands to life both online and offline.

So let’s see how long it takes Fosters to befriend Facebook? or will it be Lion Nathan that roars into action first?

Three cheers Facebook! At least we can now start to be treated like responsible adults with the next generation of adult apps!


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