Think about the last time you walked into an independent retailer or restaurant. Did you notice the sign on the door asking customers to “Like Us on Facebook” or “Become a Fan on Facebook”? Your small business might be doing something very similar right now. And you probably do need to have a Facebook presence: After all, that’s often the first place customers look for small businesses.
If Facebook is the entirety of your web strategy, though, you could be putting yourself in a dangerous position. You probably don’t want to keep sending your valued customers to a third-party website that you neither own nor control. Do you have a contract with Facebook? Do you have any assurance that Facebook will keep hosting your posts about sales? Of course, the answers here are no.
Shortly after I joined Facebook as an individual in 2007, Facebook suggested that I start a business page, where people could become fans instead of friends. Without really thinking or working too hard, I took Facebook’s suggestion and created a business page for MrExcel.com, aimed at people who use Excel. Over time, this page collected 2,000 fans. Conversations happened on the page: One fan would have an Excel problem, and another fan would post an answer. Occasionally, I would drop in with news about an upcoming Excel seminar or a new product.
The page still existed as recently as January 26, 2014. On February 4, 2014, I noticed that the page was gone. Facebook deleted my collection of fans and all the original Excel content — without any notice or warning.
Go to your favorite search engine and type in “Facebook removed.” Modern browsers will suggest the most popular searches. Among the first five, you will find “Facebook removed my business page,” which yields 87 million results:
Peruse the top hits, and you will find story after story of people angry and hurt that Facebook removed their collections of fans and content. Often it seemed arbitrary. Sometimes, the business owner received a cryptic e-mail before it happened. In other cases, like mine, Facebook gave no notice and no explanation. When I post a trouble ticket at https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/164405897002583?rdrhc, Facebook tells me it will not reply.
Really, though, what did I expect? I am not paying Facebook anything. I have no contract that assures me Facebook will continue to host the original content on its servers. I have no way of contacting any human inside the Facebook empire. I was a fool for choosing to trust an unpaid third party to hang on to my content.
I could have bought a $29 book and taught myself how to create my own responsive site, and I could have hired someone to do it for me. But it was easier to rely on a third party that had already figured out responsive web design. I bet a lot of small businesses are in this boat. And many are now realizing that although it’s easy and inexpensive to rely on Facebook and other services to host content, doing so may result in losing content and contacts — with no recourse and no way to recoup.
Luckily, I began moving MrExcel.com’s content to its own servers last year. I kicked out Blogger, WordPress, and others and brought the content back to a server that is under MrExcel.com’s control. Yes, I had to hire a young man fresh out of college to help with that, but it’s a relatively small price to pay to have my company’s content under the control of someone who cares deeply about the business: me.
Bill Jelen is a contributor to CFO.com and is the editor-at-large and chief writer for CFO Learning Pro: Excel Edition, a weekly newsletter from CFO magazine.