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Confusion will abound as politicians grapple with Facebook’s ‘Subscribe’ button

If you’re Aacme Manufacturing Inc., your starting point on Facebook is simple – you create a Facebook Page. People like it, your staff administer it, and it gives you tools to build interaction with your customers. If you’re Joe Bloggs, your starting point on Facebook is equally simple – you get a profile. That’s what we all have as individuals.

As a politician it was always a little more complicated, because in some way the person is the organisation, and (some) politicians have personal Facebook profiles too. Best practice was hence to create a page for a politician for contact with activists and distribution of news, and – if a politician wants it – to keep a personal profile for personal use (friends, family stuff etc.)

The difficulty is that few politicians I’ve ever worked with understand this distinction, and even when they do, the question of where personal matters end and professional stuff starts is never a simple one.

So along comes Facebook and proposes a new function, announced today: the ‘Subscribe’ button. This allows you to essentially ‘Follow’ a person, but the relationship is not reciprocal in the way adding someone as a friend is on Facebook. One subscribes to the other, but the other does not need to subscribe back. The blog entry announcing it even pitches to politicians:

The Subscribe button also lets you hear from interesting people you’re not friends with—like journalists, artists and political figures.

The devil might well be in the detail, as anyone with ‘Subscribers’ (this vocab is getting complicated) has to be conscious of who reads each and every status update by choosing its distribution when they write something – surely a recipe for people posting private stuff in public by accident.

Secondly, should any politician with a decent following on a Facebook Page (Cory Booker for example) convert those Page ‘Likes’ into ‘Subscribes’?

Third, what is the right thing to advocate to a wannabe politician now? Keep your profile and attract ‘Subscribers’? Or go the traditional way and open a page?

Strikes me that this new function is intrinsically not a bad idea, but I fear it’s going to cause further confusion in practice.


3 Comments

  • Astrid Haug |

    I agree that adding yet another function to Facebook increases the confusion, but it seems to be a great opportunity for politicians as well as journalists, artists etc. to enter a more public debate on Facebook.
    How would you convert Likes into Subscribers though? Many politicians have a page (not a profile), and as I understand it, the new function is for personal profiles, not pages.
    As a journalist I don’t want to ‘like’ politicians, but I would like to subscribe to their feeds. But if they have a fan page, this is still not an option, as I see it?

  • Paul Evans |

    The problem is in Facebook’s non-existence in the offline world. The logical thing for them to do would be to have an equivalent of Twitter’s ‘verified’ account. So, imagine I’m a politician – I go in, and say “this is my FB profile. I’ve got lots of ‘friends’ who are really more like follower – I don’t want them looking at my family pics etc, but I’m OK about talking politics to them’. There’s also a Page about me that I/someone has created and that I administer. There’s also a Wikipedia entry about me that’s auto-created an FB page. Sometimes they will also say ‘I created a group of my supporters when groups were all the rage on FB.” I then take some simple step to verify who I am (an email from my parliamentary email address that is replied to with a special login link) and allow me to merge all o these things into a single ‘verified page’ that people can ‘like’ (if they haven’t already done so). Group members get turned into ‘likes’. The politican can then also move many of the FB ‘friends’ they have and turn them into ‘likes’ on the page.

    The politician can then free up their personal FB page to just communicate with genuine friends like any normal human being, while having a single ‘like’ page on FB.

    That’s what I’d do anyway….

  • Jon |

    @Astrid – if anything the vocab is the wrong way around. Surely you should ‘Like’ a person, but ‘Subscribe’ to updates from a company? Although intrinsically I find the whole Facebook cheery, positive vocabulary off-putting. You’re also right on the page issue – there’s no way to follow without ‘Liking’ that page.

    @Paul – I don’t think ‘Verified’ (or lack of it) is a major issue on Facebook, and indeed 90% of the verified accounts on Twitter need not have gone through that, as it’s often clear who the real person is anyway. But your point on (broad) reflection of the real world is nevertheless valid – essentially an adaption of Facebook’s interface that more closely resembles reality where we might ‘Like’ a popstar or football club, ‘Subscribe’ to a newspaper or a politician, and add people as friends. As mentioned on Twitter however, I don’t see this happening as I don’t see how Facebook’s bottom line would improve thanks to its introduction.

So, what do you think ?