Facebook’s Community Page Robots Help Bring Author 700,000 ‘Fans’

It didn’t get as much attention as some of the other things that Facebook rolled out during the F8 conference in April, but one of the changes the social network made was to link user profiles to “community pages” — in effect, a kind of wiki-style page about a topic or an issue, but one created by an algorithm rather than individual contributions. If your profile states that you’re a fan of a specific movie or book or product, then you’re linked to a page all about that thing (although you can opt out). There are apparently still some kinks that need to be worked out, however; author Greg Levey says he woke up one day to find he had half a million fans for his book, despite only having sold a few thousand copies.

As Levey describes it, the fan page for his book — which was released on April 22 — had been gradually gaining fans, totaling several hundred, when one day he suddenly noticed that it had five times that amount. Thinking it was some kind of mistake or glitch, he ignored it, but then the next day his page had thousands more, and even more the day after that. At one point, the book was gaining fans at a rate of more than 25,000 a day, and had passed the number found on actor Brad Pitt’s page, as well as those of famous authors Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. By the time it slowed down, the book’s fans had topped 700,000. As he describes it on The Nervous Breakdown, an arts and culture group blog:

As the numbers soon crossed the quarter million mark, I started to feel a bit under siege. Was this some kind of elaborate prank? Who were these 250 000 people (and counting), and what did they want from me? Should I send out a Facebook message to them? If I did, what should I say?

And what had caused all these fans to magically appear? Levey finally figured out that it all stemmed from the title of his book: “Shut Up, I’m Talking,” which is a humorous look at the lessons he learned by working in the Israeli government’s communications department. After reading some of the comments on his fan page, he realized that all the people being added to the page had simply used the phrase “shut up, I’m talking” and been automatically signed up as fans. As Levey points out in his post, this kind of viral phenomenon makes for nice fan page numbers, but doesn’t necessarily make him optimistic about actually selling books:

With publishing in such precarious shape right now, I suppose authors should embrace any kind of attention they can get, even if it’s completely misguided. But if my online fans can’t even grasp that the fan page they’ve joined is for a book, I’m not particularly optimistic that they’ll read the book in question – or any books at all, for that matter.

This is far from the only community page that has been constructed largely by a misunderstanding; others have been created around keywords that also happen to be brand names, such as the word “depends” (also the name of an adult undergarment). This kind of confusion is one reason why some social media marketing experts have warned that community pages could cause problems for brands trying to manage their presence on the social network — not to mention law firms. Other pages based around interests such as cooking include links and comments from Facebook users who simply happen to use the word “cooking” in an update, something the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described as raising serious privacy issues.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Libertinus