Business implications of Facebook's PG-13 debate

If the social network is allowed to add members under 13 years old, businesses may need to rethink their content sharing and privacy strategies.

A couple of months ago, I received a Facebook invite from my 12-year-old nephew. After peeking to see whether or not his parents had joined his friend circle (his dad WAS), I accepted the invitation. But a couple of weeks later, his underage status was flagged, and he's now in the waiting game again until he turns 13 next February.

Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is studying a plan that would allow individuals under the age of 13 to access the social network under the supervision of their parents. Among the ideas being tested include technology that would link the child's account to their parent's and features that would allow parents to guide social network exposure for activities such as who would be allowed to friend them, the sorts of applications they could use and so on.

If you think about it, the underlying sentiment of this idea seems sort of similar to the movie industry rating system. I liken this idea to the PG-13 rating, which basically tells parents that there IS stuff in the movie that definitely would raise questions such as drug use, the use of expletives (at least one is threshold), nudity or violence that is more realistic than the stuff found in children's movies.

Let's be clear: there has been no definitive decision by Facebook about whether or not it will allow the under-13 set to become part of the Facebook conversation. But some research estimates that there could be up to 7.5 million children who are younger than that age on the social networking already; ones who have lied in order to get on board. Plenty of parents have helped in that lie by helping their children set up accounts.

I'm not going to get into the moral discussion of whether or not this is cool. The fact is, if Facebook is opened up to children, it will absolutely affect businesses.

Here are just some of the potential ways (positive and negative) that Facebook's PG-13 plan could affect businesses that are working Facebook for marketing, recruitment and branding purposes:

  • Companies will need to consider whether the public content they post to their pages is appropriate for the under-age set or whether they might need to adjust their privacy settings in the future. Right now, you can restrict or limit who sees status updates. It might be that under-age children would automatically be added to a Restricted status. But the onus will probably be on businesses to distinguish between Public and Restricted posts.
  • Businesses will need to tread very carefully about the advertisements that are targeted and run against pages that are created by those under 13. Doubtless there will be a long list of requirements and restrictions, akin to what applies for web sites used by young children or for televisions programs intended for that audience.
  • Marketers will need to be super careful about the information they collect through their analytics software, as different laws pertain to the sort of personal information that companies are allows to collect from children.
  • When it comes to future hiring, there will be even MORE background information available on candidates. So your company will need to set strict guidelines about what is relevant and what is not, and about how far back you'll want to reach. Do you care about something that a candidate thinks (or thought) in the fourth grade?

Those are just four things that jump to mind. What other concerns do you have as a social marketer?

You can be certain that the under-13 debate will be loud and sustained. It is one that businesses using social media marketing to promote their brands and generate leads should be listening to closely.
(Image courtesy of Facebook)

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