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Facebook Brings Companies, Customers Closer

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Facebook is quietly testing a new feature which would allow businesses to exchange private messages with their customers. But some consumer advocates fear that rather than foster more open discussion, the technology could help companies brush formerly public complaints under the rug.

Currently, all communication on companies’ Facebook pages is conducted in the open, but under the system being piloted in Asia, businesses will be able to conduct private exchanges with users who “like” them, making the site a customer-service clearing house.  A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the feature is being tested.

It’s unclear if this feature will be more a boon to customers or companies, experts say.  “Companies would love to have griping customers stop posting complaints on their public Facebook pages, and consumers might miss out on the leverage they get by complaining so everyone can see it,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. “In part, it is that public complaint that motivates some companies to take swift action to satisfy the customer.”

There are other potential downsides to customers buddying up with businesses, advocates say. Facebook is bringing a casual social aspect to the relationship between companies and customers, which experts say could lead to over-sharing of personal information by users. “There could be more concerns over privacy,” says Mike Lubansky, senior financial analyst at Sageworks, a financial information company.

Still, opening the lines of private communication between Facebook business pages and consumers provides consumers with one more avenue to have their concerns heard, Dworsky says, “so it should not be discounted.” Plus, according to the new system, users can opt out of the service entirely by adjusting their personal settings.

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    • Why anyone, including companies, would use Facebook is beyond me.

      Facebook is simply an advertising/marketing company, existing only to gather as much information as possible, push privacy issues as far as possible, all in a quest to simply earn as much money as possible. This is not a corporation that is trustworthy, nor altruistic.

      Facebook not only is not our friend, I believe FB is insidiously dangerous.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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