Oracle is a well-respected brand when it comes to solutions for I.T as well as social media and business intelligence for enterprise users. They have a collection of toolsets that cover everything from loyalty programs to service management and analytics.

So you’d expect them to have a fairly robust social media strategy for themselves, right? Except when it comes to Facebook, it would seem.

Late last night, my friend Aaron Lee messaged me to point out something weird going on with a new Facebook Page, Oracle Social. Aaron’s question piqued my interest:

Hey Danny, you “liked” Oracle Social as well. Was it an auto like too?

My answer back was no, I hadn’t, to which Aaron replied neither had he. Or the friends of his that suddenly seemed to like the page. When I looked at the page in more detail, I also noticed that 74 friends of mine liked it too. I asked several of them if they had, and they replied no.

As I was chatting with my friends about the page, something odd was happening all the while – the amount of Likes the page had was skyrocketing, even as we spoke.

When I was first alerted, they had 440,000 fans, despite only just being set up four days ago, on Wednesday November 7. Within 10 minutes, that had shot up to 475,000 – a huge jump in such a short space of time. At the time of writing this, they’re just under 1 million Likes.

That’s weird with a capital W. So just what’s going on, considering all the fast Likes as well as multiple complaints on the Page that people were added without permission? There are a few scenarios.

1. Oracle Bought a Crapload of Likes

There are several companies online that, for a fee, will provide you with thousands of social likes and follows. Fans on Facebook, views on YouTube, followers on Twitter, etc. Businesses often carry out this practice to make them seem more popular, especially when it’s a brand. However, these are usually crappy bot followers, not real people like the ones complaining loudly on the Oracle page. So, this seems unlikely.

2. Oracle Paid Facebook to Create a Large Fanbase for Them

Facebook is under a lot of pressure to show viable monetization solutions, especially given the lacklustre performance of their share price since the IPO earlier this year. It could be that enterprise organizations like Oracle would perhaps pay Facebook a fee to connect folks that would use Oracle’s services, based on demographic and industry. However, this also seems unlikely as it’s something that goes against Facebook’s privacy policy.

3. Oracle are Consolidating and Transferring Other Business Fans

This seems the most likely answer. To boost their social media presence, Oracle bought social apps company Involver and Facebook data company Vitrue, and molded them into Oracle’s bigger social media practice for customers. Erwin Meester suggested that Oracle is merging all the accounts into one big Oracle Social page. Which, if that’s the case, asks some serious questions on brands and permissions.

People are Not Properties

There’s a saying that if you aren’t paying for the product, then you are the product. It’s particularly specific to social media platforms, or media platforms where you get free access to certain services.

Essentially, by not paying to use Facebook, they (and the brands that pay them for access to you) can do whatever they like, and the only recourse if you don’t like this approach is to leave the service in question.

But should that also include automatic liking of a Page? I don’t think so. Even, as Erwin suggests, if you liked the page of a company that gets bought by another, that doesn’t mean you’re going to like the new company.

I used Involver’s YouTube app, so that was my connection to them. BUT, I had zero connection to Oracle. I’ve never used their service and I’ve certainly never liked any of their Facebook pages. And yet, there I was, a fan of the brand new Oracle Social page.

This is wrong, and a crappy approach to marketing. As a customer of Involver, I get my service use may be transferred to Oracle if I was to continue using the original platform. But that’s my choice as a paying customer. What was not my choice was the automatic like of a page I have no interest in.

Some of the things that should have happened include public updates on the Pages to be affected; a social outreach (heck, Oracle has the resources to do so); and emails to paying customers. These are just three solutions. Think about updating websites with big bold messaging on company landing pages too. There’s a lot that could have been done.

But just bringing all the fans onto one page whether they wanted to be there or not? That stinks and is a very poor strategy by Oracle, if this is indeed what’s happening.

Social is a Smart and Questioning Place

If you head on over to the Oracle Social page, you’ll see over 60 complaints (and rising) about adding people that had no previous connection to Oracle. And that’s just on the page.

Across personal profiles on Facebook, people are talking about the poor strategy around the whole incident. Amy McCloskey Tobin, owner of Ariel Marketing Group, raised a valid point when she asked where the Community Managers were, to answer the fire storm that was taking place in the page’s feed.

Oracle Social
(click image to expand)

I reached out to three of the Twitter accounts associated with Oracle, and also emailed Kimberly Pineda, Director of Communications at Oracle, to try and find out exactly what was happening and if they thought it was a good idea to use the practice of non-permitted likes. So far, no response.

Here’s the thing. Social media has continuously proven that if you do something weird or questionable, it will usually blow up in your face. Forcing people to like a brand they may have no interest in whatsoever is not the smartest thing to do.

When you do it in the very small hours of the morning at the weekend, it also comes across as surreptitious, and makes you (the brand) look even worse, as is evident in the comments over on the Oracle Social wall.

If this is consolidation, it would have been a good idea to publicly advise, via social updates and emails, what was about to happen, and offer the opportunity to opt out before being set up as a fan of a non-relevant brand.

It’ll be interesting to get Oracle’s take on this. I’ll keep you posted.

Further reading: Bad Social Practices Blow Up in the Middle of the Night

Update 1 – 9.41am EST November 10: According to a source close to Oracle, they’re merging Pages and working with Facebook on this. Still no official word or answers to the questions on the Oracle Social page.

Update 2 – 11.00am EST November 10: Oracle has just posted an explanation and apology on their Facebook Page.

Update 3 – 12.16pm EST November 10: Oracle has just posted a “welcome” to confused users on their Facebook Page.

Update 4 – 8.40pm EST November 12: Oracle posted on their corporate blog, sharing lessons learned and clarification of the merge details.

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m really curious about your third scenario, and wondering if there is a fourth. I still feel like perhaps they have figured out a way to “game” the system via their software, and are perhaps using this as a stunt to show their power. Which, if that’s the case, it is clearly backfiring.

    But if your scenario is correct, is it a “merging” of other pages? Which you can do, but usually you have to jump through hoops and wait a long time, if for instance your business has two pages and you want to make them one page. Will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few days.

    • says

      That fourth scenario is an interesting one, mate – and, if it is true, would probably be even worse for them. Gaming a system and T&C to show your platform’s value? Hmm…

      The merging is a weird one. I get merging multiple pages of an existing brand into one – say, Oracle Enterprise, Oracle SMB, Oracle IT, etc – but these are three separate brands and customers. That’s what makes the practice that little bit shady, and raises the permission angle.

  2. brandidupre says

    I was one of the folks that talked to Aaron about this because I also auto-liked the page without a prompt of any sort. Like Aaron, I noticed that 70-something of my friends had liked the page, all of which were coincidentally my most “Social” friends. I’m curious to know how this happened, so I will be keeping posted on this article as updates are provided. To my knowledge, I have never liked a page without my own consent, until now. Creepy and not cool.

    • says

      Hey there Brandi,

      So it appears to be a very poorly managed page merge which went through “faster than expected”. Even so, like you say, just advise beforehand what’s happening and we’ll be prepared for the confusion that clearly happened last night, and is continuing into today.

  3. says

    What blows my mind is that they’d transfer users from other pages before the page they’re transferring to has any content. That seems like such a common-sense mistake that even people outside of marketing should be raising eyebrows.

    It’s also before the new page is even reflected on their website’s social media page, so people seeing the page and questioning its validity wouldn’t have anywhere to verify the page is legit.

    All sorts of fail going around here. If Facebook had their shit together, they would have a checklist for how to transition multiple pages into one page properly, and that would include notifying people on all of the merging pages well ahead of time that their likes will be transferred and giving them the chance to opt-out.

    • says

      Agreed, mate. According to their page update this morning, they were going to welcome everyone over next week – but that seems bad customer appreciation if you’re just going to advise after the fact. What happened to keeping customers in the loop?

  4. says

    It’s shocking that they would do something like this… Who advises them on best social media practices? The best money can buy, no?

    So amateurish – – and they could have leveraged this event to their advantage if their heads weren’t so far up their bums.

    What a waste and huge social misstep that will need to be fixed.

    If they admit their mistake, develop a social strategy with a little common sense, they can get things on track.

    These kind of mistakes cost companies like Oracle millions of dollars. Talk about burning through money for no good reason!

    You should send Larry your contact information immediately – geesh!

    • says

      Hey there mate, this from the Oracle update:

      “We have plans to do that next week (advise of the changes) and welcome everyone from Collective Intellect, Involver, and Vitrue’s previous Facebook pages to the new Oracle Social Facebook page.”

      For me, if I’m a paying customer and you’re telling me about changes to my services or accounts after the event, that’s lazy customer service and weak marketing outreach. Especially for such a large company that aren’t exactly strangers to the social space.

  5. says

    I was coming here to let you know they apologized and explained, but I see you’re already aware of it. :)

    I have to say, I agree with your assessment on their page – they should’ve offered a public opt-in somehow. Not sure how that would’ve worked, though. I know Facebook has offered page merging for some time, now. With pages’ current limitations regarding sponsored posts and slim percentages of posts showing to their fans, they may have had their hands tied.

    • says

      With regards the paying customers of Involver, Vitrue and Collective Intellect (the guys Oracle bought), it would have been very easy to send them an email or similar message. With the pages that were being taken over, continuous updates multiple times per day on the networks they’re active on would have been another way to do it. And Oracle Social themselves could have had a big cover image that explained why people were now Liking their page.

      Legwork? Yes. Worth it? Most definitely.

  6. says

    It’s nice to see that they’ve finally responded – but it really is shocking how sloppy this whole process was. It seems like both Facebook and Oracle share responsibility for this. How can you treat 1 million + with so much disdain that you wouldn’t plan this whole process out more carefully?

    • says

      i think that’s the biggest takeaway from this whole episode, Tonia – that the “fans” who helped build the community up to what it was appeared to be treated as nothing but numbered commodities. I hope this isn’t a trend.

  7. says

    I don’t think anyone said it better than Mark Wiliams of Live World, so allow me to paste in his comment on how Oracle didn’t do anything “wrong”, but certainly could have done this better:

    Their ‘sin’ is the lack of communication either before the merge or during. Not too many people follow the intricate details of corporate mergers and acquisitions, so for many, it appears that they have been magically ‘acquired’ by Oracle without their knowledge or consent.

    A better way to go, if Oracle is really excited about this new venture, would have been to buy some sponsored stories announcing the new name. Let people know that if they were a fan of Vitrue (for example), that they will LOVE the new Oracle Social.

    Target some ads inviting people to come look at the new Oracle Social.

    On the new FB page, put a welcome note out (one is there now, but a little too late since they are already starting with a controversy), that explains the new venture and why one might ‘like’ the page – it’s an opportunity to communicate with people about their new venture.

    Maybe even seed it with some discussion topics every few hours so as people peruse the page for the first time, they get a feel for what the new venture is all about.

    One thing you DON’T do is launch the migration like a thief in the middle of the night on a weekend and not have anyone there to respond to inquiries.

    They have severely underestimated their own audience, and caused a breach of trust. For a company that is trying to sell services managing social relationships for others, that’s just about the worst thing that they could have done.

    There’s nothing nefarious about the practice of migrating pages. It’s the handling of the whole rollout that has people (rightly) complaining.

      • says

        Danny– solid analysis in your article! Man, you were fast!

        Best regards,
        Dennis Yu
        Chief Executive Officer, BlitzLocal

        Ask me about our killer Facebook dashboards!

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  8. says

    All fantastic points here in the blog and comment section. I hope you’re reading the comments on the Oracle page there too. Lots of good insight from “forced” fans. If Oracle had thought through 20% of the ideas that its fans have shared, it wouldn’t be in this firestorm.

    After having MANY discussions with other social media marketers about this in the past 24 hours (some of whom have already commented here), I think there are a few big questions we, as an industry, should aim to address:

    1. Are fans transferable corporate assets? I think not, but others disagree.

    2. Is social media really “earned” media? If it is, how do you go about earning allegiance for a new brand when people had previously liked a company you purchased? Is it possible to transfer allegiance without backlash? For example, could a political candidate do this? Would we consider it acceptable to transfer all of a senator’s fans to an incoming senator after the former senator got beat in an election? If not, why would it be okay for brands to do this?

    3. Should PR folks (who have experience in crisis planning/mitigation/communications that other marketing disciplines just don’t have) be in charge of these types of activities? How do corporate social media teams plan for crises? I continue to be astounded at how often they happen, so I guess the answers aren’t obvious.

    4. Should big brands (or any businesses, for that matter) trust Facebook (which often demonstrates it appears to be run by children filled with narcissistic hubris) to help them with sensitive customer relationships issues? Does FB have the customer service street cred to deserve this trust?

    5. If only 1 percent of Oracle fans complain about this (or are even aware of the transfer) on Facebook, are the other 99 percent of fans even worth having? Are they really fans (in the original definition of the word) if they don’t notice or care?

    Thoughts?

    • says

      Hey there Carri,

      Thanks for such a fantastic comment – you’re right, it could be a post on its own. :)

      Here’s my thoughts on your points:

      1. I’d agree with you. I’m of the mindset that my subscription, customer loyalty, call it what you will, is with the originating brand. If that changes, you have to earn my trust as a new entity.

      2. To piggyback on from the previous answer, you show that you’re not really changing anything except the name. Look at Facebook’s handling of Instagram – one of the best things they ever did was leave it alone and, if anything, that’s seen the userbase grow even more, and allow Instagram to move forward with initiatives like the web profiles. So a transition can be done well and seamlessly, and in a way that shows the new brand owner has everyone’s best interests at heart.

      3. I’m not sure whether they should be involved in the actual process, but there’s definitely a need for them to be aware of what’s going on, when it’s meant to be happening, and watching the channels around the time things are meant to change. Oracle should be aware (and they definitely are now) that new owners always instill initial mistrust to customers or employees – so the trust factor that needs to be built up can be encouraged by how a PR team responds and takes control when something like this happens.

      4. As @facebook-705169256:disqus mentions in her comment, it would be beneficial to Facebook to offer an advanced How-To (if they don’t already offer one). They have responsibility too, since brands are paying them thousands of dollars for ads, expanded analytics, etc. Plus, if you’re handling something as sensitive as the transfer of a million people to a new destination, you better make sure you don’t screw something up in the process and let the brand take the hit.

      5. That’s the million dollar question around the EdgeRank algorithm, isn’t it? 😉 For me, most fans of a page probably forgot they liked at one point or another (perhaps for a coupon, or something). For Oracle Social, though, these fans are essentially strangers to the brand, as seen in the confusion and anger in the comments. Since this transfer conveniently happened in the wee hours of a Friday night/Saturday morning weekend, most folks aren’t even aware what happened. There might still be a lot of kickback coming Oracle’s way in the next few days – I guess time will tell.

      Thanks, Carri!

  9. says

    This reads like textbook examples of every ‘do not do this in social’ (or business, for that matter) rule. Yowza. Still surprises me to see a company so large and experienced get it so wrong right out of the gate.

    • says

      I guess this is what happens when you buy social versus have social as an internal culture to begin with, Jennifer? Definitely some key takeaways from the last 24 hours.

  10. says

    Maybe there should be a brand application quiz when launching a new page that
    presents various scenarios and multiple choice answers as to how they would handle them. If they fail the quiz, they have to complete training modules before they can launch their page. Come to think of it, maybe FACEBOOK itself should have to do the same when releasing new UI updates, features and privacy policy changes (since they’ve come under more fire than most brands on their network).

    • says

      You know, that’s not a bad idea, Heather. There are a few people that have said Facebook dropped Oracle in it, by merging four days ahead of schedule. Although the page would still have had to have been set up (even in stealth mode) before the merge, so the points raised by others that a note should have been pinned as the lead update rings true too.

      But, yeah, Facebook should definitely have an easy go-to guide for this and help brands avoid messes like this.

  11. says

    The main thing to take away from this is that FB is desperate to show revenue sources from advertising from their billion or so members. Ellison, and Oracle, are desperate to be part of the social drama in networking.since he essentially missed the whole boat.

  12. says

    Shortly after your email arrived in my inbox yesterday, I was over on Facebook and noticed a post from Oracle Social in my own newsfeed. Wowzers. I don’t believe I was ever a fan of the other 3 pages you mentioned, and quickly unliked their page. Is it possible they could have brought in other pages or friends of friends to like this new page?

    • says

      It’s really bizarre – a lot of people have said the same as you. A LOT. I only ever used Involver’s app; I never Liked the page and yet there I was on the Oracle Social Likes list. There’s something weird going on, and Oracle are staying quiet on the whole thing when asked by people.

  13. says

    That’s interesting since Facebook tends to be rather strict about merging pages. The rules are that the name and address need to be identical or nearly identical to merge. I guess the way around that would be changing the names and addresses of those other pages to Oracle Social’s prior to the merge.

    • says

      That’s a definite possibility, mate – though I’m thinking that probably didn’t happen, otherwise you wouldn’t have as many people saying they’d never heard of Oracle prior to the merge, although they did Like Involver, Vitrue, etc. I’m wondering if we’ll ever know what fully happened.

      • says

        Well, my thought is that they could have done this all at once — changed the name of the pages and immediately merged them. The only other option is that Facebook helped them do something they don’t allow anyone else to do. That would set a dangerous precedent.

  14. says

    Sadly I am not shocked to see this. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they just didn’t think about this (which really isn’t a compliment) but am inclined to say they didn’t care.

    There are still lots of people who don’t have much experience working/dealing with “social” and because of this they have no clue about what sort of reaction/response they get from being heavy handed.

  15. says

    Wow Disqus! You are a commenting system uhm…..can I say the word slut here? 8)

    Vitrue is a sham. So if you bought them what does it say about you? I know this is late in the game. They posted an explanation on Facebook but I still think it is a shyster move.

  16. kittylou25012 says

    Such a very good social media site is the Facebook. Only thing to be considered is have to track with clients regularly and also follow up the updates.

    • Danny Brown says

      It makes me wonder if Facebook isn't being quite honest with us on how pages accrue fans, and whether they're operating a premium option for pages to have fans allocated to them? I'm hearing more examples like this a lot now.