(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
Last week, Facebook announced that it had removed tens of millions of user posts in just the past six months for violating its terms of service.
“What it says, if anything, is that we’re working harder to identify this and take action on it and be transparent about that than what any others are,” the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a report.
If you’re of the tens of millions of small businesses that use Facebook (and its sister site Instagram) to advertise, sell products and communicate with your community what does this mean for you? It means you better be careful. Facebook has thousands of algorithms and a large internal team monitoring its users’ activities, and the company is quick to shut down any user or business page that is trying to sell products or otherwise exercise behavior that it considers to be unacceptable. What does this mean?
It first means that you have to be careful about what you’re selling. Obviously, illegal or known stolen items such as drugs and counterfeit goods are a no-no. But the social media service also bans the sale of many additional products that are considered to be legal in other parts of the country. These items include tobacco products and related paraphernalia, firearms and ammunition, pets, “sexually suggestive services,” alcohol and even certain posts with downloadable content, including PDFs, music, games and films. If you try to sell any of these items – even if you do this legitimately elsewhere – you could be looking at a ban from the service.
But the ban isn’t limited to just what you’re selling. Facebook also takes a user’s behavior very seriously. The company will crack down if your posts contain content that it considers to be shocking, sensational, disrespectful or portray excessive violence. It will crack down on your posts that – to them – are “overtly sexualized”, discriminates by suggesting a preference for or against people because of a personal characteristic or if it contains any form of what it considers to be hate speech.
If any of these violations occur, Facebook has the right to immediately disable your account, even without giving you warning and obviously this can be a serious problem for your business. If it does happen, you’ll likely be forced to fill out a special form requesting a review of your account. Facebook says it will resolve issues within four to five business days. But there’s no guarantee that the resolution will be to your favor. If Facebook’s team decides to ban your page even after a formal review, then unfortunately you’ll have little chance for an appeal.
Why is the company so draconian? It’s because Facebook (and Instagram) is a free service. When you sign up for this service you have to agree to their terms and conditions. They don’t owe you anything and in this current hyper-sensitive political environment, the company is subject to more scrutiny than ever. Facebook makes its money from advertising and that advertising mostly comes from big corporate brands. If you’re a small business, it’s better off for them to just ban you and move on, rather than deal with the fallout of bad publicity. But that’s not a great option, particularly if your business relies on the social media giant for its livelihood. So how can you make sure you stay in the company’s good graces? By at least doing these three things.
Next, make sure to avoid spamming and posting too much. Most experts agree that posting a few messages a day is fine, but posting or sending hundreds or thousands of messages or ads will catch the eyes of the Facebook police and could cause them to increase their scrutiny of your business page. Social media experts have different thoughts on this, but my rule of thumb is to give yourself at least a half hour between your posts and messages and to limit your current campaigns to less than a dozen at a time.
Finally, make sure your content is original. Frequently using pre-published posts, images or videos from others will also catch the attention of the Facebook review team. Also make sure you either have permission to use images in your posts or are using images from a royalty free site such as Unsplash or Morguefile.
If you’re depending on either Facebook or Instagram for leads, product sales or even as your main platform for communicating with your customers then it’s important to pay close attention to how you – and your employees – behave on the service. It’s not too hard to be shut down and when that happens getting your business reinstated is very difficult. All of this should give you some pause for thought. Given the changing environment and the lack of control your company has, is it possible that placing too much reliance on Facebook for your small company’s growth has more risks than rewards?