One issue up for discussion in this evening's free-form health care social media tweetchat was the fake Facebook page of eSara Baker, posted as a form of marketing for a company providing online health-related services (which sound like typical patient portal stuff like scheduling appointments and accessing test results). The page prominently states: "If you haven't uncovered our secret yet, here it is: Sara isn't a real person."
The identity of the company and the services provided are not at issue here. The issue discussed in the #hcsm tweetchat was whether using social media to market a health care service through the use of a fabricated profile was unethical and/or harmful to authentic uses of social media for health care.
I disagree with some of my #hcsm cohorts who tweeted their upset with the fake Facebook page, saying it represented a setback for health care social media (i.e., that it would harm "authentic" health care social media efforts).
My take: This is just an example of the medium's coming of age. Marketing on Facebook can now be as fake and manipulative as it may be in other media. Infomercials, product placements, dramatized ads using characters from TV shows, guys and gals in white coats pretending to be doctors in TV commercials, etc., etc. — social media is not immune to manipulation, because despite the many differences from mainstream media, there are still many ways in which "old media" and "new media" are alike.
Hey, it's the end of the "underground" era, that's all. FM radio started life without ads, and now that it's saturated with ads and hyper-segmented and targeted, many programmers and listeners have migrated to other platforms: internet radio, XM, podcasting, etc. Whether this is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end, all that the appearance of this fake Facebook profile (which wasn't super-engaging, or convincing, by the way) says to me is that the health care social media pioneers have a choice to make: they can take this to be one more reason to bemoan the collapse of Western civilization, or at least Facebook ("nostalgia isn't what it used to be"), and migrate elsewhere — or they can have one more reason to keep doing what they're doing incredibly well, because if they maintain a continuing, authentic, transparent interaction with their public, developing trust and influence, then the presence of some fake profiles (that really, at the end of the day, do not pose a threat to this level of engagement) shouldn't really bother anyone all that much.
What do you think?
Update 4/27/10: Check out the twitter exchange I had with the marketing communications manager for the company that put up the fake Facebook page (read bottom-to-top), and see also another perspective on the issue, posted by Phil Baumann.