Dear Facebook: Don’t Listen to Us(ers)

March 23, 2009

markzA big deal is currently being made about the recent redesign of Facebook.  You can read about it anywhere, see it in a new Facebook poll, or check it out for yourself.  It’s the same old story from the same people about the same problems, blah, blah, blah.

In the most recent round of design changes, Facebook changed the Homepage, made company pages more like profile pages, and made some minor font and layout changes on the profiles.  All of these changes were announced ahead of time, and users were updated as the changes came closer.  And then it happened, the changes took effect, and people got angry.

This is nothing new in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. In fact, nearly every time Facebook has changed something about the website they have encountered a backlash from their own community.  And when you serve as many people as the most popular social network does, you would almost expect it.

The crazy thing is, the backlash is usually followed by an explanation from Zuckerberg himself, but no real change (or a very small one), never going back to the way things were before the change.  And what happens to the people who hated the changes?  They just accept things the way they are.  Why? Basically because they are already so hooked as a Facebook user that they will shut their mouths and continue to use the network anyway.

I have a feeling Mark Zuckerberg knows this, and he uses it to his advantage.  Whereas other companies who may shake things up when this many users complain about a new program or design, Facebook seems to be sitting back and waiting for the latest round of craziness to pass.  And I think that is exactly what they should be doing.

Remember when Facebook changed their homepage the first time, adding the news feed that everyone is talking about.  For the first time as users, we were privy to a constant stream of updates from all of our friends.  Remember the backlash that created among the community.  What happened?  People threatened to leave Facebook forever, Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology for springing this on us without telling us before hand, updated a few privacy features, and left the news feed exactly as it was.  Those who fought back against it eventually stopped talking, accepted the change, and moved on.

This is will no doubt happen again with this design change.

In addition, this round of changes increases the value that Facebook has to corporate members and paid sponsors.  By updating these pages and feeding them into the profile-like stream, they allow companies to connect with more people on the network, increasing the chances of Facebook finding new and successful business models.

So when I say that Zuckerberg, and the rest of the team at Facebook, should not listen to the naysayers on this one, I mean it.  Just keep doing what you are doing, focus on improving the service and finding a monetization strategy (one that works), and let us complain all day.

I know this might sound odd coming from someone who discusses the need for companies to listen to their customers to drive forward moving and successful change.  And I also know that many people will disagree with this.  But the point is, Facebook is in a different league.  They are not defined by what their users think because their users have already shown how fickle they are.  No one is going to leave the network because of these design changes, Facebook will not lose any money, and truthfully, the service is not worse.  Sorry guys, Facebook wins.

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What do your Customers Want? Ask them

February 19, 2009

pdre042052The days of focus groups, hiring expensive business consultants, conducting mass surveys, and spending countless amounts of money designing and redesigning products that go nowhere are all but over.  We are officially connected. Connected with each other, with other businesses, and with the customer.

Whether you are a small business owner struggling to find more business or a CEO who is comfortable with your current market position, you can always learn from your customers.  Don’t ever let yourself be tricked into thinking that because you know the company so well, you know best what to do next.  Because you don’t.

First, think about who talks to your customers the most.  You have a customer service department that solves their problems, a sales team that helps them answer questions and make a purchase, and maybe a group of brand ambassadors that communicates with potential customers and advocates.  They are all in a better position than you to create real change in the customers’ eyes.

Listen to what they have to say. Create a suggestion box and give them credit (maybe cash) if one of their suggestions gets implemented.  Hold weekly meetings for them to voice their opinions.  Allow them a forum for open communication between various departments.  Create teams to develop these new ideas.

Start a blog that you use to communicate directly to a community of your customers or clients.  Tell them what you are working on, how you are solving their problems, and who you are working with.  And constantly ask for their feedback.  They will be quick to tell you where you are going right and even quicker to tell you where you are going wrong.  But as many companies that have already done this have seen, they will show you where you can improve and thank you for actually making the effort.

Use various social networks to solve problems and open the lines of communicationTwitter accounts can be used for customer service just like JetBlue, Zappos, and Comcast have done.  A Facebook page can be used for idea and strategy discussion.  Make the customers feel like they have a real ownership interest in the company.  They will reward you for it.

Starting today, you won’t have to come up with any new ideas on your own.  All you have to do is implement some or all of the strategies above and let the people do the talking.  Then just sit back and relax, make the decisions as they come, and enjoy a more powerful business; a business supported and backed by a community of evangelists.

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