Why Mark Zuckerberg is right to dismiss Facebook users

As a specialist in online communities and social media, it may seem a little strange that I would suggest Mark Zuckerberg is right to ignore the complaints of Facebook users over the recent changes to the social network, but stick with me on this one.

Mark Zuckerberg by Leafar. on Flickr (CC Licence)

Mark Zuckerberg by Leafar. on Flickr (CC Licence)

The story so far:

Facebook releases a redesign which shows more of a Friendfeed/Twitter influence. Users react badly and an app is introduced to vote on the new design. The app has over 1 million votes so far, with 94% against the new layout and 600,000 comments – Facebook has over 175 million users for context. (A suitable time to remind everyone of ‘the supermarket effect‘ when it comes to redesigns?)

Then on Friday, Gawker posted details of a memo by Mark Zuckerberg to Facebook employees, supplied by an anonymous tipster.  ‘He said something like ‘the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers’

Sadly, the memo hasn’t been published anywhere, so like everyone else, I’m going on the third-hand hearsay. Cnet has a reasonable summary of the split between people attacking Facebook/Zuckerberg for his apparent lack of concern about users, and those who are supporting Facebook. So far, though, only Robert Scoble appears to have addressed why Zuckerberg is right to dismiss user concerns in this instance.

So why is Mark Zuckerberg right?

There’s a difference between collaboration and co-creation (which I evangelise), and, as Scoble puts it, ‘letting the customers run our business mode’. Think of every product that has been dulled by focus groups until it fails to ignite any interest from anyone.

Zuckerberg wants to keep Facebook disruptive – which is completely correct if it will avoid the loss of interest associated with the previous big social networks – look at the current state of Friendster and  Myspace. Both are still sizeable, but when did either of them ignite any sense of passion or controversy?

Too often, a great idea gets lost in repeated meetings, discussions and trying to meet the expectations of everyone involved – now try applying the views of 175 million people to a business plan.

Leadership by Dunechaser on Flickr (CC Licence)

Leadership by Dunechaser on Flickr (CC Licence)

And it takes strong leadership to lead any project, no matter how democratic in nature – from Wikipedia to Twitter, users contribute, collaborate, create, build-on and influence – but eventually someone has to pick a strategy and run with it.

And the redesign is leading to reports of the benefits for brands and for Facebook advertising.

Meanwhile Scoble points to user data and recommendations leading to businesses. And the fact that people may claim they’re rushing to leave since the redesign, but what people say is often different to what they do, and with such a critical mass, there are a lot of strong ties to break, with no like-for-like alternative really getting any attention.

They just don’t get it:

Part of my reason for posting is an article by Frank Reed over at Marketing Pilgrim, and others like it. We shouldn’t confuse customer service with customers dictating business strategy simply by an immediate backlash – all customer input should be acknowledged, and then a decision has to be made to act on it. It’s the same confusion that portrays Open Source as impossible to make money from, or social media as the only place to bother marketing in.

(And for the record, I don’t like the new design, I’m not going to leave over it, and I probably use Facebook 1-2 times a day for pleasure and 3-4 times a day for work, preferring Twitter and Friendfeed).

Comments

  1. Good article Dan – I like the idea, but if media’s taught us anything, it’s that the vocal minority can disrupte enough to bring down what they want.

    Just look at the Ross/Brand thing, only a minority of the people who watch the BBC/read the Daily Mail actually went for the throat, and they got it.

    I’m not saying this is the same thing, and I think some controversy and idea of ‘keeping it fresh’ in Social Media is a good thing, but to actively dismiss the vocal minority is a dangerous thing.

    Oh, and I don’t like it either.

    Gareth

    • Incidentally, without seeing the original memo, we’re all operating on hearsay, but if I was trying to make the same point as Mark Zuckerberg, I’d have stated it as “The most disruptive companies choose to ignore users when it makes sense as a business” but it’s not quite as snappy.

  2. Good article Dan – I like the idea, but if media’s taught us anything, it’s that the vocal minority can disrupte enough to bring down what they want.

    Just look at the Ross/Brand thing, only a minority of the people who watch the BBC/read the Daily Mail actually went for the throat, and they got it.

    I’m not saying this is the same thing, and I think some controversy and idea of ‘keeping it fresh’ in Social Media is a good thing, but to actively dismiss the vocal minority is a dangerous thing.

    Oh, and I don’t like it either.

    Gareth

    • Incidentally, without seeing the original memo, we’re all operating on hearsay, but if I was trying to make the same point as Mark Zuckerberg, I’d have stated it as “The most disruptive companies choose to ignore users when it makes sense as a business” but it’s not quite as snappy.

  3. Christian says:

    Dan, I’m not sure if I’m reading this right, but essentially you seem to be saying that Zuckerberg was trying to re-invigorate Facebook by making it less usable. Perhaps yes, it generated news and ‘buzz’ but if you’ve got an unusable product at the end of the day, that buzz isn’t going to sustain you very long. I do agree about not letting your customer (entirely) dictate your strategy, but is Zuckerberg flogging a dead horse?

    • Hi,
      Many thanks for the comments, and it’s highlighted that I might need to clarify my thoughts a bit further!

      I’m not saying that you should totally ignore vocal users, or consider it wise to make Facebook less usable to generate buzz and controversy. If I thought that was what Mark Zuckerberg was doing, I’d definitely be more vocal in speaking out against it.

      What I’m proposing is that it can be a mistake to allow every input from users to define the business strategy and direction of the company – for example, the recent Facebook changes might have made the site initially less usable/more confusing for the average person, but if the eventual aim is to increase brands using Facebook advertising and to allow better data collection, then it might be the right move for Facebook as a business.

      Essentially it’s a word of caution against jumping on the social media bandwagon and advocating that you take every opinion into account – if you’re doing something radically different, a lot of people will speak out as an instinctive reaction before even giving it a try. How many films have been attacked for various reasons by people who haven’t even seen or read much about them, for example, or been watered down by focus audiences? I think it was South Park which initially made a focus group of female viewers start crying when they watched it, but by going ahead it became enormously successful.

      To get value from listening, monitoring and involving people, it takes a certain amount of awareness and knowledge to set things up in the right way – for instance, the use of ideagoras by the likes of P&G etc is a very specific way of using the wisdom of many individuals outside of the company to be involved in value creation. You need to have a clear idea of what and how you’ll respond, and why. For instance, implementing @ replies in Twitter was a hugely important user-driven innovation, and yet the Twitter team haven’t responded to the requests to implement groups as yet, and I’d guess that’s due to a business reason, rather than hiding away!

  4. Christian says:

    Dan, I’m not sure if I’m reading this right, but essentially you seem to be saying that Zuckerberg was trying to re-invigorate Facebook by making it less usable. Perhaps yes, it generated news and ‘buzz’ but if you’ve got an unusable product at the end of the day, that buzz isn’t going to sustain you very long. I do agree about not letting your customer (entirely) dictate your strategy, but is Zuckerberg flogging a dead horse?

    • Hi,
      Many thanks for the comments, and it’s highlighted that I might need to clarify my thoughts a bit further!

      I’m not saying that you should totally ignore vocal users, or consider it wise to make Facebook less usable to generate buzz and controversy. If I thought that was what Mark Zuckerberg was doing, I’d definitely be more vocal in speaking out against it.

      What I’m proposing is that it can be a mistake to allow every input from users to define the business strategy and direction of the company – for example, the recent Facebook changes might have made the site initially less usable/more confusing for the average person, but if the eventual aim is to increase brands using Facebook advertising and to allow better data collection, then it might be the right move for Facebook as a business.

      Essentially it’s a word of caution against jumping on the social media bandwagon and advocating that you take every opinion into account – if you’re doing something radically different, a lot of people will speak out as an instinctive reaction before even giving it a try. How many films have been attacked for various reasons by people who haven’t even seen or read much about them, for example, or been watered down by focus audiences? I think it was South Park which initially made a focus group of female viewers start crying when they watched it, but by going ahead it became enormously successful.

      To get value from listening, monitoring and involving people, it takes a certain amount of awareness and knowledge to set things up in the right way – for instance, the use of ideagoras by the likes of P&G etc is a very specific way of using the wisdom of many individuals outside of the company to be involved in value creation. You need to have a clear idea of what and how you’ll respond, and why. For instance, implementing @ replies in Twitter was a hugely important user-driven innovation, and yet the Twitter team haven’t responded to the requests to implement groups as yet, and I’d guess that’s due to a business reason, rather than hiding away!

  5. I agree with you. People suggesting that Facebook should have made more gradual of a change, probably don’t realise that this is most likely the first step towards something even bigger.

    Afterall, we hope that Zuckerberg & co.’s strategic vision extends beyond copying Twitter and FriendFeed.

    I think they needed to radically shift the mode of interaction from a passive newsfeed model to an active publisher-based model.

    Let’s also not forget that Zuckerberg faced the same backlash when introducing the newsfeed, and was proven right.

    I think we’ve seen Facebook’s willingness to take chances, and when wrong (see Beacon, or T&C’s privacy issue) roll them back quickly.

    Compared to risk-averse culture that has Google and Yahoo acquiring more services than developing new ones – it’s a breathe of fresh air to see Facebook stay true to the attitude that made it successful in the first place.

  6. I agree with you. People suggesting that Facebook should have made more gradual of a change, probably don’t realise that this is most likely the first step towards something even bigger.

    Afterall, we hope that Zuckerberg & co.’s strategic vision extends beyond copying Twitter and FriendFeed.

    I think they needed to radically shift the mode of interaction from a passive newsfeed model to an active publisher-based model.

    Let’s also not forget that Zuckerberg faced the same backlash when introducing the newsfeed, and was proven right.

    I think we’ve seen Facebook’s willingness to take chances, and when wrong (see Beacon, or T&C’s privacy issue) roll them back quickly.

    Compared to risk-averse culture that has Google and Yahoo acquiring more services than developing new ones – it’s a breathe of fresh air to see Facebook stay true to the attitude that made it successful in the first place.