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.
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.
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).