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Does Facebook have it backwards?

As one of the over 200 million Facebook-ees worldwide, I find this site a useful way to stay in touch with friends, organize events, compete in silly games, and track down long lost acquaintances (Most who are almost unrecognizable now both in their photos and their comments. Who knew people would actually grow up after we lost touch years ago?).

But, it seems that every time I turn around, Facebook is making changes.

From modifications to Facebook’s:

·         User interface

·         Layout

·         Status update question (from ‘What are you doing?’ to ‘What’s on your mind?’)

·         Privacy policies

·         Custom usernames

I have a hard time keeping up with them all. And, given the chatter I hear about these modifications, it makes me wonder how much Facebook is investing in gathering opinions and then acting upon them, rather than making a change and then waiting to see what their users think. In doing a quick search on Facebook for ‘new layout’, I note that over 500 groups have formed to comment about the changes they’ve made. Most are, to put it mildly, not pleased.

 

You see, every time something changes, the backlash seems overwhelming. Part of that is that you obviously cannot please everyone all the time, and part of it is that people get comfortable and don’t want to learn something new.

However, I’m sure that with some targeted guidance, Facebook should be able to better identify the areas that users praise them for relative to their perceived competition (Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc), where their biggest areas for opportunity reside, and what users care about most in their experiences. While many members have gotten over their initial anger, that sentiment can linger. It’s obvious that Facebook utilizes beta-testers and focus groups, but small pockets of qualitative feedback cannot possibly be representative of the perceptions users have across this vast network.

While I’m more of a casual user, I’ve never been asked to provide feedback about the site or my overall user experience. Of course, I have the opportunity to give my ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ based on comments, start a group, or add my own comments, but I’ve never seen or heard of an opportunity to provide Facebook with a form of structured feedback that could assure me that my voice is being heard and leveraged in the next change that Facebook has in store for us.

Perhaps this is happening within their organization, but if so, they’d be well served by communicating their efforts and how it drives their actions. Not everyone would have to like it, but it would communicate the rationale for making changes, and lend itself to some goodwill by directly linking to a core group of users registering this as a request or gap. Today, though, it seems that Facebook’s changes come off as let’s hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope that people like it, rather than having the confidence that they know a representative group of customers have requested a change, and we’re delivering to meet their evolving needs.

What kinds of mistakes could your company avoid just taking time to figure out what customers are going to think beforehand?

Brad Harmon
Vice President, Client Services

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