Facebook ignores the PR playbook
The new Facebook design is getting a lot of negative feedback. Three groups dedicated to protesting the new look have grown hugely in the last few days, reaching 500,000 to 700,000 members each. The largest, Petition Against the New Facebook, was increasing its numbers by 7,000 per week at one point; it has grown by hundreds of thousands in the same period, to 671,000 at the time of writing.
There are folks on both sides—some think such groups are useless and even pop by to tell the members how ineffective they will ultimately be. They also point out that even a million users mean 1 per cent of Facebook’s total user base, and mean nothing. Others feel Facebook should listen to them, even if it is a free service, because they are users and are helping the company make money. That entitles them to a say.
As I observe these groups and Facebook’s behaviour since late July, when most users found out about the new design, I ﬁnd the company has been breaking quite a few rules in the PR playbook.
Facebook’s comments so far have been along the lines of dismissing the anti-new-FB groups. The one per cent argument—Facebook calls it a vocal minority—is tempting, especially as it could stand to treble its advertising revenue with its new design, assuming the 99 per cent remain. However, I do not follow this: not everyone will join a Facebook group for their own reasons, and remember that Coca-Cola also bet on mass acceptance when its own research showed that few would object to New Coke in the 1980s. Facebook might have a bigger revolt on its hands than the numbers show.
Similar groups that never reached anything close to a majority of Facebook users included one to rid the service of the ‘is’ in its status updates and another to rid the requirement of inviting 20 friends when adding applications. Both were successful.
It would be prudent for Facebook to at least acknowledge that there is a grass-roots effort against the new look and listen to some concerns. I have seen nothing from the company that any responsible, sensible ﬁrm would have issued by now, knowing that a vocal minority could indeed ﬁnd footing. The rate of growth cannot be ignored because it is exponential.
The company has not polled users on what they would like. One of its redesign team claims it has, but few would agree this ever took place.
Of course Facebook has a right to make a buck and not listen to anyone. However, history shows this is a dangerous path. Two sites, which added similar complexity that some anti-new-Facebook people dislike come to mind, and neither of them had groups of 600,000-plus reminding them of their folly. Boo.com was an overly advanced website in the age of dial-up and considered an early example of a dot com ignoring its user base. It failed badly and no longer exists. Once the world’s leading search engine, AltaVista, created a portal when users just wanted a good search engine, also ignoring users. People say Google became widely successful because of PageRank, but that is not totally true: netizens, sick of search engines adding in features they did not then want, wanted someone to get back to basics with a large index. Google was it.
As to me, I like the new look but I dislike the application incompatibilities and slower loading speed. My feedback in late July was acknowledged. However, I notice one user still reports similar bugs as of yesterday to what I complained about. When the new Facebook becomes permanent, will it be bug-free and efﬁcient, or will it give many people—many outside the 600,000-plus in each of the anti-redesign groups—an excuse to go elsewhere? Certainly few want to be on a site where it knows those behind the scenes have not listened or have proven arrogant in treating the public.
Facebook has not learned from very recent history and it may ﬁnd some people head over to its Russian rival, Vkontakte, in the same way that AltaVista refugees went to an upstart Google. It has happened before. Posted by Jack Yan, 10:27
Great Post! Has Facebook actually come out and said why they are making the switch to the new layout? In your article you mention that it is probably for the money aspect. So by having the tabbed layout it gives them more chances to throw unique ads at you?
Hey Jack. This is Pip Doumas, one of the Officers on the Petition Against group.
I found your blog from the link on the tinyMash comment you made.
I must say, this is an extremely well written entry, which outlines a lot of what I've been saying for the past few days as well. I've been trying to make the point of what a terrible business move it is, dismissing your customer as Facebook has been doing, and you said it better than I could have.
Many people say that "I don't pay them, how am I a customer." The problem with that logic is that although we don't pay, Facebook's users are the cause of Facebook's profit... You hit that on the head in this post.
Anyway, I don't have too much more to say...
See in the online angry mobs ;)
In regards of Facebook, the new layout is not bug-free. It has not work very well with IE8 beta2 and Google Chrome. These browsers would at times turn out blank or these browsers are not equipped to handle FB. FB is too bloated as Web2.0 app. I do not have high praise for the old layout either, but the new layout has a lot of work to do. I do hope FB would leave the old one for the people who rather have that one. The new one I do like for a few reasons: its a lot better for Windows Vista and Linux systems. Its not meant to work well with Windows XP. Its sad, but FB should listen to the masses though.
Cade, Facebook has said the change is for the users, but the tabbed layout should provide them more opportunities to throw ads at us.
Pip, thank you for stopping by. Many of the arguments in the groups in praise of the new Facebook seem the same each time—I sure wish they had read other threads to get their answers ﬁrst! They are in the minority, something they clearly do not realize when they do the misguided maths of 100 million minus the 700,000 on the Petition group.
Ehollo, I have heard this from other Facebook users, too. I did manage to get the new Facebook working with Chrome though (however, I only downloaded that at the weekend).
The layout has nothing to do with serving up more ads. Facebook has routinely and consistent made UI choices which LIMIT the number of page views. Hello news feed? Users had to dig around for stuff before, and each page loaded is another ad loaded. The Facebook news feed provided users with relevant information at the expense of page views.
Facebook is not in the UI redesign business to serve up more ads.
Second... have you not been paying attention at all?? They started a huge public consultation on the redesign process back in March or February. By April/May, there was a beta available for anyone with a developer account, and the beta went public in June/July. All the while, they were soliciting and getting a ton of user feedback through the Facebook Profile Previews page.
The new layout is better. It's much more efficient and makes a lot more sense. People are revolting because they're immature and/or because they just "liked things the way they were." People revolted against the news feed too -- could you imagine Facebook without it now?
# posted by Blaise Alleyne: 9/12/2008 10:52:00 AM
Blaise, obviously there are tens of millions of people who must be blind. Very few even heard of the consultation process unless you were a Facebook geek. How many people are on the developers’ forum or even surf by the Facebook blog? If you never did either, and used Facebook as a regular person, then it is totally unreasonable to assume this was a well communicated change.
If Facebook was prepared to get feedback on the new look as early as you stated, why was there no notiﬁcation of the redesign in the same way that there is a warning about the design change in the last few months? It was known solely to the Facebook cognoscenti and anyone who might have stumbled on the news accidentally.
Even if Facebook had no intent to increase advertising views, the redesign will have that consequence. I also challenge you to point out just where in my post I said that Facebook’s intent was to increase advertising.
Also, if you read my post—it certainly seems you didn’t—I like the new look. I personally knew of the redesign (not through Facebook, but a blog post talking about it that showed up in my feed) and welcomed it. If you read the post you will see my complaints, and yet you still accuse me (and others) of being immature. ‘Gah.’
My post is in fact about how Facebook has gone about it and its poor PR reaction; your own reaction and accusations are, well, perfect reﬂections of that.
I advise you to go to any of the anti-new-Facebook groups and read the members’ reasons before jumping to conclusions or making unwarranted accusations. While I admit there are immature people there, there are also many with excellent reasonings. You’ll even ﬁnd reports who can no longer access Facebook, which I would regard as a pretty serious bug and an indication of how seriously ﬂawed this alleged consultation was.
Blaise, it was revealed by a staff member that all of the "voting" on the redesign was done exclusively by people who were "fans" of the Profile Previews page, only about 161,000 users, or 1/10 % of Facebook.
Those of us who saw the Profile Previews (mostly by luck) but determined that we did not like them did not become "fans" of the page, under the logical assumption that Facebook had the same definition of the word "fan" as everyone else in the world; that is, one who LIKES something, as opposed to one who simply wants to give feedback. Our feedback was instead given through emails to a specially designated Facebook address as requested, which apparently has been ignored.
People revolted against the News Feed because it was too invasive. Remember that because of the overwhelming negative feedback, Facebook implemented better privacy options, which is the sole reason people aren't still revolting against News Feed.
We're asking for the same thing this time, better options. We're asking for the choice to stick with a layout that doesn't resemble a series of page-loading errors, that doesn't combine two features with entirely disjoint purposes (the Wall & Mini-Feed), that doesn't spread out smaller & simpler profiles over 4 pages, that doesn't devour system resources in every browser & on every operating system that has tried it, and that doesn't use mouseover-drop menus (which have sucked on every website & in every program that has ever used them in the history of computing).
# posted by Joey: 9/12/2008 03:16:00 PM
Looks like I didn't notice the rebuttals here. I apologize for the tone of my comment, that 'gah' was just an expression of frustration. If I didn't give your post a fair read, it's because I'd read many, many other people complaining about something to do with the new Facebook.
I guess I assumed you were referring to advertising revenues when you said, "of course Facebook has a right to make a buck and not listen to anyone." I guess I was wrong? How else does Facebook make a buck with these changes?
My only comment now would be... is this still at all a big deal? Anyone still protesting? Any major revolt? Facebook's PR department could be more graceful, but ultimately, I think revolt is inevitable (and inevitably short-lived and futile) when your users are larger high school and college kids, at least for something as trivial as a UI improvement.
# posted by Blaise Alleyne: 12/20/2008 06:11:00 AM
Blaise, it was such a long time ago, but I assume I was referring to advertising revenues.Post a Comment
It should be a big deal. Because of Facebook’s bugs, I cut down my usage of the site considerably. The active protest period is over but Facebook probably annoyed millions who were once evangelists for their brand, and who are now opponents.
I do not know how Facebook’s audience is divided. I realize it began as a student site, but regardless of whom forms the user group, they deserve to be listened to—and as we have seen, they were not.
Facebook, for something that supposedly represents Web 2·0, behaved in an old-media, top–down way that was well out of step with what its audience expected.
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