Sunday, September 28, 2008

Should Facebook fear the backlash against its latest Incarnation?

I found this article today, and although I agree with some of Qualman's arguments, there are several facts that I would dispute. Firstly, the article mentions that the majority of the criticism is raised within Facebook itself. Although this is a strategy which I have frequently encouraged, the article seems to assume the position that these individuals are simply venting their frustrations in Facebook groups because there is nowhere else for them to do so. This is incorrect. These individuals could instead vent their thoughts about the new Facebook on a third party website. Clearly, as a greater number of comments are made outside of the organisation's domain, the likelihood of the organisation gleaning an insight into the consumer perspective diminishes. Conversely, I would suggest that these users are instead giving the organisation a chance to redeem themselves; an opportunity to tap a free reservoir of consumer opinion stemming from user loyalty towards the organisation. Facebook must recognise that power now lies with the consumer; the likelihood of consumers simply 'making do' with a platform that fails to meet their needs is incredibly low. Although the factor of 'lock-in' will invariably influence consumer action (consider the prerequisite information requirements, and the time taken to suitably construct the profile page), social network turnover levels appear to be reasonably high. As such, assuming that loyal users will simply endure facilities that do not meet their needs seems an unviable organisational strategy.

Qualman relates the Facebook update to changes in supermarket layout, however I would suggest one major difference. Supermarkets generally use statistical data to deliver a shopping experience designed to maximise efficiency. This is not the case with Facebook. Users will invariably differ in terms of preferred page design, content and theme, and as such none of these factors should be forced upon the consumer. Clearly, innovation is an absolute imperative; sites such as MySpace have learned to their detriment that failing to innovate will see their market share diminish. It is however my opinion that these updates should be voluntary, and not an obligatory update over which the user has no say whatsoever.

The backlash against Facebook is understandable, yet the response from the organisation frustrates me. Clearly, the update has caused significant distaste, yet the organisation is not listening to the 'market research' which has been produced by this user movement. The organisation must recognise that as consumer perceptions of successful outcomes diminish, the likelihood of these individuals offering their opinions to the organisation similarly diminishes. These users will post their comments elsewhere if they think that a third party will more adequately address their needs. My personal opinion is that if the formula works, don't break it. As previously mentioned, whilst innovation is absolutely critical, these should be developed and voluntarily offered through the organisation. It should definately not be forced upon those that define the brand.

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