The Facebook Oxymoron: Success Without Customer Caring

Posted by Lori Yaverbaum

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December 19, 2012 at 1:30 PM

FacebookGooglePlusHave you heard of this crazy thing called Facebook? This social media site has evolved from a few hundred thousand users to more than a billion in the last five years. This is truly astounding when you think about it: a BILLION users under the leadership of a guy in his 20s. I can’t imagine achieving such success at such a young age, but I can imagine how difficult it would be to keep your ego in check. Obviously, I have never met Mark Zuckerberg, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and read, but only someone with a huge ego would think that he could maintain success long term without caring about his customers. Unless there is a dramatic change, I believe that this will lead to the ultimate demise of Facebook.

You might think I’m out of my mind to predict the fall of this behemoth. Yet, that is exactly what I am doing. Quite simply, I believe you cannot ignore your end users; continue to upset them with changes they don’t want, haven’t asked for, or don’t understand; and then expect them to remain loyal to you. My whole career and professional philosophy of how to design our products is based on the fundamental rule that you have to not only listen to your customers, but also solicit and analyze their feedback, therefore ensuring their support and understanding of every change you are going to make. And if you make a mistake, you need to own it, learn from it, and correct it—all with your customers’ cooperation. In contrast, Zuckerberg’s/Facebook’s philosophy seems to be to implement what will generate the most revenue for shareholders, portraying an attitude more along the lines of, “Our customers might not be happy with our changes, but they’ll get used to them.”

I have harbored these feelings about Facebook for quite some time, so you can imagine how disappointed I was when Facebook acquired Instagram, an extremely user-friendly and fun photo-sharing app. By all accounts, Instagram was another huge success story: an app that was being adopted at lightning speed—with 100 million active users in its first two years—and a company that had only 13 employees at the time of acquisition. Hearing that Instagram would be run independently after being acquired was mildly comforting, but this past Monday, the company issued a very “Facebook-like” update to its Terms of Use, which basically stated that it owned all its customers’ photos and could do what it wanted with them. In other words, it could use them as a revenue generator for the company. Needless to say, its customers revolted, and its competitors (i.e., Google) pounced on the opportunity to promote how they protect user rights. It remains to be seen if Instagram can recover, but an apology was issued within 24 hours in response to customer feedback. A good sign.

Google Plus might not be nearly as widely adopted as Facebook—yet—with just a few hundred million active users, but if I were a betting person, I’d bet on Google Plus being around for a much longer time. Google very clearly listens to its customers and incorporates their feedback.

While social media certainly is not a fad, I believe Facebook is.

Topics: Social Media

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