The end is nigh for popular social networking site Facebook ... unless
it sharpens up its act.
This may sound an audacious, even lunatic, thing to say given its current
all pervasive popularity.
But pause for a moment and remember Friends Reunited. Back in 2005 it
too was the darling of the online chattering classes – just like the now almost
forgotten lastminute.com from the late nineties. ITV stepped in and paid £120m for
Friends Reunited but has now put it up for sale and will be lucky to get £50m
Friends Reunited had its day but it couldn’t keep up with the pace of
change. The same will happen to Facebook if it doesn’t get its act together,
internet users are a fickle bunch and online brand loyalty is wafer thin.
We get new internet fads about every six months. Last summer Facebook
was making the splash, now it’s Twitter.
But recently, the only press Facebook has got has been of the unwelcome
variety on the back of two arrogant and ham fisted format changes users have
been bullied into adopting. And, don’t forget how it was forced to back pedal
in response to the furore over privacy rights when it imposed a change in its
terms and conditions.
Facebook is suffering growing pains typical of many businesses but
because the online world changes so rapidly it needs to move fast otherwise
it’ll soon be forgotten.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that a company such as Facebook is
arrogant. Many (but thankfully far from all) entrepreneurs are arrogant. Often
with good reason as they can really be better than those around them.
But when this arrogance invades the way a business deals with its users
and customers then its days are numbered. The way Facebook is treating its
customers would be crazy at the best of times but in the height of a recession
it is abject lunacy. Its demise could be surprisingly quick.
It all started to go wrong when it first imposed a widely unpopular
layout change last year. Now there’s another in a ‘me too’ act of desperation as
Twitter’s star shines ever brighter in the firmament.
Facebook has failed both to listen and understand its users – as well as
grasp basic human psychology. People don’t like change and Facebook should have
seen the rebellion coming.
In business, change is often necessary but there are more savvy ways of
bringing it about. What Facebook should have done is allowed its users a choice
of formats and then provided incentives for them to switch to Facebook’s
preferred layout. These incentives could be quite simple – certain new
functionality and applications might only work with the new layout. In time
people will come round and make a positive decision, which they feel is their own
choice, to switch. Instead Facebook just gets itself bucketfuls of bad
Then, Facebook’s customer service isn’t just dreadful it doesn’t exist! Its
excuse for not engaging properly with customers is that it has so many millions
of users. But it needs to distinguish between those who use Facebook for free
and those who pay for it with advertising and treat them accordingly.
If you take money from people – even if it is just a small amount – then
you need to provide a means where they can talk to you. Then you need to
“Next on the charge sheet: Facebook’s kangaroo court. Thousands of
people are getting barred from Facebook without ever having done anything
wrong. Facebook’s monitoring systems lack the necessary efficiency and they
interpret a perfectly innocent action, such as high levels of activity or
posting several hyperlinks, as violating one of their myriad of unclear rules
and regulations. You get thrown out with no means of redress.
They won’t listen to explanations or bother to verify facts, such is
their misguided belief in their flawed system. And to rub salt in the wound,
you get an email that patronisingly says: You
are barred forever – thank you for your understanding.
In a recession you need every bit of business you can get. For Facebook
to be turning away paying customers because it, Facebook, has got its facts
wrong and is too arrogant to at least hear what the offended party has to say,
is a recipe for bankruptcy.
Customer service is the bedrock of every business – if people get good
service they will come back again
and again. It is over and above the quality of the product on offer and that is
where Facebook has got it wrong.
Finally, it has to look at its social responsibilities. Many people have
moved their social interactions online and into Facebook. They have come to
rely on it. Barring them is akin to banning them from using a phone and burning
their address book. This obviously causes a lot of distress and it won’t be
long before Facebook is facing a class action from people who have suffered
psychological trauma at its heavy handedness.
Facebook is a superb product with great potential but unless it grows up
and behaves like a mature business its popularity will turn on a sixpence and
before they know it they’ll be the next Friends Reunited.