Hey, Facebook: Relax

Facebook has a pattern of innovation by (knee-jerk) reaction. The newest Facebook feature? The Subscribe option.

Here is why it sucks, and here is why innovation by knee-jerking is a bad idea, and unnecessary, especially for Facebook.

Facebook is, by far, the SNS market leader.

SNS adoption

As market leader, it is unnecessary to freak out and patch-up your product with random features, in an effort to compete with Google+, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, etc. You’re in no danger. You can afford to think and be strategic about what features you add. You’re not going to lose market share to Google+ overnight. SNS migration is slow, and for so many people, FB is mainstream, it’s become a habit. Early adopters may migrate, but the majority will stay put.

Speaking of the majority: All these new features confuse them. They don’t know what Google+ is. They have heard of Twitter, but it is more foreign to them than Romania. They know exactly what they use Facebook for, and they are happy seeing what the crazy cousin is up to, and sharing photos of the baby with extended family. I bet you the majority, which form Facebook’s biggest market and ARE its strategic advantage, can’t keep track with all these innovations and don’t even understand them. So, by adding new, confusing, features, you’re confusing your main market. Bad idea. I do informal research whenever I present to student groups. I ask them if they’re aware of and use certain (new) Facebook features. They’re not. And these are your Digital Natives. If they can’t keep up, how about auntie Mae?!

As MacManus points out, Facebook started off as a private social network. This IS was Facebook’s strategic advantage. As Facebook adds Google+ and Twitter-like features, it loses its strategic advantage and its definition. What is Facebook these days, exactly? What does it want to be – besides “the biggest, most popular SNS in the Western hemisphere”? A product without a unique proposition is diluted, confusing. Rather than trying to be everything to everybody, I think Facebook should step back to search and find its soul (too late for that) defining, unique proposition. The danger of knee-jerk responsive innovation is that you dilute a product and forget its strategic advantage and position in the marketplace. Rather then be Google+ AND Twitter AND Foursquare AND Instagram, Facebook should figure out what it is and what it is not  – and how it is different from all of the above. From the market leader position, it can afford to relax and think strategically.

* Image captured from a slideshare presentation about social media adoption and uses around the world:

Facebook Beacon timeline & analysis

I love this analysis by Geoff Livingston of what went wrong with Facebook Beacon: They put business before community. Geoff argues this won’t work in social media:

ROI is a by- product of community participation as opposed to hard transactional advertising.

If you haven’t followed the Facebook Beacon controversy, here is a brief & manageable timeline for media snackers:

November 6, 2007: Facebook announces new targeted advertising system, Beacon: AP news; Read/Write Web

Analysts reflect on the business implications & possibilities of Facebook Beacon:

Privacy concerns emerge

Moveon.org starts campaign against Facebook Beacon: Read/Write Web; Moveon.org online petition; Moveon.org Facebook group (65,000 members between Nov. 20 and Dec. 3); For Immediate Release commentary (Shel Holtz & Neville Hobson);

November 28: Facebook makes changes to Beacon: Facebook announcement (ripe for ripping apart in a PR rhetorical analysis!)

The PR nightmare doesn’t end here:

Evolution of Beacon Nov. 6 – Nov. 29 from NY Times B.I.T.S. (hat tip to Jeremiah Owyang who posted this on twitter)

Edits (Dec. 5 & 6):

The big PR question is: Where is Mark Zuckerberg? It started with R. Scoble’s post above but others (note the excellent PR advice in this post), including Shel Israel, are asking the same question.

Todd Defren posts as Fake Mark Zuckerberg and shows what Mark should say. Funny, but great PR advice.

Mark Zuckerberg finally posts on Facebook blog. Shel Israel comments and finds Mark’s statement credible. I think the first paragraph is nice, because it admits they made mistakes. However, what has annoyed me throughout Facebook statements is that they claim to have created Beacon to “help people share information with their friends.” Really? As my students put it: “If I want to share information with my friends, I TELL them.” Beacon is an advertising platform and its goal is to make more money. So, although the first paragraph is OK, the second one is not:

When we first thought of Beacon, our goal was to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends. It had to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed the web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared. We were excited about Beacon because we believe a lot of information people want to share isn’t on Facebook, and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and controlled way to share more of that information with their friends.

But, here’s the change, as a result of user “feedback” (outrage?):

today we’re releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here.

And, OK, this excerpt is good PR:

It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

What’s missing is some sort of promise/guarantee that user privacy will be a priority in the future. Instead, Mark’s last paragraph closes the topic. He hopes that:

this new privacy control addresses any remaining issues we’ve heard about from you.

Meaning, that’s it, we’re done, can we drop it now? We’ll see…

Dec. 5: Read/Write Web claims this is the end of the Beacon saga… the blogosphere is tired.