I've been wrestling with two potential topics for the column this morning (no, Twitter was not one of them), and decided that my two ideas are, in fact, attached. One topic was going to be my take on the Facebook redesign, and the other was to continue the extremely vibrant discussion that got started around last week's column about how social media is killing the focus group. (Not everyone was ready to put a stake in the focus group's heart, but God knows, I tried.)
So how does all this sync up? In stories like the one I read this morning about coming tweaks to the Facebook redesign, based on consumer feedback since the redesign launched last week. The story, from The Wall Street Journal, said this: "The moves, which will be introduced in coming weeks, represent the second time in two months Facebook users have pushed the company to modify changes it introduced. In recent weeks, the social network wrote a new terms of service after users complained that some previous changes it made to its policies could be interpreted to give Facebook ownership over their information.
"It's unclear whether the changes will appease users, thousands of whom have criticized the new design as disorienting."
What? You mean Facebook users had some complaints about the redesign? And now Facebook is going to change the redesign based on user feedback? Facebook management must suck because they didn't get it right before the users spoke!
I kid, of course. What really stands out about this story is that there couldn't be more difference between the terms of service debacle and the Facebook redesign. In the first instance, Facebook made the changes without user input, and in the second case, not only did it preview the new redesign publicly before it went up, but is making changes based on what users have said about it since it went live.
As social media gathers steam, the process of releasing a product, gathering customer input, and then tweaking it should be viewed as the customary way of doing things, not, as it is treated in this Journal story, as some horrible failure on the part of those who make the product. Not to single the Journal out, but such stories -- and we've all read them before -- carry a distinct pre-social-media bias. (I'm sure I've been guilty of it at times, too.) Before so many voices were available, a lot of true feelings consumers had about products were buried. Now that they're not, every expression of consumer frustration is viewed as a news story, and a corporate failure. That's not always the case.
I'm assuming that Facebook did preview its new look for some users even before the public preview. Call it a focus group, if you must. But even if the Social Media Insider community didn't quite manage to kill the focus group last week, it is, at the very least, an increasingly limited tool. The input companies gather after products and services are in the marketplace will become far more important. The problem with the SyFys and the Tropicanas of the world is that they seem to have thought that the consumer research they did before launch marked the end of the process. As Facebook is realizing, it's only the beginning.