Commentary

Users Complain About Facebook's Redesign. Should This Be News?

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.

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"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.

13 comments about "Users Complain About Facebook's Redesign. Should This Be News?".
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  1. MARK LOGIURATO, March 25, 2009 at 2:25 p.m.

    anyone over the age of 30 on facebook should not be allowed any input into the look and feel.......

  2. Jeff Webster from Self-Employed, March 25, 2009 at 2:32 p.m.

    Great article, Catharine. I agree with everything you pointed out here. However, I'm wondering if Facebook should be a little more upfront in sharing that they are allowing "select" community members tinker with a preview version before it launches publicly. This would appease the larger community a bit probably. I do applaud Facebook for its approach of listening/responding to its users.

  3. Karen Dorst from Dorst Marketing Consulting, March 25, 2009 at 2:34 p.m.

    Totally agree. Social media is all about the conversation. If Facebook is not responsive to feedback/input, then who is? Other companies should see this as a good way to be engaged in social media.

  4. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich, March 25, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.

    Whining over nothing. Free software for folks with to much free time and little to say. If you don't like the changes (and I had no problems with them) then go to something simpler - like e-mail or using a pencil and paper. Honestly, how hard can it be to use Facebook? The downside of "social media" is it shows people up for the morons they are.

    Here's an idea: If you can't handle the complexities of Facebook, why not go to college, get a degree, start a company, create your own, go into business, then hand it out for free. Otherwise why not spend maybe 10 minutes to worl out the differences.

  5. Eric Kushner from Compuware, March 25, 2009 at 3:08 p.m.

    Got to disagree with the premise here... they previewed, got feedback and incorporated it where it made sense but they have a business strategy that the new interface aligns to and reversing course, or even significantly compromising that redesign becuase people liked what they were familiar with impedes their ability to innovate, and isn't that why people are on the platform in the first place?

  6. Donna Zelzer from Midwifery Today, March 25, 2009 at 3:58 p.m.

    >>anyone over the age of 30 on facebook should not be allowed any input into the look and feel.......'

    And why not? Age (young or old) isn't some magic thing that causes you to automatically gain or loose wisdom and insight when you reach a certain number.

  7. Jo Tito from Oranga Whenua, March 25, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

    I know that a lot of my friends on FB don't like the new design and complain about it but they're not going to leave. Most of those complainers are people who don't like there posts being public but most will find ways around it like send a DM or create filters which by the way most people don't know exist. I think changing it back will confuse people. Allow for some more time with the new layout and see what happens...

  8. Jonathan Neschis, March 25, 2009 at 5:15 p.m.

    So far I've seen a universal "Hate It" in terms of the redesign which I imagine stretches far beyond my network of "friends." I can't imagine the Facebook management would dismiss this sort of feedback if, in fact, my findings are in line with a majority of users. I understand if this is part of a bigger strategy, but suggesting the consumers (users) thoughts should be completely ignored seems a bit self-defeating.

  9. Eric Head from ForeSee Results, March 25, 2009 at 5:49 p.m.

    The concern should not be that people complained about the redesign - the human animal is predisposed to complain anytime there is change....good, bad or indifferent ("hey, the green submit button used to be in the lower left and now it's blue and in the upper right....") The real issue is the long term impact of these changes on satisfaction and behavior; just because people complained may not mean they will change how they use the site. And who knows - maybe the redesign changes were meant to cater to a particular segment of interest or value to Facebook.

  10. Tim Gordon, March 25, 2009 at 6:04 p.m.

    "anyone over the age of 30 on Facebook should not be allowed any input into the look and feel....... "

    'Scuse me? A very short-sighted comment based on - what? Age discrimination.

    I do agree however with:

    "The downside of "social media" is it shows people up for the morons they are."

    But with Facebook the bottom line is: it's freakin' FREE. If you don't like it, so what? You aren't paying for it. You have no basis to complain. Another alternative will wander along sometime soon.

    btw, I DO use Facebook and spend a little time there each week, but don't obsess about it (never mind with your questions about Twitter!) - but to me it's a great place to learn about people, see photos of friends, join groups of like-minded people...and if for some reason they change the interface too much for me to want to engage I'll stop. I'm not paying for it...

  11. Tonya B. from Anonymous, March 25, 2009 at 6:45 p.m.

    "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...."

    As a take on the agile development model, I would typically say that ongoing innovation amid consumer responsiveness is a good thing. In Facebook's case, however, I question the wisdom of revision for revision's sake. I'm wondering what over-arching purpose was served with the overhaul in the first place. Why do I care? As a consumer, I eventually stop consuming products that I find aggravating. As an advertiser, I try not to throw money at vehicles that don't meet my marketing needs. Products that aggravate their customers tend not to be the best promotional vehicles. BTW, I'm over 30, a demographic that comprises almost HALF of all Facebook users and which is the group that is primarily generating the ad revenue that keeps Facebook in business.

    http://www.istrategylabs.com/2009-facebook-demographics-and-statistics-report-276-growth-in-35-54-year-old-users/

  12. Cassandra Branson from FK Interactive, March 25, 2009 at 7:45 p.m.

    I agree with Tim, and Mark is apparently trying to stir up controversy, given he is not a young person either.

    In any event, the 'test marketing strategy' assumed to have been done apparently did not reflect the general public's viewpoint, but FB also managed to accomplish one thing-press. Good or bad, they got mentioned. Sometimes a blunder may not really be a blunder at all, but a very strategic tactical move.

  13. Gus Klein from LA GAY AND LESBIAN CENTER, March 26, 2009 at 6:26 p.m.

    This concern has less to do with changes than we think. Many (new) users don't necessarily know to voice that they aren't upset with the changes, but likely with the roll out. Yes, the changes are about as disorienting as placing a car's turning signals on the back side of a steering wheel in the ten and two positions, (pyschologically viable no?) But we would have had at least one model year to adjust. The problem now (and to come in my opinion) is there is no precedent for any organic change in social network context. Tutorials, videos etc. Hello marketing team...

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