Facebook's Really, Really Bad Idea

The 80/20 rule still applies when it comes to any kind of user-generated content. One look at any of our newsfeeds shows us who the social butterflies are, as they probably always have been. It’s all still high school in the end, and we know that there’s always that pep squad among us to keep the social ball rolling.

This works, on the whole, because most of us really are more than content to sit back and read and watch the content that only a small sliver of our social graph is posting everyday.

Facebook is experimenting with an extraordinarily bad idea: using push notifications in mobile apps to get people to update their status more frequently. Facebook confirmed to Mashable that this was a limited test it was trying in specific regions.

It almost goes without saying that this is incredibly stupid. Users almost certainly will get annoyed and quickly disable what will have to be an option to let the app beg for more content.

I am sure that somewhere in the bowels of the Facebook campus there are reams of statistics about the higher levels of engagement among people who actually contribute regularly to their newsfeed, compared to those who don’t. Pestering users to become active contributors, however, is doing precisely what mobile media should not do: try to change behaviors.



I have gotten on my soapbox many times about the issue of check-in apps forcing users to behave in almost slavish ways for the benefit of a startup company’s business model. It’s true that behaviors do change along with the technology, but it’s a mistake to believe that a specific technology or a specific business model changes behaviors in predictable and precise ways. The truth is that mobile has evolved along many, many unpredictable paths over the last decade and a half. SMS messaging, ringtones, wallpapers, and even the many ways and places which we use apps have all surprised us.

My hopeful guess is that Facebook will never implement this push-pester idea across all of its audiences and apps. The last thing that any content provider, especially mobile company, wants to do is make customers feel as if they need to tend to their program rather than be served by it.

This was one of the chief problems with many of the early iterations of second-screen apps for TV. They tended to be busy with social streams, trivia contests, and other clutters of content, rather than coming up with some new and  interesting mode of watching two screens at once.

Which is not to say there aren’t interesting and creative ways to engage casual observers in social networks. After all, every host’s job at a party is to facilitate social exchanges and try to engage people, even the wallflowers, with one another.

If Facebook really wants to get people more fully engaged on a regular basis and receive more user-generated content, then it should put its money where its mouth is. Give me some Facebook credits for posting an image or an update. Perhaps give an infrequent contributor more notice in the newsfeed.

But in the end, social networks need to recognize that they’re still playing off some fundamental human motivations and behaviors that need to be respected and embraced -- but are not about to be changed.

4 comments about "Facebook's Really, Really Bad Idea".
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  1. Mike Bloxham from Magid, March 22, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more Steve. Periodically we are reminded that too many in the social space - and to a lesser extent the broader digital space - are seemingly completely removed from the basic tenets of interpersonal communication and social interaction. Kind of weird for the social media businesses, but maybe not when you think about where some of these businesses are created and the culture in which they grow. The distance between those inside the business and the end-users can sometimes feel more like a void than a mere gap.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, March 22, 2013 at 5:12 p.m.

    @Mike I smell a book that needs writing about this.

  3. noah l from symmetri marketing group, March 22, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.

    Facebook has always shaped content in indirect ways – through restructuring site features and user experience. What it's never done is directly play social chairman. Would it be dangerously out of character for Facebook to step in once a month, on the first day of the month, and declare it "High School Graduation Picture Month" or "Favorite GIF Month" – around the globe – and see if this doesn't generate a ton of activity? Maybe this is a bad idea: Facebook's paternalism now only involves structural elements and users can take pride that everything (well, except for ads and the intrusive posts from businesses that putatively relate to your content interests) comes from users exclusively. It's OUR party. But certainly Facebook has enough overall cachet to try play an actual role in curating content. Do it carefully and infrequently, so it's always welcome when it happens. And hey, where intellectual property law allows it, Facebook could even "publish" "best of" collections of what results -- most-liked/shared GIFs, etc. It might even get the lurkers to stop lurking.

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, March 25, 2013 at 5:49 a.m.

    Every social network pesters you to find your friends. This is no worse.

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