Why doesn’t Facebook care? They change the user interface. Many users first react by struggling to figure out the new way to post a status update – so they can use it to scream “Facebook, I hate this change!” Social media is sometimes called an echo chamber. An echo chamber is fairly pleasant until someone starts screaming. An echo chamber full of screamers is migraine city. Quiet down back there.
Why doesn’t Facebook care?
First off, you are not Facebook’s customer. You are the product that Facebook sells. Facebook assembles an audience that can be demographically and behaviorally segmented six ways from Sunday. That segmentation ability, combined with the stickiness of Facebook, is something for which advertisers will pay highly. I’m not criticizing this at all. It’s a great business model. If you’ve signed up for Facebook without understanding this, you really need to be more careful what you click on. Did you think Facebook was a public utility?
But Russ, you say – doesn’t Facebook need to keep its users happy? Not really. They need to keep their users non-discontented enough to keep them from jumping ship. Have you signed up for the peer-to-peer Facebook alternative Diaspora? Why not? Have you jumped ship entirely to Google Plus? Why not? I’ve heard you say repeatedly that you were upset with Facebook. Carping about Facebook changes is the new version of yelling at the lousy show on TV without ever changing the channel or turning the thing off.
Doesn’t Facebook have some sort of obligation to keep its users happy? No. Just no. No obligation. Making you unhappy may be a bad business decision, but maybe not. Staying static while Google+ and other rivals for your attention build better features might be a far worse business decision in the long run. Here’s my deal: Facebook doesn’t need me to approve their interface changes, and I don’t need them to approve my wardrobe changes. Seems fair.
The “I’m going to quit Facebook” cry has all the credibility of a dad on a family vacation threatening to turn this car around for the hundredth time in the middle of Oklahoma. That’s especially true because, unlike other social media, late adopters and laggards are a big part of the audience. They dislike sudden change and may be the first to complain, but they’re also the last to leave.
I’m sure some people will quit Facebook. (If you did, please post a smug comment). They’ll mostly be early adopter/early majority types who are already playing around with other social tools. Many of them will be drawn back because their more change-averse friends and family remain on Facebook. (If you’re already back, please post a remorseful comment). Google Plus, this morning, was a whole other type of echo chamber. Hello…hello…hello.
Quite a few people need to quit and stay away for it to matter. It’s a lot like the echo chamber complaints about the Netflix price increase. As @rshevlin pointed out, Netflix lost 2% of their customers while increasing prices by 60%*. Do that math. You can get rich quickly by making such supposedly disastrous business decisions. (I’m not talking about Netflix’ rebranding the DVD business as Qwikster, that’s an entirely different and more complex decision that involves a pot-smoking Elmo. Really).
There’s actually a very positive interpretation of the cries we hear everytime Facebook changes something. Users clearly think of themselves as owning Facebook. They don’t…but they act as if they do. That’s actual brand equity. Very few brands have the amount of brand equity they think they do. Facebook may have more than they think they do, or they may overestimate it. Will they keep it? Or will, at some point, a critical mass of vacationing dads start turning their cars around?
*Update: as @jcrandall points out, the 2%/60% was true at the time, but has gotten much worse for Netflix after CEO Reed Hastings apologized. From that I draw the conclusion that apologizing for being wrong would be a catastrophic move on my part, so I won’t. Those who called the pre-apology numbers a debacle are still wrong. Perhaps they were prescient, or perhaps even a broken clock is right twice per day.