Thursday: Facebook’s Design Challenge: How to Keep 175+ million Users Happy

The State of Internet Privacy- March 2009
March 25, 2009
Search Happenings
March 27, 2009 Thursday: Facebook’s Design Challenge: How to Keep 175+ million Users Happy

Posted by Micheline Sabatté, Product Marketing Manager (Search and Performance Media)

If you build it, they will come. If you change it, they will complain. That’s what happened when Facebook released a new design two weeks back to its population of 175+ million active users. In the old days of design releases, user interface (UI) updates like this would typically fire up only a core group of power users who would actually take the time to find a user group or chat room in which they could share their opposition and rally for change.

However, users in Facebook are different. They are empowered with real-time tools and technology in the Facebook platform that make it possible (and amazingly easy) for them to instantly broadcast an opinion (or in this case, a complaint) to all of their friends.

Even I (a far cry from being what most would consider a Facebook power user) felt the need to voice my opinion about the new UI changes by sharing “Micheline Sabatte is getting used to the new FB UI” and “Micheline Sabatte is wondering if this is where I update my FB status.” I even joined a Facebook group set up by my colleague called: “Filter my feed, Facebook!”—which begs for the return of the Facebook Newsfeed Algorithm. 

Well, welcome to the Social Web and Customer Service 2.0.

The publicity of these Facebook user complaints was so great that it warranted coverage in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal technology section with an article by Jessica E. Vascellaro called “Facebook Tweaks Design Change” (B4, Wednesday, March 25, 2009). The fact that this article was written was the subject of Catharine Taylor’s Social Media Insider byline, which was titled “User’s Complain About Facebook’s Redesign. Should This Be News?” (MediaPost Publications, Wednesday, March 25, 2009).

Well, Facebook is news. With its loyal (and growing) following and increased capabilities, it is a threat to many technology providers out there. Companies that are providing chat services, tweeting, photo sharing, mobile texting—and even e-mail—are considered a competitor. Any “sticky service” that provides new ways for people to communicate with one another and share experiences with their friends is an inspiration for new design improvements.

The speed at which Facebook is delivering (and will need to be delivering) new features and enhanced functionality in order to remain competitive will almost always put them in a position where they have to decide whether these changes are best for their users. Decisions like this will likely be guided by the fear that if Facebook does not implement a popular, new feature, it will risk marketshare and lose its competitive edge.

Knowing that more design changes are inevitable and that Facebook is smart enough to listen to its loyal following when they complain, I’d like to end with a few Customer Service 2.0 tidbits of advice for Facebook so that they can minimize the bad publicity and user uproar they will receive the next time they introduce a new design:

(1)    Remind us of why you are making the changes you made and let us react. Facebook did give us a heads up to let us know that the home page would be changing prior to the launch, but now that the design is implemented, they should create a link that takes us to the Facebook blog to remind us of why the changes were made. By taking us to the blog, Facebook would be providing a way to collect our feedback instead of letting our comments loose in the Facebook stream. Doesn’t Facebook want to collect our feedback in one centralized location? Letting people feel like they are being listened to is a great way to mitigate customer dissatisfaction. Remember, we’ll be patient with you if you let us know you care about what we think.   

(2)    When you introduce new sections, tell us what they are for. What is the “Highlights” section for? For such a large piece of screen real estate, I’m still trying to figure out how things show up there. Don’t leave users stranded to figure out these things out on their own. Perhaps a little “info” icon or clickable link on the title with information about what the purpose of the section is would be helpful. Facebook should create a PDF guide that gives us information about all the new design changes. Users won’t feel so confused if you tell them what new sections are for.  As Steve Krug would say, “Don’t make me think!”

(3)    Small changes should be documented and communicated. This morning I noticed that my “Requests” and “People I May Know” and “Events” sections on the home page had been moved around from yesterday. (Warning: By the time you read this blog, these sections may be moved around again!) If design tweaks are still happening in real time, I wonder how strategic those decisions are. More importantly, now my friends’ upcoming birthdays are listed “below the fold” and I may miss them. And for someone who just had a birthday last week, and bragged about all the birthday love I got on Facebook (a positive brand endorsement), I would hate to not have my friends experience that same wonderful feeling of being remembered on their birthday. (Move it back to the top, please!) Well, whether Facebook moves the birthday reminders back to the top or not, the key point here is to make sure that changes—even the small ones—are communicated out to users in some way.

Facebook has a design challenge. It has to keep its 175+ million users happy with every change it makes. This is a tough challenge for any company, but with a few easy communication (or over-communication) tricks for dealing with users in the world of Customer Service 2.0, Facebook will be surely be able to weather the storm…and make us happy users again!

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