It’s time for Facebook to face the music

One of the genuine breakout stars of the Web 2.0 landscape, Facebook is finding itself in the midst of an interesting image and reputation crisis.

Without warning its legions of loyal fans, Facebook suddenly added a "newsflash" feature to its 3203494_2 repertoire that automatically sends tons of additional, sometimes very personal, information about subscribers to their fellow Facebook members.

So, while it may be interesting for me to know that John’s favorite TV show is "24" or Jane’s dad just bought her a Lexus coupe, I might also be inundated with minutia about the two of them that I could care less about. Plus, Facebook also reports the time that people are posting information on the pages so, if say, they should have been in class or taking an exam instead of posting comments, the world now knows about it.

Hundreds of thousands of subscribers are up in arms over the new feature, which was added without anyone’s permission. And Facebook is being amazingly blasé about the firestorm. In fact, the company’s CEO issued a statement basically telling everyone to take a deep breath and chill out.

That’s no way to empathize with customers. In fact, it’s almost a textbook example of how not to respond to a crisis. Facebook may have a large subscriber base and solid revenue stream today, but antagonizing a loyal fan base is not a smart business move. If I were calling the shots, I’d do the exact opposite. I’d offer to remove the "newsflash" feature for anyone who so requests, I would issue an apology to all subscribers and I would let them know that the company had learned a valuable lesson and would "ask" subscribers what they want next time around.

The corporate graveyard is littered with examples of companies that soared to the heights only to crash and burn. Not listening to customer wants and needs can be a big factor in an organization’s death. Here’s hoping Facebook pulls its head out of the sand and does right by subscribers.

10 thoughts on “It’s time for Facebook to face the music

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  2. Good letter by Mark Zuckerman. Definately an upgrade. The thing that was most interesting to me, was the media attention that Facebook recieved. I think that this was the lead story in the Money section of the WSJ yesterday.
    Man, social networking is big time.

  3. Looks like Facebook is trying to clean up the mess. The following was recently posted on their main page:
    An Open Letter from Mark Zuckerberg:
    We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now.
    When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better. I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with. I think a lot of the success we’ve seen is because of these basic principles.
    We made the site so that all of our members are a part of smaller networks like schools, companies or regions, so you can only see the profiles of people who are in your networks and your friends. We did this to make sure you could share information with the people you care about. This is the same reason we have built extensive privacy settings – to give you even more control over who you share your information with.
    Somehow we missed this point with Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. But apologizing isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends’ News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about. If you have more comments, please send them over.
    This may sound silly, but I want to thank all of you who have written in and created groups and protested. Even though I wish I hadn’t made so many of you angry, I am glad we got to hear you. And I am also glad that News Feed highlighted all these groups so people could find them and share their opinions with each other as well.
    About a week ago I created a group called Free Flow of Information on the Internet, because that’s what I believe in – helping people share information with the people they want to share it with. I’d encourage you to check it out to learn more about what guides those of us who make Facebook. Tomorrow at 4pm est, I will be in that group with a bunch of people from Facebook, and we would love to discuss all of this with you. It would be great to see you there.
    Thanks for taking the time to read this,

  4. Luckily, facebook gives you the option of “hiding” your news so that others cannot view your recent activity. (Have people not figured that out yet?) The only problem is that you can’t hide your friends’ news feeds, so when you sign on you are inundated with uninteresting and unnecessary information. In the long run this is just going to hurt facebook because basically, it just created a nuisance that makes me want to avoid facebook (and their advertisements) altogether.
    On another note, I do feel that facebook can be a useful tool in not only getting to know the people in your school, but also in finding out useful information. In the past I’ve sent messages to people on facebook to ask questions about homework, classes, and internship opportunities. However, I really don’t care that Tia just changed her relationship status from “single” to “it’s complicated with Ryan.”

  5. As a college student who uses Facebook on a regular basis, I feel that the newest “update” is more of an annoyance than an invasion on my privacy. I honestly do not care if my friend from Principles of PR “pokes” their friend from their dorm from freshman year.
    Really, it’s just TMI. Definately a missed opportunity for Mark Zuckerberg and co.

  6. Well, I was generally speaking… oki, I admit, I sometimes check out people’s profile to learn more about them but NEVER to exploit them. (I don’t even know how to.) My “stalking” is very friendly and innocent! 🙂 Plus, I only “stalk” my friends and acquaintances.

  7. That was their hook, everybody bit and now you’re complaining because details you posted on the internet are now public. The interet is NOT in any way private. Also, it is bothersome to read that you used to be able to “quietly stalk other people”. I don’t think that’s smart. Or right. Or fair. And I think it encourages some less than desirable behavior.

  8. These two sites are a major waste of time. I have been known to a staffer check out eager candidates who apply for jobs at our firm. You’d be amazed what some people are willing to share online. It’s mostly grotesque but sometimes funny.
    Fantasy football, however, is awesome.

  9. As a member of “Students against Facebook News Feed,” I think the new feature is very intrusive and at times embarrassing. People can easily access the personal (and sort of private) messages you posted on your friend’s page… Before people could quietly stalk other people.. now it’s in your face stalking. TMI!
    In response to Ms. Dandy’s comment – I agree with you re: Myspace – people shouldn’t expect privacy so much there. But it’s different for facebook since they just recently opened their doors to advertisers and marketers. In its inception stages, Facebook was intended for community building and to know the faces of your neighbors and peers. During first year in college, freshmen typically receive a yearbook of sorts (called Facebook, hence the popular site’s name) that was intended to help you identify others and help you make friends. Facebook (the web site) had similar intentions, but moved the space online. That’s why I joined not for advertisers and profit seekers to learn about my interests and preferences.

  10. I think it is ridiculous for anyone in this day and age, especially someone in Generation M, to expect privacy when they put themselves on Face Book or My Space. These webmasters are running these sites to sell advertising and want them to cast as wide a net as possible. They’re not doing this as a public service or because they think it is fun or cute!