Facebook, You’ve Failed Us

Facebook falling

By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

There is an unsettling buzz about the future of Facebook.  Some analysts report that Facebook usage is declining, or at least slowing in some parts of the world and if that is true, it is a problem of Facebook’s own making. The company has made two critical mistakes: It stopped focusing on core customer needs and it has ignored its business partners.

First, serve your users

Facebook is foremost a place to connect with family and friends. That was its premise at the beginning and it is the reason most people are initially drawn to the network.  Secondarily, Facebook provides a place for self-expression. Thirdly, it provides a place for users to discover content. Yet, for some years, Facebook has failed to effectively innovate on any of these fronts!

As Facebook has moved through its IPO, it has increasingly lost focus on serving its primary customers. Instead, it has been sidetracked by the need to monetize its user base through advertising and to extend its influence outside of Facebook itself, via its Open Graph protocol. That distraction is evidenced by repeated privacy snafus — Facebook erred on the side of data gathering and data use, at the expense of its users’ privacy, thereby weakening their trust.

No doubt, it’s a fine line to walk: making money while providing a great, free service. But it has worked for Google.  For all Google’s faults, it has steadfastly remained an ever-improving search engine and has easily kept the number one spot.  If Google failed to be a good search engine, it would lose its user base and therefore advertisers. Their revenue depends on a great product. So does Facebook’s.

Facebook is a subpar utility

Facebook’s user interface has always been subpar. It’s amazing that a company so successful has been unable to focus on creating a stellar user experience.

It hasn’t offered significant new user-focused features in some time. Ticker and Open Graph were clearly built more with an eye toward data gathering and opening up additional promotional avenues rather than improving the user experience.  Users weren’t crying for Facebook to automatically report the minutiae of their lives on the Ticker. And while personalization sounds good, when the result is websites using your interest information to promote certain deals over others, personalization is just another form of advertising.

If Facebook were truly focused on their users, they would have found new ways for us to find our friends online and connect with them in the moment. They would have helped us find new friends with similar interests. They would have given us greater control over what appears in our feeds, instead of forcing us to rely on Edgerank, which is used to serve advertiser’s and Facebook’s interest over ours. They would have implemented something akin to G+ Circles ages ago.

The back is turned on business

Facebook also should have focused more effort on their business partners and helped them better connect with consumers in innovative and fun ways.  The missed opportunity on this front makes me especially sad.

Zuckerberg and his gang spent so much effort getting businesses to build Facebook pages, amass followers, and create tabs and apps for them. They have managed to make us all believe that a Facebook page is practically a requirement for any business, and that having a large number of followers is the badge of a “real” company.

But they’ve been slowly undermining businesses who have invested in these pages. They changed the structure of pages and took away the ability to make a custom tab the default landing page. They’ve always restricted the ability of businesses to reach customers directly via Facebook. And they are using Edgerank to reduce visibility of business posts while simultaneously telling page owners they can pay for greater visibility. Their efforts are designed to push businesses to pay for advertising on the platform.

Facebook sold us on “engagement” but failed to provide businesses with tools and methods to truly engage consumers.  While Facebook touts comments and likes—and its Timeline has delivered increases in those—what ultimately counts is whether people go to their own website or eventually make a purchase. Comments and likes don’t mean more money.

Some third party companies, like Wildfire, have entered the Facebook app market, providing tools that work within the limited confines allowed by Facebook. Yet, Facebook could have developed exciting new tools itself and created interfaces that enabled businesses of all sizes to easily create custom tabs and application to reach consumers in ways that were exciting and desirable to those users, while also beneficial to the businesses.

For example, when Facebook Social Actions came out, I thought it created some interesting business opportunities for letting users express their individuality in a way that happens to also  increase the likelihood of click-throughs to the business website. A win-win for users and businesses. But now, the feature seems all but abandoned by Facebook.

Yet, with a little effort, they could have offered an interface to help businesses of all sizes create social actions without having to hire a programmer.

If Facebook was really dedicated to better serving customers, they would have a research group that would have come up with ways that businesses could interact with customers, ways so compelling that customers would promote or advertise these business themselves—because it made them look good, feel good, got them swag or discounts, added new features to their Facebook page, or was just plain fun!

Instead, Facebook has chosen to focus on features that benefit advertisers over features that truly benefit users.  It’s chosen to focus on fairly traditional advertising, which users hate and businesses find largely ineffective in the social space. Facebook has turned its back on the businesses that have invested in pages and left them to vie for visibility with the same old standby of posting pictures and comments. In so doing, Facebook is creating its undoing.

neicole crepeauNeicole Crepeau is the Senior Marketing Manager at Vizit Corporation, and blogs at Coherent Social Media. She’s the creator of CurateXpress, a content curation tool. Connect with Neicole on Twitter at @neicolec

All posts

  • Facebook. The tired social engagement channel and my least fave. Promoted posts? Instagram v. Camera? Timelines? Let’s be real; the experience for consumers is not rosier than that of businesses. It’s highly confusing to stay abreast of changes coming like Hurricane Sandy; it’s time for Zuckerberg to step aside and allow more seasoned business and marketing folks jump in for a minute.

    The IPO has side-saddled the company; it has lost focus on we the people.

  • Smart analysis of where we’re at with Facebook, Neicole. The question is – what do we DO about it? I’ve been talking to some colleagues about the decrease in Facebook page viewership to force people into buying promoted posts. Businesses that have amassed a nice following and community now must pay to reach them. Although it’s unfortunate, we need to figure out how to deal with it.

    I think that these changes make Facebook a less viable option – especially for smaller businesses without the budget for ads and promoted posts. But, unless people/businesses start quitting Facebook, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

  • ~~> “Facebook has chosen to focus on features that benefit advertisers” <~~

    And sadly, not many businesses fall into the
    circle that they’ve chosen to focus on. I would guesstimate that over half of the
    businesses with a presence on Facebook
    don’t have the means (either financially or knowledge) to play the game that
    Facebook is now demanding they play in order to be seen.

  • That’s a good point, Kristen. One I should have made in the post! These businesses are likely the same ones that have chosen to invest time, instead, into building an audience that is no longer as valuable to them thanks to Facebook’s changes.

  • Well, Rome fell, and so will Facebook. Some of the studies that I have read indicate that there is plenty of user dissatisfaction and that it may be causing people to spend less time on FB and/or leave. Although I’m told other studies to be released will show the opposite. It also appears that people are looking at FB via mobile more than the desktop. I’d like to see some research on the differences in the way people interact via mobile. I’m betting people check more frequently, but spend less time on it during each session. And that they are less likely to post/comment, and more likely to view and post pictures. The other issue is that ads don’t appear to work as well on mobile. Maybe that will push FB to innovate more.

    What does a business owner do in the meantime? If you have budget, you can try to build custom apps that better engage users. Otherwise, I think the question is, how can I get these fans to connect with me outside of Facebook?

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  • I think we are forgetting what Facebook is entirely. Facebook is not G+ and G+ is not Facebook. G+ is to connect with people that have the same interests as you, to connect with NEW people (and people you already know of course). Facebook is to connect with people you already know. Big difference and very different motivators for platform use.

    With the latest EdgeRank update I think Facebook was thinking of the user first. They have to think of the user first. Without the user there are no advertisers and there is no Wall Street.

    Brands were getting away with posting (or more like pushing and blasting) traditional promotional content. This move from Facebook now requires brands to invest deeper into the content that’s being published. It must be engaging and spark dialogue. Thus resulting in a better experience for the user in not having a muddied down news feed of useless branded content or promotional posts.

    Brands will need to think about their content as if they are sharing it with their own friends and family – will they care?

    Also, this is what’s so difficult for brands to grasp in terms of ROI and traffic to our websites. It’s not a direct response initiative It’s about building brand awareness and brand equity…. and relationships It’s about providing a platform for brand advocates to speak and engage directly with the brand. It’s about cultivating the connections (relationships) for when the next time the user needs your product or service, your brand is top of mind.

    People don’t log on to Facebook to shop or to look for a deal, they log on to connect with their friends and family. Brands can’t force to change this behavior.

    I actually think Facebook’s latest EdgeRank update is a win for everyone sitting around the Facebook table – Facebook, the user, Wall Street and the brands.

    In the end, with the brand being forced to better think about content, this will ultimately have a lasting impression on the engaged user. The brand pages might not have as many users, but they will be much more engaged and become loyal advocates.

    Because of this, I think the smaller businesses have the upper hand here. This will create a level playing field across all business sizes.

    Now more than ever it’s about the quality, not the quantity.

    The day Zuckerberg steps down is the day Facebook will change. Getting business people and marketers in there will not get Facebook thinking more about the user. Zuckerberg had one goal and still has one goal – to connect the globe.

  • Yesterday, I found a beta feature on my Profile. Under the PAGES, there was a Pages Feed link – a separate feed that, from what I could see, had every post from every Page i’ve liked. If they launch it, I assume Promoted Posts would still show up in the primary Newsfeed but all Pages posts will show up in this secondary feed. There’s more detail in my post (http://lisadjenkins.com/what-facebooks-new-pages-feed-could-mean-for-businesses-and-brands). I think it might be a nice middle ground between Facebook’s monetization needs and the appeasement of users and brands.

  • Facebook was originally built for the college Mark attended. Then it got bigger.

    So, some questions I’m pondering about Facebook…

    Maybe Facebook isn’t the place for businesses to be “users” if businesses cannot act like users?

    (there is a BIG point in the above question)

    Maybe Facebook is just better suited for advertisers?

    Or maybe, Facebook could have kept it’s service aimed at the public, with the revenue model aiming at a “premium — non-advertising” version?

    Only the next 5 – 10 years will tell.

  • I’ll check that out. But my first thought is, how often will people actually make a point of going to another feed to see what the pages they’ve liked have posted? Doesn’t seem like an action people will take often.

  • I’m not sure what you mean by the first point.

  • Meant to edit that out Neicole, sorry.

  • I agree that getting people to dip in to the feed will be difficult, and for this to work, Facebook will need to move the Pages Feed up into the primary user functions – Newsfeed, Pages Feed, Messages, Events, etc. But I’ve also heard people say they’d like a way to separate out the brand/business posts from their friends’ posts. I think this could work.

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  • Totally with you. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Facebook….and it’s certainly teetering more toward hate these days.

  • I’ve long said that Facebook will go the way of AOL someday. At one point, we never thought AOL would die either.

    I’d be interested to see those studies on usage. If usage truly is declining AND you have a tougher time reaching your audience, it just doesn’t make sense to spend time there. I agree – it may be time to figure out how to engage with them elsewhere.

  • From and advertising and business point of view, I’m surprised Facebook hasn’t come up with a flat-fee structure for business pages simply based on a total number of fans. For $XX/month you’d be guaranteed exposure to 30% of your fan base with the option to still purchase additional exposure as you see fit. To me, that’s the best of both worlds. Brands are guaranteed exposure to a portion of their fan base and Facebook still gains revenue from the monthly fee + any additional exposure spends that brands include for big events/sales/partnerships, etc.

    It would also still incentivize the creation of good content to try and increase the viral sharing beyond that guaranteed fan percentage. Besides, if it’s uninteresting or irrelevant/spammy users will continue to hide the updates or unlike pages as they’ve done in the past.

  • Faceback will not fall. It will get conquered like Friendster and MySpace. Right now, we represent the social intelligentisa. Refusing to use social tools for intellectual reasons is a kind of sport for us.

    However, my wife, who doesn’t care about ROI, Advertisers, and other finer points, thinks Facebook is more important than a dial tone. The only way Facebook will “fall” is if someone protests with…a better service.

  • I don’t know, Stanford. As Laura notes below, when AOL was big, nobody thought it would go away either. I hear a lot and see a lot from average folks who are using Facebook less. Not just techies or those of us in social media. And you can’t discount something disruptive. Google was part of the reason AOL failed. It fundamentally changed the way people navigated the web, eliminating the need for portals. A disruptive technology or product could do the same to Facebook, versus just a better service provider.

  • I’m with @stanfordsmith on this one. For many people, Facebook IS the Internet. It’s not going away any time soon.

  • The Social Habit research shows Facebook usage increasing. Not time to push the panic button yet. : )

  • Like I said, AOL didn’t fall it was conquered by Google who provided better utility to AOL’s core member base. There wasn’t a groundswell of grassroots rebellion among AOL users. They made AOL work for them until they found something that was better.

    Same for Facebook. The majority of its users will work through the UI clunkiness, dubious privacy policies, and advertiser-first focus until they find a better alternative. These people aren’t looking for disruptive technology like you and I. They just want to see what their girlfriend’s kids wore for Halloween. Right now those photos are on Facebook.

  • I’m not saying it’s going away soon. But I don’t think it’s going to last forever either. It won’t be a rebellion, though. People generally don’t rebel against technology. They will simply move on in favor of something that is working better for them. I have no doubt that something better will come. In fact, we see hints in Instagram’s growth, where people are opting for pictures (their girlfriend’s kids Halloween costume). Facebook is hastening its demise through these kind of poor behaviors. They could extend the network’s life by being more user-focused.

  • I linked to the studies I found. And if you do a search, you see various ones. But Mark tells me that the Edison research paints a very different picture. Reminds me of the political polls!

  • Yes. I think the challenge is that the advertising revenues dwarf other revenue models. But you’d think they’d do something like that in addition to advertising, because there are a certain group of businesses who are never going to be able to pay for advertising. And it has the potential to reshape advertising as we know it.

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  • Hello Neicole,

    What a great post!

    This paragraph is the best of the whole article:

    “Facebook sold us on “engagement” but failed to provide businesses with tools and methods to truly engage consumers. While Facebook touts comments and likes—and its Timeline has delivered increases in those—what ultimately counts is whether people go to their own website or eventually make a purchase. Comments and likes don’t mean more money.”

    Likes and comments don’t mean a thing if they are not followed by real action.

    Businesses may need to build trust, but at the end of the day, if all the engagement they have on their pages doesn’t lead to sales, what’s the point?

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  • Wasn’t facebook’s beginning as a place for college student to interact with each other, not for “families and friends”? After colleges came businesses, right? Remember it had networks for people with email accounts at their employer’s domain?

  • Agree with you on that one. It may not always be sales, but businesses aren’t using FB just for the fun of it. They have real goals that have to be met.

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  • I would use Facebook much more if there was a google inside to search old content. The search engine of facebook is weak and The timeline doesn’t work well for it or for keywords. I began to use pinterest because I can separate the content in boards and doing so, I can find quickly.

  • Absolutely!

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  • mvpolo

    Loved your intelligent review! It has only served to reinforce WHY I don’t use Facebook. I don’t use, crave, or miss it. If people really want to find me, they can hit me up on Twitter or simply text/email me. I can’t stand the social drama, advertising, and control that Facebook forces on its users. Facebook is not the “be all, end all” network. Wonder how much longer it will be around…remember MySpace?

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