Editorial

Facebook's smoke and mirrors announcement

When it came to be known that Mark Zuckerberg would be delivering an announcement to the world from his Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, everyone immediately directed their attention Westward (or Eastward, for some). The CEO of one of the biggest online communities was about to make a statement and the media anxiously awaited his words. With the alleged weeks-long employee lockdown and site redesign rumors flowing through the Intertubes, the speculations thrown back and forth were reminiscent of an Apple release. Sadly enough, nothing of any real worth was announced, contrary to what Zuckerberg would have you believe. This announcement had little to do with meaningful features and much more to do with image.

I mean, let’s be honest here. Downloading your entire Facebook history in a .zip archive is a nice little feature, but it doesn’t actually take it out of Facebook’s legal clutches; that would be a feature to write home about. The new Apps dashboard, as the product manager said himself, is primarily a simple reorganization and streamlining of tools that were, for the most part, already available. Last and definitely least, Groups was probably the most disappointing announcement of them all. Touting it as “the answer to the biggest problem facing Social Networking today,” Zuckerberg talked up this feature like it was the digital messiah come to bring salvation from the trials and tribulations of the poor lost souls of “other” grouping solutions like lists and algorithms. After 10 minutes or so of lead in, a feature was announced that was simply an update to an already implemented groups system. As people were still scratching their heads trying to figure how this was going to fundamentally change the way they interacted online, the Q&A session began, and the announcement was over. What happened here? While they were briefly mentioned in passing at the beginning of the presentation, the major updates that people were waiting for, like upgrades to chat, photos and layout, were glossed over as if they were minor footnotes to the purportedly epic release about to be announced. Many left that announcement feeling a little unfulfilled, and also wondering why Zuckerberg doesn’t hire a good public speaking tutor with his many billions of dollars.

You see, this announcement had nothing to do with the products released. Even the product managers representing their developments sounded a little unexcited, and they really had no reason to be excited. I mean, they’re great updates, don’t get me wrong. I think having better access to your information and streamlining app access controls are good things. But a press conference? Maybe not.  

Facebook has taken a lot of flak lately over its privacy issues and annoying levels of Farmville notifications. It’s not hard to see that the public is slowly losing respect for this juggernaut of social networking. It quickly went from “Fun service that I use and trust” to “Corporate behemoth service that I only use because there’s nothing else better right now, but I would drop it like a rock if something better comes along, and enough with the Farmville.” Therefore, this week’s media event was phase two of what I’ll call Operation: Saving Face(book). Zuckerberg needed to convince the user base that he was still on their side, and this is how he did it.

  1. Employee lockdown – this convinces people that you are hard at work and serious about doing whatever it takes to improve the site and the user experience. It’s an implicit apology to the users. “We’re sorry that you do not like our site. We’ll work overtime to make it up to you.” Start the announcement with an immediate reference to the lockdown, and act exhausted but satisfied with the effort.
  2. Be Cool - Wear a fitted T-shirt to your global press conference where you represent one of the biggest online companies to date as its CEO and founder, and have the presentation in a cafeteria so you look a hip startup. In general, act and speak as young as you really are. Use 'um' with no remorse and swallow nervously whenever you get a chance. Make everything about Facebook seem larger than life and integral to the development of global social communication.
  3. Feature 1: Download Your Info – A lot of the current paranoia surrounding Facebook has to do with control over your personal information. While this doesn’t let you control anything per se, it makes Facebook look like they’re giving it back to you. For most users, that will be enough. Really, though, it’s just an illusion of control. Facebook still owns everything you post.
  4. Feature 2: App Dashboard – The other side of the privacy coin is Facebook accessing and using your data. The new app dashboard gives users some more control over how and when their data is accessed via API calls. Once again, while not a huge improvement, this is all about their image. This gives the user more control, so it will be keynoted.
  5. Feature 3: Groups – There needs to be a rousing finish to solidify Facebook’s image as user-centric and un-corporate. So, frame the problem in extremely idealistic and melodramatic language, and convince the users that Facebook is absolutely changing the Internet game and making digital relationships more ‘human’ and ‘relevant'. Remember, this solution will cause the transcendence of online interaction and bring social networks to a brand new level of simplicity and realism. 

When framed as a face saving event, highlighting these three products make a lot of sense. They all give some level of control to the user, and make Facebook look much more innocent than they actually are. In reality, the layout enhancements, chat and photo upgrades and the rest of the work down while in lockdown are the real features we need to hear more about. These are the things that will make or break your sit. The functionality that people access and depend on the most are the features you would expect to be highlighted in a press conference, not the minor changes. Unless, of course, you’re trying to save face(book), in which case you need to try and give back the confidence that your user base seems to have lost, and in a very public way. 

That's all this announcement was, smoke and mirrors.

 

Image Credit: Metro.co.uk

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