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On March 11th this year, Facebook went for a redesign. The new design drew a lot of flak across the web. A Facebook polling application on the new site layout had 800,000 votes in 1 week, of which a resounding 95% gave it a Thumbs Down (link). We had users thrashing the new design with comments like “I hate it and if it doesn’t change I will only check it once in awhile.”

So what should have been the result? A fall in traffic for Facebook; or a mass exodus (or reduction in usage) of these disappointed and angry users. But what we are seeing instead is continuous and explosive growth in traffic and user-base of Facebook. In fact since March 2009, Facebook user-base has only grown (check the graph below). Facebook blog suggests that its registered user-base has grown from 200 million in April 2009 to 250 million in July 2009!

Facebook Unique Visitors Traffic

Facebook Unique Visitors Traffic

And for all the theories of “listening to customers” and the like, Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg actually sent out a mail to his employees reacting to this criticism for the new design implying “companies are stupid for listening to their customers” and “the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers” (link).

Does this signify pure arrogance and complete apathy towards customer feedback on part of Facebook? Facebook is a social networking product and a conversation among its members is the key offering. How can then Facebook risk disapproval of the very channel and way in which these conversations are taking place and getting shared on its network?

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Facebook

Or on the flip side, does this hint at how well Zukerberg knows his customers. Zukerberg knows why his users come to the site, and also at the same time perfectly understands why they would stay with Facebook. There is always a resistance to any change (whether good or bad), and when it is change to something as routine as Facebook has become for millions across the world, it was bound to create some noise.

Never has customer come up and told an innovator what innovation he needs. Back then in March, Facebook had just made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire Twitter for $500 million. This new design was an attempt to make the user-generated content more sharable. The wall posting on profile page had given way to “What’s on your mind?” status messages. Sharing external link or multi-media became easier. ‘Highlights’ on right hand column allowed popular and sticky content in your network become more prominent.

Public memory, in India and everywhere, is short. The huge uproar against the new design died out silently, and now everyone seems to have adjusted to it and is at peace with it. Facebook knows that it has crossed way back the critical mass barrier every social network faces. Its members have created huge networks on Facebook and viral effect of this network is bringing more and more members to the network. Content (user-generated) is sticky, and gets updated on regular basis. So unless you utterly mess with the design, users will be happy with what they have.

What is your take on this?

[Mark Zuckerberg Image Credit: Flickr]

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Social Media is the latest buzz word in the internet world. Everything around us over internet is turning social, and we now have social media stalwarts like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as new-age internet heroes. While everywhere social media is being touted as next stage of evolution over internet, there are still many Doubting Thomases who are yet to open their eyes to this phenomenon of Social Media. This presentation from Espresso should help them understand why whole world is going gaga over social media:

 

There are some remarkable comments in presentation on social media, and my favourite has been “If your product sucks, social media won’t fix it… If your customer service sucks, social media can help”. Drives home the whole concept of social media in one shot.

What does this social media phenomenon mean for Indian businesses?

The first and most easy application for Indian marketers is that of exploiting the celebrity brand power over social media. Major part of user-generated content from India, like elsewhere in the world, is around celebrity. YouTube is filled with videos from Bollywood, TV serials and celebrity mishaps ;). Many media houses now have official channels over YouTube to promote their productions, like this one from Eros. When drama-queen Rakhi Sawant was to decide whom to marry over television, we had Rakhi Sawant as trending topic worldwide over Twitter (check this). Social media is all about conversations and nothing can beat the attraction of talking to superstars through this medium. Celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Gul Panag, Mallika Sherawat, Preity Zinta already hve built good following on Twitter. Soon we will have brand endorsement deals covering publicity over social media as well. India is celebrity-crazy country and no wonder brand endorsement fees by celebrities run into multiple crores. If tapped properly, a decent part of this can start flowing into these social mediums. Social Media provides a superb channel to use this leverage of celebrity brand-power and lure customers.

This, for certain, can be the immediate application of social media for Indian businesses, besides many others about which I will be talking soon. Keep checking.

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