The Two Faces of Facebook

Facebook is throwing Mom and Dad under the bus. As a recent  NYT article chronicled, many of Facebook's older users are in open rebellion against the service's new Twitter-esque functionality that allows customers to broadcast every impulsive thought, feeling and lunch order in a real-time stream of sometimes trivial updates. This works for the kiddos, a generation that's been putting camcorders in their bedrooms since the early nineties. The rest of us have some dignity:

"The changes just feel very juvenile,” Ms. Rabban says. “It’s just not addressing the needs of my generation and my peers. In my circle, everyone is pretty devastated about it.

Should Facebook care? Not necessarily. The company now has a classic service challenge -- diverse customer segments that have outgrown a single service model. Facebook's younger users value things the older ones find distasteful.  The company had to choose between satisfying one group and annoying the other, or trying some kind of compromise that would frustrate both.  It's encouraging that Facebook resisted the temptation to do the latter. Most companies end up chasing the dream of making everyone happy, at the cost of a slow slide from excellence to mediocrity in the experience of their most valuable customers.

Ironically, a bit of customer "devastation" may be an encouraging sign. It may mean a company is making a clear strategic bet -- in this case, on younger, more tech-savvy users.  Facebook may be able to find a way to graciously serve both segments eventually, but it will have to invest in at least the appearance of different service models.  Short of that, annoying the adults may be a terrific strategy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009