Facebook has been going through a turbulent time of late. During a phase which has seen users turn off in their millions, the scandals of mishandled data and awkward advert placement have served to kick it when it is down. To say that any service which boasts one billion users is at critical risk may seem a bit over dramatic; winning back favor with both consumers and business, though, is a long and complicated process.
So what has gone wrong for Facebook?
Wind the clocks back a few years and they were flying, the old Kings of Myspace, MSN and Bebo were dead, the young usurper looked untouchable. Nothing lasts forever, though, and it might just be this invincible attitude that has contributed to Facebook’s decline.
Last week, the American firm had to admit that a bug in the system had made public the private contact information of over six million users. The bug allowed anyone is downloading their account histories via the “Download Your Information” tool to access inadvertently those of their friends.
This slip-up happened almost simultaneously with concerns about some of the content on the network. Following a recent backlash against Facebook for allowing sexist and malicious content on individual pages, many brands have pulled their adverts to avoid appearing next to offensive material.
Facebook needs both users and customers, put simply, businesses buy access to the public. They cannot have one without the other, and having both sides of their operation hit like this will hurt. This is all recent news, though, Facebook’s decline has been much more drawn out.
Without being too simplistic, the problem lies in Facebook’s over-commercialization. The poster boy for this is the Edgerank algorithm, which decides what you want to see for you. From the point of view of a business, trying to reach people through a fanpage is more effort than it is worth; for the everyday users, having a feed full of unwanted adverts, determined by Edgerank, and is annoying.
Facebook has taken steps to repair the damage. In response to brands pulling adverts, the worldwide social network unveiled a new review policy to restrict the possibility of branded content appearing alongside anything unpleasant content.
Adverts will be removed from any violent, graphic or offensive pages by the end of this week. To give this policy a future, an automated method of maintaining this distance will be developed. There is an old saying about shutting the stable door, though, which many big brands seem to have taken to heart.
Many of the brands which left Facebook to cover their backs are yet to perform a public U-turn. Nationwide and M&S are continuing their boycotts but claim to be “monitor developments.” The sky is also yet to renew their subscription, and has asked for further measures before they will reconsider.
Facebook has become increasingly frustrating for small business users, many of whom have recently given up the chase. Unable to afford to waste time and resources sending out messages that are gagged by Edgerank, they have migrated to more user friendly, less commercial, platforms.
Previously, this hasn’t been a concern, with big businesses paying good money to get around Edgerank. This kick in the sides will be a wake-up call to Facebook, though, a few years of being unchallenged in the social media world has given it the false sense of security. If they are to survive they need to harbour better relations with business, not continue to racket protection policy they have been using.
Myspace disappeared in a matter of months. If this does not motivate Facebook to change its ways, then maybe the recent repurchase of Bebo by founder Michael Birch will. Joe Errington is a marketing and social media executive for The MITIE Group, which includes online marketing, social media, and archiving in its wide range of business services.