Recent changes on Facebook, unveiled on September 24, have become a legitimate conversation point among the site’s 800 million users — including those who use it for business reasons — who are almost universally unhappy with its new appearance.
Will Facebook’s personal and business users accept the changes and even embrace them over time? Or will they run to Google+, Twitter, or some other new social media outlet that hasn’t yet become a household name?
Most of the time when a large corporation makes a product change customers bow to the inevitable and accept it. But in the interactive world of social media it may be easier for Facebook users to rebel, making the “new Facebook” the next New Coke. And businesses might be leading the revolt.
Erik Kent, co-founder with his wife Beth, of NJWedding.com, uses Facebook extensively as a marketing tool in his business. The changes, however, have shaken his trust in Facebook. “As consumers we value what we trust. Until the changes, as a business owner I had trust that Facebook was an excellent way to help me spread the word about my services,” he says.
Erik and his wife are both graduates of Rutgers University. “We met while we were at Rutgers and got married in 1994,” he says. The two were communications majors, and after college Erik got a job in marketing while Beth worked in bookkeeping. But the fun they had planning their own wedding remained on their minds. “We wanted to work together, we just weren’t sure how at first,” he explains.
A trip to Boston in 1995, where two friends were planning their own wedding using almost exclusively a new tool at the time, the Internet, was the catalyst for an idea. “We came home from that trip and went online and registered the name NJWedding.com,” he says. They officially opened their business in 1996, at first using the old-fashioned method of going door-to-door to businesses in Union and Essex counties to talk local businesses into advertising online.
Fifteen years and three children later the couple is still in the wedding business. “We work together from home and we really enjoy it. It’s been a great way to balance work and family life,” he says. And Facebook has become one of his major marketing techniques. Until September 24, the day of the big Facebook change, Kent says he averaged three hours a day on Facebook.
Kent has three Facebook pages, his own personal page, NJWeddings.com page and a NJ Wedding Industry Professionals page. That site has about 1,200 members while the NJWeddings.com page is only five short of 2,000 “likes.”
While Facebook is promising that the changes will make the site more interactive, Kent is troubled that his subscribers can now easily turn off his messages. A newsfeed feature on the right hand side of the page also makes it more difficult to see Facebook advertisements, another feature he regularly used. “If I can’t trust that people are seeing my posts, why should I continue to use Facebook?” he asks.
Other changes, such as fewer E-mail notifications, changes in the algorithm (called Facebook Edge) that decides which items are listed as top news, and the ability to subscribe to only some updates by any particular user, make it less likely that people will see a Facebook post. In addition, Facebook has “chosen” certain settings for all users, who must actively change settings to make it easier to see certain posts. And according to many users, changing these settings is confusing and too difficult.
“I don’t get it, I don’t like it, I don’t have time to learn it, and I wish you’d give it up. It wasn’t broke, so you shouldn’t have messed with it,” wrote one Facebook friend on my own site. Her comment was echoed by a few million other users.
Despite the skepticism, many business columnists and bloggers have applauded the changes, which most agreed would increase interactivity and drive businesses to create more interesting content while giving users the ability to hide boring content.
Kent, however, is not planning to wait around to see if the changes affect how many people read his posts. He is already making changes to his marketing strategy. “For the past few years Facebook has been a serious marketing tool for my business. I’m no longer so eager to use it,” he says. Kent has already cut back the time he spends on Facebook and is looking into several other marketing strategies to try this fall. He might increase his use of Twitter, but his is undecided and “not yet sold” on Facebook’s newest competitor, Google+. In fact, Kent, whose whole business premise is based on the Internet, says it may be time to go back to some “old school” techniques.
“There are other ways to connect,” Kent says. “We still need to make real world connections with people. We need to go out and network, get on the phone, and talk to people. I’m even thinking about a direct mail campaign — that is if we still have a post office next month!”