Facebook Announces New Changes

I wrote the following essay September 25, 2011 as coursework for IST 755 Strategic Management and Information Resources at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University.

Facebook, a popular social networking site, has announced a number of changes to its user interface and user experience. Some argue that these changes are in response to new competition, while Facebook argues it has been planning these changes for years. The subject of social media and the state of the competitive market are important to me as I begin a career in the news media which is growing more and more reliant on social media to disseminate information and engage with its audiences.

Facebook, which launched in 2004, is the largest social networking site to date with over 800 million users worldwide. Facebook’s strategic efforts are geared towards becoming “thesocial layer that supports, powers and connects every single piece of the web, no matter who or what it is or where it lives,” according to Mashable’s Ben Parr.

Facebook held it’s annual F8 developer’s conference this past Thursday in San Francisco where CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a number of changes the company will soon roll out. Some of the major changes are outlined below.

  • Timeline: A complete redesign of the user profile, which will be much like a “virtual scrapbook.”  It will continue to share what users are doing presently, but it will also show what users have done in the past, all the way back to birth. This redesign of the user experience is the largest of the changes announced by Facebook.
  • Facebook Gestures: Facebook plans on doing away with it’s universally known Like button, instead, allowing users to “turn any verb into a button.” Reason for change – “Facebook felt constrained by the Like button because it was an implicit endorsement of content.”
  • Open Graph: The Open Graph allows developers to create four types of apps – communication, games, media and lifestyle – “that allow users to share whatever they are doing without overwhelming their friends.”
  • Friend Lists: This feature allows users to grow those that they follow into different categories, such as Close Friends or Acquaintances, and chose which group(s) to share updates with. Additionally, “If you add a friend to Close Friends, for example, that friend’s posts will appear more prominently in your News Feed.”
  • Ticker: Updates from a user’s friends that are considered “lightweight,” will appear in a real-time news ticker on the side of the screen, rather than in the News Feed. This will leave the News Feed available for what a user might find more important.
  • Subscribe Button: This feature allows users to see “public updates of others, regardless of whether you’re Facebook friends.” By subscribing to a user’s updates, you can choose on a granular level, how much of their content you want to see.
  • Media: There isn’t an official name for this feature, but Facebook users can now “watch TV and movies, listen to music, and read news with your friends — all within Facebook.” Users can see what media a friend is engaging with in the ticker, and click the link to view that content without leaving Facebook.

Many have suggested that Facebook’s changes are due in part to the new social media site, Google Plus, entering the competitive market. For example, Google Plus began with a feature called “Circles,” which are in essence, the same as Facebook’s new Friends Lists, allowing users to organize their friends into categories and selectively choose with whom they share content. While some feel like the new Friends List has arisen as a response to Google Plus, Facebook insists they’ve been, “iterating on this in the last four years.”

Additionally, as another social media site, Twitter, has increasingly grown in popularity, it can be argued that Facebook has added the Subscribe button to compete with Twitter’s Follow feature, even highlighting the number of people who have subscribed to a profile. “The button gives you a way to follow the content others are posting without actually becoming Facebook friends with them. In a lot of ways, it’s like following somebody on Twitter.”

With powerful new entrants to the market, and a growing threat of substitute products, Michael Porter would likely argue that Facebook is redefining its products and services to add consumer value as well as to add to it’s own bottom line. Facebook generates revenue based on the personal information users add to the site which it allows companies to search in order to, “selectively target its members in order to research the appeal of new products.”

At F8, Zuckberg stated, “Today we’re making it possible to create a whole new class of apps and change industries at the same time.” This is becoming evident as other companies such as Yahoo and The Washington Post are using Facebook to socialize the news.

The main stakeholders affected by Facebook’s changes are the 800 million individual users and all of the business that use social media to add value to their own businesses. While Facebook provides a free service to its users, Facebook would be without revenue without users and advertisers based on those users. Additionally, users have come to rely on Facebook as a method for communicating with friends and family, among other uses.

For many businesses, social media, particularly Facebook, are part of the overall marketing campaign. Social media helps companies’ brand, rebrand, sell, and engage with their customer base. Changes to the user experience have the potential to help or harm the ability of brands to connect with their audiences. The impact of these changes on brands that use Facebook hasn’t fully been explored yet, but I imagine it will vary based on how the business uses Facebook – whether it’s for research or for marketing.

In order to implement all of these changes, one can assume that Facebook has devoted countless resources and time. As more information comes out about these changes, it will be interesting to see not only how they will impact stakeholders, but also how such large change projects were strategically managed, and what is next in store for the evolving landscape of social media.

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