For those of you who are as young as Mark Zuckerberg, I will give you a very brief recap. In April 1985 the Coca-Cola Corporation decided to reformulate their flagship Coke product, which they have been selling successfully for almost 100 years. I won't go into the reasons - you all have Google and can search for that if you care. The bottom line is that Coca-Cola decided to change the product that their customers loved, and then was forced to re-release the original formula due to very vocal (and in my opinion very correct) derision by customers and critics alike. The New Coke debacle has entered the canon of marketing lore as a lesson in what not to do to your product.
Recently, Facebook, Zuckerberg's baby, made another in a long line of sweeping (and seemingly pointless) changes. Since you are reading this blog online, it is safe to assume that you are aware of Facebook, the changes they just made, and the tremendous backlash by Facebook users – myself included. If Mark Zuckerberg were older, he would understand that his company has just released New Coke. He would also know that these changes are a gift to Google, who has just released their Google+ competitor. If you read the history of New Coke, you will discover that after the reintroduction of Coca-Cola Classic, Coke's sales went up dramatically. The net effect of the release and subsequent withdrawal of New Coke was actually very beneficial to the Coca-Cola Corporation. However, somehow I doubt that the customers abandoning Facebook for Google+ will go back to Facebook even if they make a very public mea culpa.
Much has been said about the new Facebook changes. I wont to bore you rehashing what others have covered so eloquently already. But I would like to talk about an e-mail I received from Facebook the day before New Facebook hit the fan. Here is the message:
Facebook will be sending you less email - learn why
We're trying out a new feature to reduce the amount of email you receive from Facebook. Starting today, we are turning off most individual email notifications and instead, we'll send you a summary only if there are popular stories you may have missed.
You can turn individual emails back on and restore all your original settings at any time.
Thanks, The Facebook Team
I think this message is illustrative of the fundamental problems at Facebook. In particular it demonstrates Facebook's spectacular hubris. For some time now users have been able to set their own e-mail notification options – I did so for my account some months ago. Someone at Facebook looked at customer feedback and found the people were upset about the amount of e-mail they are receiving. So they made this change and sent the above message. However, it never occurred to them to ask individual users if that's what they wanted. Every user that enjoyed receiving lots of e-mails now has to go into their account and turn those features back on. Every user that had already customized their email settings needs to go in and see how their settings have been modified.
Here is the message that I believe they should have sent (had they not been so paternalistic in their approach.)
Would you like to get less email from Facebook? We’ve made it easy.
A number of customers have told us that they don't like the amount of e-mail they are receiving from Facebook. We want you to have the best experience possible with Facebook. So, to make it easy for you to decrease the amount of e-mail you're getting from us we put together a quick, one button way to reduce your e-mail clutter.
Simply click here <button>, and we will automatically turn off most individual email notifications. Instead, we'll send you a summary only if there are popular stories you may have missed. Or, if you like your current e-mails settings, do nothing and they will stay the way they are.
If you change your mind you can go to the e-mail options in your Facebook account at any time to turn messages on or off.
Thanks, The Facebook Team
Now wouldn’t that have been easy? You learn that customers aren’t satisfied and give them an option to make the change that you think they want. Being so cock-sure that you know what's best for your customers, and foisting that upon them on your schedule, not theirs, is the utmost in hubris and a recipe for corporate disaster.