The social media roller coaster

Whats with all the change on social networking sites that has been haunting us for months. Facebook, Twitter, Google + all seem to be on a fast track of rapid changes that often makes users uneasy. Vying for superiority in the age of tough competition sometimes makes companies lose sight. A problem at one place is an opportunity waiting to be capitalized by another company. First of all let’s analyze whether there is any problem or not?

Many of us who are active on Facebook may have noticed the rampant changes taking place. The ticker on the top right corner, who is reading what on what site, and the new profile all combine to make us feel as if we hardy exist and have no say in what happens to our account and how it is used. We are aware that young are on social media and are actively using it to socialize and communicate. So there is no going back. Regardless of the changes, rest assured, I am not abandoning Facebook. The benefits of it outweigh the costs.

While the new features introduced by sites like Facebook may prove annoying at the beginning, they have been generally welcomed by most (at least the ones I know). Whatever Facebook changes come our way, social media addicts simply accept them. Has anyone seen droves of addicts abandoning Facebook? Nope! There is no question of liking or unliking these changes. What choice do we have anyway? We are not asked before any changes are implemented. Ideally, giving users a little more power in what they are given would save sites like Facebook from any potential negative publicity. But the reality is not so favorable for the addicts.

Change must be managed

In the business world, we know that customers are unforgiving. Any product changes are not done casually without taking consumers into confidence. By this I mean that a through market research precedes any possible new product development or a change to an existing product. In the case of SNS such as Facebook, it is observed that changes are implemented in a way that may not be very pleasing to the users. I am sure, if there were a choice in shifting to another similar network, many would shift. However, thanks to the absence of a viable alternative and the presence of network effects, it is not easy to transfer to another social networking site (SNS) overnight. In addition, there are valid concerns about privacy on Facebook that we sometimes hear from our friend status updates or news articles. When abrupt changes are implemented it becomes a challenge for many to understand what is going on, let alone how privacy is being maintained. It is also evident that giants like Facebook actually dictate how we conduct online social interactions. Site design, share settings, and a number of design factors determine what we get to know from others and what others know from us.

So what could have been done differently? I view this from an effective change management perspective. First, it should be clear that it is Facebook’s right to implement changes that would prove to be beneficial for everyone or just benefit Facebook in some way. In addition by creating an account of Facebook, we knowingly agree to the terms of site use. However, to manage a healthy image and respect users, any new changes can be implemented in a gradual and educative way rather than forcing change on others in a very short period of time. For example, before any new changes are implemented, video tutorials and messages can demonstrate the proposed changes to Facebook. This would not only build positive goodwill but also facilitate the change process. This is also productive in the long-run as users would have a high level of trust for the site. In the face of new powerful competition users would not flock to the new platform owing to the long build up of mistrust at a subconscious level.

How new changes are beneficial

Amongst this list of tirades, there are some very useful features that attract us to this site. Facebook recently introduced “lists” which allows users to categorize “friends”. Who ends up on a “close friends” list or a “restricted” list, his/her fate. But what is thought provoking is that due to this feature, we as users are compelled to think about our Facebook “friends” in a way we may not have thought about before. Which lists do our classmates fit in? Are they all close friends, probably not. We end up creating lists where we can organize our contacts and thus think about them differently just because we are supposed to fit them in some category. This is in some ways good as we consciously think about our contacts and where they fit in, in comparison with a long list of “friends” who are all treated as… Facebook “friends”.

Then comes in the question of selective status updates. We may not like to share everything with everyone. Imagine a student sharing a status update about him/her enjoying a bowling night while the person’s professors waits for the person to turn in an assignment. There seems to be nothing wrong with this, but lists sure do make us think about possible issues that may make us feel uncomfortable. A clear categorization of contacts in lists allows us to selective share updates in an organized way.

So what may have proven to be an inconvenience for some at the beginning is now a actually beneficial for many. Facebook is way more organized and has made us think of our “friends” being really friends besides those that really matter in our overall social network. New changes have also made us think about those who seldom comment or “like” our status updates, whom we only met once or possibly never met, and deal with them accordingly.

As far as I can remember, a lot changed in 2011. Google + is the new player in town and although not as successful as Facebook and Twitter, has its own strengths and weaknesses. For the next year, all I say to the established players and the not so established players, please take it easy and manage change in a manageable way and have a plan of action that awards respect to the millions of users who use these sites day and night. This roller coaster is way too exciting. We can’t live without you, I am sure you cannot live without us!

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