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Facebook Faces Its Problems

Here are some excerpts from a white paper from the The Entertainment Technology Center @ USC on what consumers will spend in the coming months: 

Through its “Digital Feedback Series,” the [email protected] interviews 20 to 30 college students each week to provide data to the entertainment technology industry regarding trends among next-generation consumers. Recent events surrounding a popular social networking site illustrate how the Digital Feedback Series tracks these consumer trends months before they are apparent to the market.  

During the summer of 2007, Facebook began to allow users to make substantial page format changes. An ever-increasing library of “applications” gave consumers great flexibility to fill their profile and other pages with content and widgets which spoke to them. Marketers too jumped at the opportunity to use Facebook applications and advertisements as a way to reach younger consumers.   

At this same time, because of Facebook’s heavy usage by young consumers, many ETC member companies (editor’s note: even TWICE jumped into the fray) were beginning to market their products and services on Facebook and were also expanding social networking capabilities on their own sites. With its close ties to next-generation consumers (i.e., students at USC), researchers at [email protected]’s Anytime/Anywhere Content Lab (AACL) started a roundtable discussion with students and with [email protected] sponsors regarding Facebook and to discuss prevailing attitudes on social networking. ETC’s consumer research found that the power and plethora of applications came at the cost of detracting from the simplicity and organization that made Facebook wildly popular. An infinite number of “applications” resulted in crowded user pages, making the site less appealing to its previously loyal fan base. As marketers rushed to use Facebook to advertise their wares and reach millions, site loyalists decried that the community was “losing its uniqueness and becoming too similar to MySpace.” Young consumers who felt that Facebook was “theirs” complained that it was becoming too commercial and was at risk of losing its “cool” factor.

Students all agreed that Facebook had slowly become “overly concerned about marketing” and that it was “losing its ability to connect with its core audience.” Nearly all of the interviewees suggested that Facebook should find a better way to separate information about users from applications and marketing messages, to allow the primary purpose of the social site to remain true to its core: connecting people.

ETC’s Digital Feedback Series, delivered to ETC members, highlighted the issues with Facebook and the potential backlash that was brewing. Thanks to ETC’s consumer research, member companies were able to see this coming long before Facebook made any public comments about it. As a result, ETC member companies were able to make changes to the social networking capabilities on their own websites, improving the consumer experience and enhancing their communities’ sense of ownership. They were also able to prepare for the backlash against Facebook and anticipate the changes that would be implemented to that site—thereby modifying their marketing messages in the short-term and planning ways to reach consumers in potential future layouts.  

Facebook ultimately announced and implemented a re-design, relegating applications and the bulk of marketing opportunities to separate “tabs” on a user’s page – a path that ETC discussed with its member companies as a potential solution long before Facebook addressed the concerns or implemented changes.


The ETC@USC started receiving a large amount of complaints from Facebook users about the clutter in October 2007, a full six months before Facebook announced changes to their site — which addressed these problems — in March 2008.

The Results

With direct access to today’s digital content users, [email protected] is able to provide a voice to the users and direct this feedback to the decision makers of today’s digital content and technology. Using this information, ETC’s member companies are able to make informed decisions that help them compete in today’s aggressive marketplace. Facebook currently has implemented a system of tabs, making it easier for users to simply connect with friends. This story is an example of how the AACL and the Anytime/Anywhere Consumer Research helped ETC member companies keep their finger on the pulse of young consumers and track leading-edge indicators before they were known to the rest of the world.

The latest round of feedback is now echoing the sentiment that Facebook is “back on track.” And ETC member companies are ahead of the curve on using Facebook and Facebook-like features as a way to reach next-generation consumers.