Mark Zuckerberg is the newest member of the gasoline on the fire group of Founder/CEO types that haven't learned how to properly react when a group of customers go bananas over something you offer.
As you probably have heard, Facebook got its members in an uproar over some new features. Mark, being the CEO/Founder, jumped up and posted some commentary to deal with the rising tide of screaming complaints.
For you, kind start up person, here are some lessons/observations.
First, ignore the feature debate. Doesn't matter for these purposes.
Second, ignore the privacy debate over the features, for you, also doesn't matter.
Third, pay close attention to people outside the echo chamber as they offer a fairly good 'normal' view of what's really being said.
I passively watched this fun until this morning when two things happened. The first was somebody forwarding me Mark's blog posting; we'll get to that in a moment. The second was a conversation with a women that doesn't live in our echo chamber.
"I just read in the paper about this facebook privacy problem, jezz, I have to tell my daughter about this. Damn, another place for people to stalk my children. They should shut sites like this down."
That's a mom worried, knowing pretty much nothing about the site, etc, only relying on some snippet she read in a newspaper.
Now on to Mark's blog entry.
He starts off with the title: Calm down. Breathe. We Hear You. Hmm.. I'm at 7 out of 10 on the arrogance scale but I withhold the points award because this might be a fun, oops, aw shucks, sorree, type posting.
The first paragraph, the most important paragraph, falls flat on it's face. Consider this sentence:
"We think they are great products, but we know that many of you are not immediate fans, and have found them overwhelming and cluttered. Other people are concerned that non-friends can see too much about them."
Given that about 1000% of the concerns were all about privacy, all about stalking, etc, this type of dismissive, we like it lead off, with yeah some people are bitching, is not good.
Lesson: Acknowledge and agree with the big concern. In this case, Privacy is a top priority/concern should have been the first words written.
With respect to privacy, there was this dumb remark:
"And we agree, stalking isn’t cool; but being able to know what’s going on in your friends’ lives is"
There is more about what you can do with respect to facebook's data here:
"Maybe if your friends are all going to a party, you want to know so you can go too."
I don't want to take this stuff out of context. When you read all of Mark's blog post, you will see Mark defending what Facebook is all about and why the features he has in the product add value to his product vision. What comes through, loud and clear, however, is a blind eye and deaf ear to the concerns being raised with respect to privacy, stalking, etc.
Mark had a perfect opportunity to address these issues with a simple blog entry saying privacy is our top concern, we take it seriously, nothing we do will ever compromise your privacy, etc, etc.
There is this attempt:
"We didn’t take away any privacy options. [Your privacy options remain the same.] The privacy rules haven’t changed. None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes."
The problem here is that Mark simply doesn't get the issue. Obviously, rolling out these types of changes hit a raw nerve in the privacy department. Obviously, the simple thing to do would have been to opt in for the new changes, reset everybody to max privacy, then let people slowly open things back up (yup, close the walls as they call it), etc.
Lots of company options that, for sure, would have resulted in complaining but, for sure, would have allowed the company to make a strong statement about privacy and the values/principals of the company.
That, of course, is up to Mark and his apparently equally tone deaf board/management team to decide. My daughters use Facebook and I don't much care about this either way. They are grown and understand the world we live in. Other parents may not feel this way.
But for you and your start up? Learn from this.
When 200,000 people start bitching and complaing, you swan dive onto your sword. Don't even attempt to rationalize, simply say, oops, here's what we heard and what we are immediately doing about it, not hey dorks, learn how to use the privacy settings and keep the cards -n- letters coming. That's what I (and others) read into Mark's blog entry.
Again, you should read his entry for yourself and use it as an opportunity to learn how to respond to problems.
Welcome to the club, Mark, you aren't the first and won't be the last.
update: Ed Sim has an excellent post on this topic.