The analyst firm I used to work for has a Web Site Review methodology that is grounded in — or centered on, or revolves around — a central concept: How well does a site help its users accomplish their goals?
There are actually a lot of different theories on how to evaluate a web site, but I must say I like my former firm’s approach. It’s customer-centric, and that’s hard to argue with.
I do recognize that in establishing a web site, a firm has its own goals that it wants to accomplish. The customer-centric approach to evaluating the quality of a website forces a firm to link its goals to the goals and objectives of the site’s users.
Which brings us to Facebook, and why brand pages suck, and why they’ll continue to suck, even with the new Timeline layout that FB has rolled out (for a great explanation of what marketers need to know about the new features, see this article on The Financial Brand).
The reason for Facebook brand page suckiness can be boiled down to one thing:
Facebook doesn’t adequately support the reasons why people use social media.
In a study titled Why Do People Use Social Media? Empirical Findings and a New Theoretical Framework for Social Media Goal Pursuit, Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak from the University of California, Riverside identify seven “goal factors” including:
1. Learn — find information about interests, interact with groups that share my interests, etc.
2. Socialize — socialize with friends/family, reconnect with people I’ve lost touch with, etc.
3. Network — network for business/professional purposes, promote myself or business, etc.
4. Update status — tell people what I’m doing, find out what others are doing, etc.
5. Shop — find information about products, find good deals, etc.
6. New people — meet new people, socialize with anonymous people, etc.
7. Media fun — find and share music/videos, etc.
Having read this, I decided to look at a few Facebook brands pages (from banks and credit unions) to see if they supported these goals. I admit this wasn’t a very scientific effort, but here’s what I concluded:
1. Goal support is accidental, at best. There are certainly parts of some FIs’ Facebook pages that correspond to the goals listed above, but it seems to me to be a bit of stretch to think that any of the pages I looked at were consciously designed to support these goals, and I’d have a hard time believing that any of the FIs whose FB pages I looked at did any kind of research to understand the relative importance of the goals listed above.
2. Timeline is going to make it harder to support people’s social media goals. The restrictions that Facebook is placing on brands — e.g., limits on apps and tabs, throttling, pinning and starring limitations — will only make it harder for brand pages to systematically support user goals for using social media.
3. Facebook gives me a headache. Page layout and design in Facebook reminds me of those crappy websites from 1996 that had no rhyme or reason to the layout, used every color imaginable, employed 14 different font types, and randomly alternated between underlined, italicized, and normal text. You know, like this one:
It seems to me that Facebook is shooting itself in the foot, from a long-term perspective. Without more control and flexibility over page design, brands can’t better ensure that they’re supporting users’ goals for using social media. Without that ability, how effective, over the long term, can these pages really be?
The “800 million people use Facebook” argument that so many brands give for why they have to have a Facebook presence doesn’t hold water. Brands are fleeing from traditional mass media channels left and right. What is Facebook if not the new mass media channel?
Legacy mass media channels are criticized for their inability to support the personalization and customization capabilities that brands want. Seems to me that’s exactly the direction Facebook is heading.
The list of social media goals that Hoffman and Novak defined shouldn’t lead anyone to think that ONE social media site (or page) has to accomplish ALL of the goals.
Yet, Facebook (understandably) operates as if it wants to be the ONE AND ONLY place for all social media interactions.
Bottom line: Brands shouldn’t fall into the trap that their social media interactions have to occur on a single platform. Different platforms could be used to support different user goals. But brands need to systematically learn what those goals are, and design accordingly.