Dear Mark —
A little over two years ago a young woman from Italy I had previously met at a gathering in my New Jersey community, and who had become a Facebook friend, asked if I knew anyone in the New York area who might want to switch homes for a few weeks. My answer was easy – “Yes, me!”
In the process, I got to visit Milan and then stay in Tuscany and come home by way of Rome, sitting down for dinner each night with delightful Italian families and their indescribably good food.
Thank you, Mark, for that.
In 2009 I went to my 30-year high school reunion and reconnected with some folks who were an integral part of my formative years but with whom I’d lost touch long ago. We now interact and get to keep up with each other via status updates and photos on Facebook.
Again, I am much obliged.
As an independent contractor, I have been able to increase my visibility not by some sophisticated marketing plan but by simply being me and expressing regularly on Facebook. I post my Game Plan columns twice a week and have also gotten life coaching clients who like what they’re reading about how I choose to live my life. It’s such an organic medium for me.
So I repeat, Mark — merci beaucoup.
It must be gratifying for you to get this kind of nuanced feedback from Facebook users. Or is it?
I’m sharing all of this to give you some context — so you can see I know firsthand what Facebook has made possible — before I give you my thoughts about its most recent changes. Frankly, Mark, like so many I find them frustrating and puzzling.
I acknowledge I’m a bit of a dinosaur, but I represent a big part of your user base. You know, the ones who didn’t grow up with the Internet but have learned to love lots about it and are a pretty quick study. We’ve helped you build this thing into an amazing tool in more than 800 million lives and now it feels like you’re disengaging from us.
Perhaps I should step back here and acknowledge your technological and visionary genius. That is unquestionable. In fact, there are scores of people reading this wondering if the difference in our respective bank accounts even qualifies me to coach you in anything. Trust me, Harvard, you need to hear this. With all due respect, I have something you sorely need – people skills. You’re either not listening or you are and you don’t care what a big portion of your users have to say.
Either way, not cool.
I’ve read the analysis and projections on why all these Facebook changes are taking place. By all means, evolve and improve. See the big picture. But in the process, care that your users simply want Facebook to keep doing what it has been doing – allowing us to connect with all the people we choose to ‘friend’ and not have your crazy computerized system filter any of it for us. You can keep putting up ads, offer more games, throw in a Timeline, allow us to express something other than ‘like’ on a post, whatever.
But bottom line, Mark, we know what updates we want to skim and which we want to scrutinize. We like our chronological, complete news feed. Where oh where did you get the idea that we want ‘top stories’ decided for us? If someone I’ve let into my Facebook world chooses to post once a month or four times a day, I want to see all of it. That’s the idea.
Do you not get that people love this invention of yours and what it has made possible? That is what is at the core of all this uproar over the changes. It has actually been kind of interesting from a sociological and psychological perspective to see what this has brought out in people. Those who have the haughty “just adapt” mentality, those who became immediately panic-stricken because they can’t deal with change, and a whole range in between.
This is not like a newspaper or magazine that did a redesign that forces you to turn the page to find the section you like. The information we’ve become accustomed to getting seems to be unavailable or we’re confused about how to access it. There have been scores of articles and how-to’s published about maximizing social media, both personally and professionally, and we’re all trying to forge our way.
You’ve changed the world. Your job isn’t easy by any stretch. I don’t have the technological vision to figure out what might make Facebook better or more user friendly. And I recognize we all have different ideas of what that might be. But you’ve got to trust me when I tell you it will benefit all of us if you stop and listen to users who aren’t employed by you. Don’t write us off as curmudgeons who would complain or be frazzled no matter what.
“These patterns and group sharing will appeal to some,” writes Lance Ulanoff on Mashble.com. “It certainly appeals to everyone in Facebook’s corporate offices. Mark Zuckerberg loves it because he’s 27 and his world revolves around innovation.”
Innovative is good, Mark, but that doesn’t mean you need to be dismissive. I agree with Ulanoff. He goes on to say:
“Zuckerberg should keep in mind that Facebook succeeded with the Moms and Dads who traditionally left ‘the new’ to their kids. They use Facebook almost as much as their kids and when the kids have moved onto the next new thing, they’re still in Facebook getting real-time information about stuff that matters today. Though studies show that your mom might represent the typical social gamer, the moms I know are not using Facebook social apps or wondering how they can tell their life stories on the service. Instead they’re trading new photos, jokes and rumors about which teachers are getting tenure and intelligence how one might get her son into a closed-out SAT course.”
I get that you’re leading us. I do. But leaders serve, don’t they? You’re walking a fine line here. I have so much respect for your mind. It’s time to bring emotional intelligence into the equation. Acknowledge people. Hear what we have to say and take it into consideration. Aren’t we in this together?
“With Timeline, and to a certain extent Open Graph, Mark Zuckerberg is once again racing forward to the next big thing,” Ulanoff writes. “Let’s hope that he doesn’t inadvertently leave his users behind.”
Personally, I’d like to score another great trip, connect with more terrific thought leaders, express myself to my select community in a way that’s clever, informative, uplifting and loving. You’ve made this possible the last few years.
I challenge you to take it up a notch. Not just with new features, but new listening for what your invention can continue to do to connect, enrich and inspire. Give us access to lots, but let us choose our specific experience. You don’t have to, of course, but that’s the beauty of evolving. It’s voluntary and participatory.
Wouldn’t that be a satisfying line to add to your bio?
Mark Zuckerberg is an entrepreneur who grew into a fine leader. Or just, Mark Zuckerberg is a man who grew.
This post originally appeared as a Game Plan column http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2011/09/26/life-coaching-mark-zuckerberg/#ixzz2ZtiaoFY5 on FoxBusiness.com.