To stay on the right track and avoid becoming a cautionary tale for future social networks, Facebook needs to keep the user experience at the forefront of every decision it makes. Ad dollars are key to keeping shareholders happy, but if Facebook should ever lose those hundreds of millions of devoted users, advertisers will flee.
Build more great experiences: Facebook in the past has thrown many, many products at the wall to see what sticks, but a lot of those products are at best secondary to the main experience and at worst clutter Facebook to the point of agitation. Zuckerberg last week said Facebook will focus on separate apps that can stand on their own, like Instagram and Facebook Messenger have succeeded in doing. Paper, Facebook's social newsreader, hit the App Store on Monday. The app is a symbol of Facebook's future: It's more than just a social network, more than just News Feed.
Don't annoy people: We understand the need for ads, but they have to be simple, unobtrusive, and easy to ignore—unless you want to engage with them. Facebook's mobile ads have so far been just that, so clearly the network understands its responsibility to users. But this thoughtful ad rollout has also included tests of auto-playing video ads, which are a no-go. That effort should be abandoned. Auto-playing anything is a terrible idea. What if the video is violent? What if my friends just have terrible taste in videos? Many people also clamor for GIFs, but let's remember the free-for-all that MySpace became and let Facebook stay a GIF-free zone.
Don't worry about the kids: The media has been fixated on Facebook's "teen problem" ever since Facebook CFO David Ebersman admitted that teens' daily use of Facebook has declined slightly during an earnings call last October. Facebook didn't really help matters by trying to buy ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, known for its popularity with kids, for $3 billion in cash late last year. Facebook hasn't released any hard data on teen engagement with the social network, but it's probably safe to assume that kids are using other social apps. Here's the thing: Facebook doesn't have to be popular with teens. Let them have their fun with Snapchat or Line or whatever other emoji- or sticker-based app is of the moment. When they go to college or move away from their friends and family, they'll return to Facebook to stay in touch, share photos, and stay in the loop about major life events. If Facebook successfully manages our first two recommendations, they won't have to worry about an exodus of users, and they shouldn't stake the network's future on pleasing a fickle demographic.
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