Facebook placed itself in a familiar controversy last week when the backlash against its updated terms of service caught fire in the blogosphere. The social network had broadened its rights to the content that users publish to the service, even if the users delete their accounts. But after the changes incited controversy, the company reversed course.
On the Facebook blog, founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote that it would return to the original terms of services while it works to come up with a better solution. He also solicited user feedback, writing that they could offer comments via a new Facebook group and that “I'm looking forward to reading your input.”
Unfortunately, this is what Facebook should have done all along. The lessons learned from the company's 2007 Beacon controversy were not only that Facebook users are protective of their data, but also that they consider Facebook an interactive community, which, as Zuckerberg himself points out, numbers nearly 200 million. Considering this, the best way for Facebook to defuse its critics is to allow them to have more input in policy changes before those changes are implemented. It also should have reached out the specific groups it believed might be most affected by the changes and listened to their concerns.
Clearly, the online space is a sensitive world where opinions and news travel and multiply with speed. However, Facebook generally enjoys vast brand loyalty and many of its users are eager to share their thoughts about the site. As a business, the management can take the company in whatever direction it wants, but giving deference to the community will allow the network to turn its most impassioned users into even stronger advocates. It will do so by getting these brand ambassadors on board pre-announcement.