BrandconversationDecision MakingMarketing

Your most important question

It would have been hard to miss the turmoil surrounding the change a few weeks back in Facebook‘s terms of service. It appeared that they had changed the terms so that Facebook now owned complete rights in perpetuity (or something similar) to anything and everything anyone has ever posted or ever will post on Facebook.

It shocked some people that anyone noticed. But if you’ve been in the social media world or in on-line communities at all in the past decade, you know there are always at least a few people watching out and ready to pounce on anything that even smells like a usurpation of individual rights, freedom or privacy. (personal note: a really good analysis of this and what it means for the future is in Jonathan Zittrain’s book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it).

And, as one might have expected, once the individual shouts turned into a roar, and the mainstream news media (and even NPR and Harvard Law) picked up the story, Facebook backed off, and retracted the changes.

Facebook explained the intent of the changes by saying they had “revised our terms of use hoping to clarify some parts for our users” and that the changes were intended to do things like make sure people knew that if they posted, say, a picture on a group, then canceled their Facebook account, but the group still existed, then the picture would stay posted on the group.

Makes sense to me. Unfortunately, what they actually said, didn’t seem to mean that – and certainly wasn’t taken that way by the chorus of users who called for the recission of the changes.

Full credit to Facebook, by the way, for listening.

OK, now to my point. I don’t know if Facebook actually did any market research or any form of listening to their users in this case, but this is an all-too-common situation that marketers face: We listen to our market, then we act on what we think we heard. All good, right?

Well, frankly, no.

Thomas J. Watson, Jr. was famous for one admonition to his employees that became the informal motto of IBM: “Think” I remember in my younger days visiting IBM offices, and nearly everyone had a plaque on their desk with this single word embossed on it.

IBM Think Sign


That’s what Facebook forgot. And that’s what we see marketers forget a bit too often. Forget the groupthink that got you to the decision to act. Forget the assumptions you make every day. Forget the facts and data. Forget the market research and all the pithy quotes you garnered from your customers.

Take just a few minutes. Pretend you actually are one of your customers hearing for the first time about whatever you plan to do (not sure how to do this? ask an aspiring-actor friend – I know you have at least one!).

What do you think? What’s your reaction? What’s your initial feeling or what action might this inspire. Be honest here. This is the marketing equivalent of the gut check.

In other words: Think. What would your (prospective) customer really think about this?

That’s your most important question.

If it passes that test, then act, knowing your (prospective) customers won’t react with “What were they thinking?”

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