Opinion

What businesses can learn from Twitter and Facebook's responses to user feedback

8 min read

22 April 2015

Twitter and Facebook have both announced recent changes – Twitter to its policy in dealing with online abuse, and Facebook to its NewsFeed. Unpicking why these changes have been made shows where businesses should be focusing their attention when looking to make improvements.

Twitter’s long-running problem with online abuse has been well-documented. A leaked memo from the company’s chief executive, Dick Costolo in February 2015 acknowledged the lack of effective action. Costolo wrote at the time: “I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front.”

He also added that the lack of action had not only resulted in worldwide discussion but a knock-on effect on its userbase. “It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

The announcement on Twitter’s blog then was a a long time coming for many. As well as reflecting the importance of listening to user feedback – something fundamentally crucial for both small businesses and huge companies like Twitter to do – it did also indicate the difficulty Twitter has had in creating an effective policy that still maintains its ethos of promoting free speech.

It has proven a tricky position for Twitter to take, both welcoming “the open exchange of information”, which the company has previously said, “can have a positive global impact”, and ensuring “that voices are not silenced because people are afraid to speak up”.

It has led to a couple of policy changes. Twitter has extended its violent threats policy to include “threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others”. Shreyas Doshi, director of product, admitted that Twitter’s previous policy was “unduly narrow and limited our ability to act on certain kinds of threatening behaviour”. Having tripled the number of staff dedicated to responding to reports on Twitter in March 2015, Twitter has also introduced an extra enforcement option allowing its support team to lock abusive accounts for a period of time. There’s also a product feature in the works which aims to identify potentially abusive tweets and limit their reach.

There’s one clear lesson to learn from Twitter here, which is the importance of listening to user and/or customer feedback. Whether it’s something as basic as a hard-to-navigate website that has prioritised style over substance, or more nuanced areas to work on as with Twitter’s numerous policy tweaks, it’s clear that keeping abreast of what your user base is thinking, is imperative to longterm success. As Twitter has shown, it may take some time to deliver effective solutions and adjustments – which is all well and good if they’re clearly taking steps in the right direction. Sometimes though, immediate responses can be necessary.

Twitter has been known to be fairly sensitive to user feedback. Back in 2013, before its halfway house of a mute function was introduced, the website reverted the new change made to its blocking policy, following extensive negative feedback from users on Twitter as well as other sites. Internal discussions reportedly commenced soon after the sentiment became clear – at the time Reuters reported that an emergency meeting was arranged to discuss the changes.

Initially, the decision was taken to change the service so that blocked users could now see the user’s tweets as well as continuing to follow them on the service – meaning potential harassers could continue to track someone’s updates. The intention had been to crack down on retaliation scenarios.

Twitter quickly backtracked on this however, and Michael Sippey, vice president of product, posted a statement that said: “Earlier today, we made a change to the way the ‘block’ function of Twitter works. We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe. Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect.”

It was a quick, simple and relatively painless amendment, but well-received among the 200m users the site had at the time.

Similarly, while Facebook has had many back-and-forths with users over its eleven years, it has taken quite a significant step to improve day-to-day users’ experience. The prominence of publishers and Facebook page owners has been a contentious issue for many, and the benefit of additional traffic provided by Facebook has been crucial to plenty of publishers – referral traffic to media publishers from Facebook has more than doubled in the past 18 months. 

Read more on Twitter:

This may be set to change. We heard about Google’s big announcement, and now Facebook has presented three changes regarding its NewsFeed algorithm.

Product manager Max Eulenstein and user experience researcher Lauren Scissors said that these amendments could have a negative effect for publishers. “In some cases, post reach and referral traffic could potentially decline.”

The changes mean that users will now be able to see more than one NewsFeed post from the same source in a row, so those who don’t see much content in their feeds can see more. Facebook will also start prioritising NewsFeed content posted by friends – while users will still see content from news organisations and other pages they enjoy, “content posted by the friends you care about…will be higher up”. Finally, and pretty significantly for publishers’ reach, Facebook is hiding posts that say what users’ friends have liked or commented on.

While the impact on publishers will vary, it’s interesting to note that Facebook actively sought out respondents to rate their personal NewsFeeds and this is the result. Market research company GlobalWebIndex has said there are now four in ten Facebookers who browse the site passively. This renewed effort to provide more tailored NewsFeeds reflects that the social networking platform may be attempting to listen more attentively to users’ wishes and up the number of active users.

The longterm effects of this are yet to be seen, but it’s a timely reminder that consistent checks on how customers are finding your service provide the most useful feedback. Even the most popular social networking site in the world can learn from users’ insight.

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