Valentine’s Day: For some, it’s about the love. But for others, it’s about the complaining.
Plenty of single ladies will be grousing about their … well, single-ness, while plenty of taken guys will gripe about having to do anything at all.
Still more people will rant about the commercialism of the romantic holiday, and this year, that means Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) will be a target of many a complaint.
If don’t have a Facebook account, or you do but haven’t noticed, the Facebook Gifts service is kindly suggesting to “in-a-relationship” users that they surprise their significant others with treats, such as champagne gummy bears. But it’s a new feature, and like most new features on Facebook, it has drawn its share of complaints.
And that got me thinking.
See, there is a clear divergence in the world of Facebook chatter. On the financial news side, talk revolves around the bottom line, the shift to mobile and monetization. But the emphasis and reactions are completely different from a user’s perspective.
And at the end of the day, users really are what (should) matter to the company. So, with that in mind, let’s take at three of the site’s latest features from the perspective of the “customer.”
Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time Facebook suggests buying gifts, of course — birthdays are the biggest target. But while a deal with Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and other merchants sounds great from a money-making point of view (and while TechCrunch claims it has the potential to be a billion-dollar biz), I personally don’t know anyone who gives gifts to their friends this way.
After all, the practice of wishing “happy birthday” to the people you don’t really talk to — the ones whose birthdays you wouldn’t even know about if they didn’t pop up on the site — feels shallow and forced. Upping the ante by sending them a gift via Facebook? Just as impersonal, and now it’s going to cost me? Weird … and no thank you.
On top of that, some users don’t even understand the service. I asked a friend recently what he thought about Facebook trying to convince users to buy each other gifts, and he replied: “I don’t even know what those gift suggestions mean. Are they real presents? How can Facebook send real presents? Or are they part of the FarmVille Mickey Mouse nonsense?”
I’m not, nor do I know, every Facebook user … but so far I haven’t even met one who was enthralled with this new feature.
Speaking of FarmVille, apparently people do still play games on Facebook, because I get invitations to FarmVille 2 (which I didn’t know existed) and Texas Hold ‘Em just about every … single … day.
Most people I know, though, have graduated from the days of taking care of fake livestock. And sure, Facebook has grown up some, too. It ended its strategic partnership with Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) — a move many think gives Zuck’s company more leeway to promote up-and-coming game developers. But I still don’t think Facebook has much more room to grow here.
The main appeal of Facebook games is the option to connect with friends — once a pretty unique strength, but now we have options like the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Game Center or gaming communities like HeyZap.
That’s not to say Facebook’s online gaming money will disappear, but there’s not much of a catalyst for growth.
And from another user experience standpoint, the constant requests on Facebook are annoying to many, and for me, actually counterproductive — the more often I see a game request, the less likely I am to ever give it a try.
I’m a big girl. When I want to play a game, I will look around for one and join up myself.
Most of my friends weren’t aware of Facebook’s soon-to-come Graph Search feature, but investors have been buzzing about it since the company’s conference earlier in the year. If you followed reactions to the initial release on Twitter (which I did), a common theme emerged that I think most users would agree with:
It’s kind of creepy.
Of course, Facebook always has had some element of creepiness — most of us have heard the term “Facebook stalking” — but we put up with it or ignore it as long as it’s not thrown in our faces. Most users I know are more worried about unwanted adults seeing party pictures than Facebook snatching up their personal information. I get a bit turned off by the blatantly targeted ads, but generally just pretend like the trail of cookie crumbs I know I leave on the Internet isn’t a big deal.
Graph Search, however, could make it a big deal. Debra Aho Williamson — an analyst at eMarketer — told NPR that this feature could “open a lot of users’ eyes” to how much information they’ve been sharing.
Monetization potential aside, you have to wonder whether Graph Search — or the next thing, or the thing after that — will be the issue that finally causes users’ privacy worries to boil over into a mass exodus.
Of course, users could also just react to these features the same way they did with Timeline, News Feed and others: bitch, bitch, bitch … and then keep on using Facebook anyway. But remember: Even entrenched social media sites can go out of fashion when users find something they like better — just ask MySpace. Or Friendster.
So when you’re analyzing Facebook’s stock, sure, look at revenues, earnings, how it plans to monetize its users … but also keep the users themselves in mind.
After all, it’s harder to monetize them once you start losing them.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.