Why openness and collaboration is key to competitiveness and why we can learn from Facebook

We’re often trying to build into the design or re-design of a service ways that organisations can manage a greater deal of openness and collaboration with their customers. We’re strong believers that it’s this that contributes to taking a service from good to great. This is easy to say and aspire to but it’s not easy to design these qualities and experiences into large, established service organisations and the services they provide.

What has struck me is that you have to believe that trust, openness and collaboration are critical to your success; and that the social, collaborative web is of more value than just another marketing channel. This in turns requires the belief that what your service is doing is not just profitable, but valuable to customers and that your customers can improve it through their contributions.

It’s interesting to observe this playing out in a service that has become so ingrained in many lives; Facebook:

Trust that what you’re doing is valuable and know when to let go
Great services will always have a clear and well-articulated value proposition and a set of underlying principles that guide all activities and experiences. Once you have a clear perspective on this it becomes easier to let go and see how people use your service.

It was the clarity of Zuckerberg’s vision that drove the speed and success of Facebook. This coupled with very low barriers to entry. He knew duplicating the sociality of college life, warts and all, was critical to Facebook’s success – such as forming cliquey interest groups, showing your popularity through the amount of friends you had, and demonstrating how free and single you were. He knew he was building a platform that was inherently valuable and he trusted its users would do the rest.

Trust that ‘super customers’ will improve your service
Great services use their community of customers/users to help evolve and improve the service. These companies find what the Japanese call their Otaku’s, who are often the most passionate and knowledgeable about the service and help evolve the service for the better. Companies that create genuine collaboration with customers are able to react more easily and quickly.

Facebook went through a rocky patch when, in early 2009, it changed its Terms of Service so that all personal content uploaded onto Facebook was their property to do what they liked with. This caused uproar amongst its users and the tech industry, causing Facebook and Zuckerberg to retract the changes and change their approach to ‘be more open and free from jargon (in the spirit of openness)’. By listening to its users and acting upon their wishes, it has positioned itself as being the property of those that use it and so created much deeper connections.

Trust that ease of use and access can be enough to help retain customers for the long-term
Customers will stay loyal to a service if they’ve been able to craft an experience that suits them and feel compelled to expend a lot of time and energy on it.

Facebook quickly realised that to further embed themselves into people’s everyday behaviours they had to put themselves at the centre of sociability and develop a mobile application. This has opened-up a constant flow of live activity by allowing micro-interactions with the service. It’s the mobile phone application that sustains people’s interactions with the service with a 3rd of all traffic coming via mobile apps and the recent realisation of HTC ‘Cha Cha’ and ‘Salsa’ that now come with a Facebook button hardwired into the phone, will make access even easier.

Trust that your openness can be your greatest asset
Service providers are very well placed if they can become an platform for other services and create service eco-systems (See the recent Nokia announcements). Increasingly, the world of digital products and services is becoming the challenge of how customers’ data can be used to their benefit; juxtaposing different services to create new and valuable stuff.

Facebook is making inroads into becoming the universal profile and log-in for a customer’s experience of the web. By opening up the Facebook API ‘Facebook Connect’, other services can begin to integrate social functionality into their own offers, providing people with a more personalised service and tailored experience. Mashing personal data from Facebook with traditional media has already begun to present incredibly personalised media experiences such as IPTV service Joost.

In six years Facebook has moved from something to connect and share with our friends on campus, to being our community and support network that you carry in your pocket and a personalised ID that provides us with a suite of web services just for us. It’s through trusting that collaboration and openness with customers and other services that Facebook has been able to evolve and sit at the core of an increasingly complex and competitive space.

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