Facebook: Just Tell Users What's In It for Them

Facebook held a big media pow-wow today. Faced with a vocal user backlash, intense criticism from privacy advocacy groups , and scrutiny from the United States Senate, Facebook saw the error of its ways and introduced three significant changes to simplify its privacy controls.

Intertwined in the privacy soap opera sparked by Facebook are two fundamental marketing lessons that all businesses can learn from. A) Users like to have choices, and B) you sell the sizzle, not the bacon.

Facebook messed up on both of those issues. First, it has an established history of simply launching new features, and automatically opting all users in. The first users are aware of changes to the Facebook interface or the way Facebook shares their data is when they are experiencing the consequences of those changes. Users don't like to be blindsided like that, which leads to a backlash.

On the second issue, Facebook never really sold the bacon or the sizzle. In other words, Facebook made changes to the way data is shared because it benefited Facebook, and with little or no regard for what value that provides to Facebook's 400 million plus users.

But, recent surveys show that Facebook's Zuckerberg may be onto something. Perhaps privacy is dead. Certainly, the boundaries that define privacy are subjective and open to interpretation, and there are some--many, in fact--users who simply don't value privacy nearly as much as privacy advocacy groups like the EFF might like to think.

Back to the point, though--sell the sizzle. Have you ever seen a Budweiser commercial proclaiming the virtues of a beer gut or hangover? No, if you drink Budweiser you will have fun 24/7 and be surrounded by girls in bikinis.

Here is the real secret: if you sell the sizzle well, you can be honest about the negative consequences and customers will take the sizzle with the risk. Sticking with the bacon analogy, most people are aware that bacon is high in fat and cholesterol, and generally not good for you--but nobody cares because they love the taste of bacon. Plain and simple.

If you bought a new sports car, and the salesman told you that you should never exceed 60mph, and that for every hour you drove over 60mph you would lose an hour of warranty coverage, some would heed the warning, and some would accept that trade and floor it. If a doctor told you that every time you had sex you would die one day earlier, how many days of your life would you be willing to trade in?

OK. Let's bring this marketing lesson back to Facebook. Facebook needs to let users know what's in it for them. Don't explain what the feature does or how it works. Users simply want to know "how will opting in and sharing my data benefit me?" If you give me a strong enough benefit to make it worth my while, and sell me on why using your new feature or service is a win-win, and not just a win for Facebook, I will gladly opt in and share my data.

Sometimes you're too close to the problem and you need someone from the outside to help with messaging. A lesson to all businesses--you know your features and services are cool...to you. Let your marketing audience know what's in it for them.

So, Facebook--bring the sizzle.

I'll be glad to forward my résumé so you can engage my services, but you should know I don't work cheap and I prefer to work from home. Nothing says productivity like tapping away at the keyboard at 6am in your pajamas with a fresh cup of coffee while rocking some Staind or Blue October. But--let's keep that just between us. Don't go sharing that information with the rest of the Web or anything, ok?

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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