Source/Author: Ben Parr (Mashable)
This week, we were witnesses to Twitter largest user revolt #fixreplies. When options for @replies were taken away, we were reminded of the power of the users to group together using social media tools.
Could #fixreplesgate have been avoided? Possibly, but almost every mainstream social site has experienced this type of uprising – just ask Facebook, which has endured drama with its users multiple times. In fact, there are several stark commonalities between these user protests. By understanding what triggers and fuels these incidents, perhaps we can not only avoid future revolts, but build better features with users in mind.
Step 1. Trigger
The #fixreplies controversy began with a site change and a blog post. Correction, actually: it started with a functionality change. This is important: social media revolts do not occur because of a cosmetic change, but when a change has been made with how the user interacts with a social media service.
Facebook, when it dealt with the News Feed controversy, launched a completely new feature right out of the blue. It was a shock to most users and a change in how things were being done. #fixreplies, though less of a shock, was a sudden change in functionality. These changes by the company itself tend to be the triggers that incite user fury.
One other note: sudden changes tend to incite more vitriolic responses than changes that users are prepared for. This is why Facebook took so long to roll out its website redesign in 2008. Although it didn’t stop users from protesting, it surely limited the scope of the response. The more information and preparation provided to users, the better.
Step 2. Groundswell and uprising
Make no mistake: users have plenty of mechanisms for organizing. The key, though, is that they prefer to organize on site rather than coordinate their efforts elsewhere. When Hulu removed a popular show from its lineup, users flooded the comments. Facebook’s News Feed and Twitter’s #fixreplies are the most stark examples of a company’s social media tools being used against them to build awareness.
Once users have gotten together, though, others begin to notice, especially bloggers and the media. Take a look at the coverage for the Twitter incident and others. Once again, social media has brought this issue to the forefront, and the coverage only amplifies the uprising.
Step 3. Response
The key to the strength and duration of any social media protest is the ultimate response by the company. Luckily, we have not seen businesses like Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, or MySpace simply ignore user input – this is suicide in the social media business. However, how long it takes a company to either apologize or explain itself matter.
Although Twitter CEO Evan Williams responded to #fixreplies concerns that very night, the issue wasn’t truly addressed until the next day. It took Facebook several days until it added privacy features to the Facebook News Feed, which helped quell the anger. Hulu’s response to the Sunny in Philadelphia uproar was incredibly quick and just as important, sincere.
For a response, it’s about speed, sincerity, and the concessions made by the company.
Why do social media revolts occur?
So we’ve explored the three key steps in a social media revolt. There’s the trigger, the uprising, and the response. Each step plays a factor in how the event plays out.
The trigger determines the severity primarily based on how fundamental the change is, as well as if the change is gradual or sudden. The type of change determines whether there will even be a protest in the first place.
The uprising is impacted based on the tools they use to spread their message (i.e. the virility of news feed and Twitter) and how much of the blogosphere and the media pick the story up.
Finally, the response has the most to do with how the situation resolves itself. Fast responses, an open dialogue, and a willingness to change features based on user input are all vital to any social media service and its relationship with its users.
So to answer the original question, a revolt occurs because of a trigger. How it evolves and the eventual resolution depend upon whether users have the tools and willpower to self-organize, and whether the company reacts to the uprising with concessions. Avoiding these incidents requires better communication between a company and its users, and early notification if a service plans to make major changes.