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5-Year-Old Facebook's 4 Toughest Lessons

Lots of businesses are copying what Facebook has done right. But with social media becoming an increasingly important part of every businesses strategy, there is also plenty to be learned from Facebook's blunders. The mega-social networking site has done far more right than wrong—amassing 175 million users in about the time it takes most companies to wake up in the morning—but in honor of the popular social network's fifth birthday earlier this month, we put together a list of the 4 biggest Facebook blunders of the past 5 years.

September 2006: The News Feed Debacle.


When Facebook introduced a feature that automatically notifies your friends every time you throw a sheep at someone—or do just about anything else—no one had a choice about what or how much would be shown. The membership revolted by signing online petitions and joining anti-News Feed groups. Facebook responded by apologizing and developing a way to turn off the tracking feature, or control which people see the updates.

Lesson learned: Don't force people to share information. Yes, even if they are over-sharing to begin with.

November 2007: Oops, We Did It Again.
Beacon_exampleThe following year Facebook launched Beacon, an advertising program that gathered information about members' spending habits on other sites. Once people realized their every book purchase and streaming video view was being broadcast to their friends, they were outraged. It took Facebook nearly a month to admit Beacon was a mistake. "We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. The company also tweaked the alert feature, making it opt-in instead of opt-out by default, and gave users the choice of turning off Beacon completely. Which nearly everyone did.

Lesson learned: Act quickly—don’t wait a month to respond to public outrage.

December 2008: Nipplegate.

No, not Janet Jackson’s "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl. We’re talking about the time Facebook removed "indecent" photos of breastfeeding moms from the site. Soon, about 11,000 lactating protesters held a virtual nurse-in by uploading nursing photos onto their profiles. A reported 20 women actually showed up at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, to breast-feed in person. Facebook responded, saying the pics violated the company's terms of use. To be fair, several media sites, magazines and T.V. channels also draw the line at exposed areolas.

Lesson learned: Clearly communicate your codes of conduct and definitions of "obscene" content. Especially with new moms.

February 2009: Nevermind, We Don't Own You.
FB_BillofRights(TermsofService)In early February, Facebook quietly changed its terms of service to allow the company to "retain archived copies" of user content, meaning messages, photos and anything else sent to friends would stay on the site even after a user deactivates his or her account. But after the blog Consumerist caught wind of the change, members protested, and Facebook reverted to its original terms. The company is now trying to make amends by letting users help craft the company's new terms via a newly-formed group called Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

Lesson (hopefully) learned: Instead of back-peddling each time the public protests, try getting input from your users from the get-go.