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July 26, 2010

Is It Possible to be Successful and Suck? (And Tips to Avoid the Latter)

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If Facebook has anything to show us, the answer to the question above is yes. As SEOs, we’ve seen our fair share of sites that suck come to Bruce Clay, Inc. for help. One thing I’ve noticed that always surprises me is that it can sometimes be hard to predict future success when there’s so much evidence to the contrary.

angry blue octopus
CC BY 2.0

The Globe and Mail has synthesized the issue of Facebook’s success-to-suckage ratio about as well as anyone. The latest news coming out of the social behemoth is that it’s reached 500 million users, putting its population on par with the third-largest nation in the world. It was a conveniently cheery outlook for Facebook considering current concerns regarding privacy and spam and fading consumer satisfaction.

(My favorite line: “[I]t’s hard to be unreservedly supportive of something so huge, so tentacled, so hungry for data, kind of like a blue Kraken owned by a pimply billionaire“. What a fun way to look at inevitable destruction!)

Even in the midst of unbridled growth, Facebook’s getting failing grades in Keeping Users Happy 101. (A tangential aside: 5 videos you should never post on YouTube is full of further examples that traffic, page views and popularity do not equal “good for the brand.” Important lessons learned at the expense of others. Sorry, dude. Sure 700k people have viewed your video. Too bad they’d never do business with you.)

As Facebook demonstrates, it’s certainly possible to rake in the bucks while alienating users and stirring up movements to boycott your service. But there’s got to be a less irksome way to steer your business toward success. At Bruce Clay, Inc. we’re all about helping businesses not suck. (Noble, right? You can thank us later. ;) )

It turns out that people will put up with a wholotta nonsense if a service does even just a couple things right.

Be Useful

The Globe and Mail says Facebook’s satisfaction ratings are in line with airline and cable companies — two industries where it can be hard to pay a compliment other than we’d be bored and close to home without them. There just aren’t many alternatives because they fill a need few others can. Facebook is popular because it’s useful. It lets people connect, contact and share with friends and family online. Funny enough, it’s also useful because it’s popular; there’s no other social network where you can reach out to as many people in one place.

Come Original (or Early to the Party)

You don’t have to be the first out the gate if you have a unique offering. Facebook probably got a boost in the social space because it didn’t have to introduce the concept of a social network to the world, it just had to do it in a way that stood out from the other guys. In the case of Facebook, the closed network, granular privacy settings and clean interface sanitized and packaged social networking for the masses. While these distinctions seem to get lost in the shuffle today, once critical mass was achieved, Facebook was free to the change the rules as they pleased.

Keep Iterating

I suspect that Facebook often gets a pass from users for bad behavior because there’s an unspoken understanding. Today’s most innovative tech companies are constantly testing and tweaking their services. They’re looking for ways to enhance offerings, simplify design, answer emerging needs and avoid stagnation. They’re paying attention to the changing ways their users interact with the service (mobile devices), integrating trends (location-based services), and adding technologies (search and social plugins). If you’re up front about upcoming instabilities or tests, users are slower to anger if they expect their routine or features to be different.

Sure, your site might not yet have reached the ideal status you have in mind. If there are still areas you see for improvement, good! That means you haven’t given up on growth. Bruce Clay, Inc. is always available to help lessen the suck-quotient of a site. But no matter who you are, remember that usefulness, originality and progress can cover many flaws.

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4 responses to “Is It Possible to be Successful and Suck? (And Tips to Avoid the Latter)”

  1. SEOP.com writes:

    I agree. When something really becomes big, the only route for it is to suck and go down.

  2. Mark Wilmott writes:

    I really think that Facebook is on the way out. Surely everyone who wants to be on there is on there?

    The real battle for FB now is keeping its existing users.

  3. Man Ray writes:

    The real battle for Facebook is keeping its head above the waters, and to not drown from all the attention they’re getting. They have a huge user base, but how they will be able to satisfy the wants and needs of those users without running into legalities is another thing.

  4. Sterling Mckinley writes:

    Soon Facebook will be a thing of the past and a new social media site will be up. I think of it as the circle of life for social media….a new one always comes along



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