Feature requests done right: The case of Facebook reactions

Feature requests done right: The case of Facebook reactions

Understanding what customers really need is never an easy task. As a Product Manager you may already know that it’s rarely what they ask for. Especially when it comes to feature requests. Considering the minefield that they can create, it’s never easy to deal with them. In Debunking the “faster horse” myth in customer feedback, we briefly mentioned that product teams should not sheepishly build everything they are asked, instead they need to take the time, validate and prioritize feature requests before implementing them into their roadmap.

In today’s blog post we’re going to discuss the dangers of rushing to build a feature request without taking the time to figure out the real user problem behind the request. Shipping a number of features and enhancements on time may initially seem like a great practice, but taking the time to understand the real issue and reflect in terms of impact on the market can truly help you protect your business.

One of the most striking examples is the the most requested and discussed potential social media features: the Facebook dislike button! For many years, Facebook users have been clamoring for a dislike button. Whether it was for showing disapproval at lame videos or disliking obnoxious political posts, users were pleading for that button and, as a result, it was an option that’s long been debated both by users and Facebook itself.

Judging by the extremely strong user demand for this feature, everyone thought that it was a matter of time before Facebook’s product team would release it. We’re talking about one of the foremost tech companies in the world! How hard it would be for them to just place a thumbs down button next to the thumbs up button and ship it?

Curiously enough they never did. According to Social Media Today they ran a test for an upvote/downvote option for the comments in order to weed out spam and offensive comments, but that was about it. But why Facebook’s product team didn’t ship the dislike button? Were they just blatantly ignoring such a strong and explicit user demand? I don’t think so… We need to ask ourselves why they decided to act the way they did and uncover the real question behind their decision (very meta, I know!). And that question in the following:

Was that dislike button what the users really wanted?

As a matter of fact, what Facebook users really wanted was a way to voice their disagreement. But not only that! Let’s dig a little bit deeper than that. People don’t just dislike stuff. They get angry, excited or saddened. There is a whole range of emotions in need to be expressed and a simple thumbs up simply doesn’t do it. Not everything in life is likable. Therefore, what was really plaguing Facebook users was this ability to react differently to different posts! As Mark Zuckerberg himself admitted, “there are more sentiments that people want to express than positivity or that they Like something.”

So (drum roll please), they came up with Facebook reactions! These reactions allowed Facebook’s product team to give users a more nuanced way of expressing their sentiments to posts. Because let’s face it, some life events aren’t befitting of a Like.

The people rightfully asked for a dislike button, but Facebook rightfully chose to not ship it

So, what Facebook’s product team did was not just ignore the users feature request. What they actually did was uncover the real pain-point behind this fervent demand for a dislike button. And they found it! Users needed a more nuanced way of expressing their sentiments to posts, beyond a thumbs up. So, the people rightfully asked for a dislike button, but Facebook rightfully chose to not ship it. Because they foresaw the potential dangers of that release. Fueling bullying and other kinds of aggressive behavior online are only a few examples of the potential backlash a dislike button would have. Even YouTube raised the suggestion of removing its own dislike button so as to stop the “downvote mobs” who attack certain content according to Social Media Today. If you think about it carefully, it makes sense that Zuckerberg was not keen on releasing it for Facebook. The risk of that dislike button generating negativity on the platform was much higher than user disappointment, so they came up with an even more effective alternative, solved the root user issue and avoided a potential backlash. Win-win!

The big lesson here? You can never be sure that a new feature will be implemented in the right way. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should turn a deaf ear to your customers suggestions. What we propose, instead is taking the time to figure out what your customers really want and really think ahead. Don’t focus only on the problems that a new product or feature may solve, but take the time to fully understand the implications it may have on your business as a whole in the future. Because building a product is the easy part. Deciding what to build is the million dollar question you need to answer.

Photo by Tobias Dziuba from Pexels

Aggelos Bakos
Authored by Aggelos Bakos
Software engineer and guitar player.