Facebook has overhauled the way it talks about its userbase and advertising customers in order to consider them in a more “human” way.
For a start, Facebook is not calling its users “users” any more — it now refers to them as “people.”
The company also has an “empathy team” which is charged with helping its engineers and designers understand what it’s actually like to be a user, or a business paying for advertising.
Speaking at The Atlantic’s Navigate technology conference Wednesday, Facebook’s director of product design, Martha Gould Stewart, revealed how Facebook has even redesigned all its internal dashboards, which used to say things like “daily average users,” but now read “daily average people.”
Gould Stewart explained why: “As somebody once said: It’s kind of arrogant to think the only reason people exist is to use what you built. They actually have lives, like, outside the experience they have using your product, and so the first step of designing in a human-centered way is to recognise that they’re humans.”
That “somebody” she refers to — as The Atlantic points out — may well have been Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who in 2012 implored the tech industry to rule the word “user” out of its vocabulary altogether. He pointed out that one of the dictionary definitions for the word user is “a person who takes illegal drugs.”
In order to think less about “users” and more about “people,” Gould Stewart revealed how Facebook has an “empathy team.” That team actually goes in and visit partners like small businesses or large advertisers to help them run their ad campaigns and find out more about their companies and goals.
“If you succeed or fail at a particular goal, you may not feel the pain or success that a real person using that product to run their business will feel. So we find when we pair individuals and build a relationship with a small business and the campaign they made fails, they [ — Facebook staff — ] feel that.
“They want to help that person succeed, which is very different from doing it in the abstract.”
Later on in the session, Gould Stewart discussed her own ambitions for better advertising, which she described as a “hugely wasteful industry.”
“I think most of our notions of advertising carry with them the assumption that advertising is interruptive and irrelevant and I don’t think that, as a culture, we can conceive a notion or a future — which I feel like we’re trying to build — where we show significantly fewer ads and they’re significantly more valuable and relevant to you.
“If you can just close your eyes and think about walking through an environmental space, thinking what if we reduce that to only the things that are relevant to me — that starts to become a highly valuable and engaging experience. It’s more quiet.
“And I think about even just the human capital that’s lost in terms of wasted attention of the cognitive load of processing marketing messages that have no relevance or value to me, so I think there’s lots of things we need to be careful about.”
Of course, this all falls neatly into Facebook’s own trade marketing push at the moment — “people-based marketing” — which plays up the social network’s targeting abilities so advertisers can direct messages to very specific audiences (such as women aged 16-34, who are engaged to be married, who are using their mobiles and in the vicinity of a bridal wear store.) But it’s nonetheless interesting to see that the approach is also being treated seriously enough internally to change terminology and build teams around actual people, rather than just building products designed to squeeze “users” dry.
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