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Why the Facebook Year in Review app sucks

Based on my newsfeed, I would think the worst thing Facebook has ever done was to release this “Year in Review” app.

Not the worst thing, but it is pretty shitty.

Let me get one thing out of the way first, because it’s important: You do not have to post your year in review.

Let me type that one more time for emphasis: You do not have to post your year in review.

Now while that’s good and useful and all, that’s not really the point of this post.

scott-kleinberg-facebook-scott-2014Facebook didn’t screw up by creating a “Year in Review” app. That part is actually pretty cool. They didn’t even screw up the sharing. Note that when it’s being prepared that it defaults to the only me viewing setting; you have to make it public or choose to share it with your friends. And you can edit it to the point where it’s completely different from Facebook’s version.

What Facebook really screwed up is the default wording that attaches to the post: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” It sounds harmless enough, but in reality it’s terrible.

As a social media manager, I always anticipate the reaction. Every single word I type — tweets, Facebook updates, tumblr posts, Instagram captions — must work before AND after posting. I can’t stress this enough in social media: You always have to think about what the reaction to your words will be, not just about what the words are. You may think you’ve crafted the most amazing prose ever created, but you always have to assume the worst. Have I made mistakes in my social media posts in the past? You betcha. Do I ask others around me for a second opinion before I post? Sometimes. Am I lightning fast in times of breaking news? Oh yeah. Am I careful every single time? You better believe it.

So what did Facebook do wrong?

“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Ahhh, copy from the marketing department. You know how you can tell? The exclamation point and the use of it’s as it has. Those are dead giveaways that the person who wrote it doesn’t have editorial background. No offense to people who work in marketing, but some of you suck at writing and you really shouldn’t.

The text should have read “This is my year according to Facebook.”

That’s it. And that simple.

Even though the text is fully editable, many people choose not to edit. If that was the text Facebook chose, we wouldn’t be seeing nearly as many stories. Sure, people would still be reminded of negative things, but when it’s your year according to Facebook you can’t argue because it’s true. But you can argue with “it’s been a great year” because for so many it wasn’t a great year. And again, Facebook depending on people to edit copy is good and all, but it’s hardly enough. It was just a matter of rethinking those words and that’s what happens when people don’t anticipate the reaction.

This isn’t limited to social media, although it’s center stage in 2014. A copy editor can write what he or she thinks is the greatest headline ever but if only he or she gets it it’s not the greatest headline ever.’

My advice to Facebook in 2015 for “Year in Review” apps and everything else: Grow your algorithm, but don’t grow so dependent on it that you lose sight of the big picture: Social media is personal. Sometimes there’s no substitute for a thoughtful human touch.

About Scott Kleinberg

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4 comments

  1. I agree that the default setting gives the user more control than it would seem, based in the criticism the app has garnered. My problem is (other than te fact it’s upset people unnecessarily) is that once I decided to delete te album from my wall, Facebook kept bugginge about reposting. This lead me to suspect there is some monetary incentive users aren’t aware of. Are they pandering for a metric spike at the end if 2014 so they can charge more for ads? Just seems there’s gotta be a reason for te aggressive promotion of this year in review app.

  2. What Scott said. The end.

  3. Facebook didn’t fail with Year in Review, but it forgot that we don’t just celebrate there. Many Facebook pages live on as memorials after their owners pass away.

    It’s good for Facebook to encourage reflection. I look at my news feed and wish my Facebook friends could give their day a bit more thought.