When Social Networking Goes Too Far: Fast Company Magazine

fastcompany.jpgI’ve been a reader of Fast Company Magazine from issue number one. I’ve always found the smart blend of writing about small, entrepreneurial minded businesses; large entrepreneurial and innovative businesses and a great mix of in-between (individuals, politicians, culture and more) gives the audience rich information from month to month.
From the very beginning I belonged to the Fast Company, Company of Friends (CoF), a networking group, hosted and launched by Fast Company. The CoF was is geographically segment by cities/regions all over the US and the world.
In these groups you could find a job, get a solution to a hiring dilemma, post a job offer, discuss a business concern and more importantly find smart, like minded people to help you grow your business. Through this simple email discussion list, I met dozens and dozens of great people – whose friendship I cherish and have forged long lasting relationships and partnerships with many.
But Fast Company got the social networking buzz over the last few months and destroyed what was a great thing.

Instead of giving users what they wanted, a simple way to network and discuss (via email), Fast Company launched a new social media platform where one could have profiles, write blogs and do all the cheesy things that FaceBook, MySpace and LInkedIn enable you to do.
I understand why Fast Company did this – to increase page views and content on their site and in some way to build a community. However, from several CoF members I’ve talked to – what we all want was what we had: a simple way to communicate – which Fast Company has now destroyed.
Lesson learned?
Evolving your technology is great and must needed, but always consider your customers/employees – those affected by your change. What they want and what works for them.
Does this mean “the customer is always right”? Of course not. But this does mean that if all your customers prefer to email you questions and you insist that all questions must now go through a web portal, and then if all your customers are not using the web portal and still insisting on what they want – YOU should take a step back and re-consider.
Either you have not done a good job of selling the new solution. You are wrong. Or you need to offer a combination of communication options.
Fast Company thought that since many of their media peers are building social networking sites – that they should too. Maybe they should. But this does not mean they should have replaced the CoF email based discussion list in the process.


About Ramon Ray

Ramon Ray, Marketing & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com & Infusionsoft. Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

  • http://www.adrianmiller.com Adrian Miller

    You said it all. In its heyday, the CoF groups were extremely beneficial and valuable with extraordinary support from all members. When many of the posts became snarky, a lot of members bailed but quite a number of loyal folks that knew how to find the delete key when necessary hung in there. And what did we do when Cof bailed on us; well, we just started another list to meet our needs and communicate. I still read Fast Company but am disappointed that they never seemed to really “get” just how important a role their Cof groups could play. And now it is a bit too late…for NY anyway.

  • http://doubetllc.com Beth Silver

    It sad that an organization with such a passionate userbase chooses to ignore them. I receivee a piece in the mail to resubscribe to FC for $4.95. The fact that they are de-valuing themselves in my mind along with the fact that they are not leveraging the assets of their COF group, just makes me sad. I wish them the best and know I will spend my $4.95 elsewhere.

  • Scott Wolpow

    CoF also had a number of tech issues they ignored. Instead of leveraging what people wanted, they decided to make a new product. A list serv works because I do not have to log into a sever to read the messages. Fast Company just igniored the readers. Now they are selling the magazines for less than the cost of postage. I stopped have interest in reading when teh articles became more gossip than anything else. Add to that the pattern of multiple font use in the hopes to look cool, meant taht reporting had less importance than presentation.

  • http://fastcompany.com Ed Sussman

    Hey there,
    Ed Sussman, president of Mansueto Digital, here. We run FastCompany.com and I was behind the launch. So you can direct all your critcisms at me!
    First off, I understand that change is difficult. If you get used to something, it’s hard to see it transformed into something new.
    But… it’s incorrect to say we didn’t listen to our readers. We did! User studies, focus groups, polls, usability testing.
    And guess what? Most all of our readers love this new approach. Instead of a stand alone e-mail list serve separate from the action on FastCompany.com, and it’s million plus visitors, we now have a real community where people can contribute ideas that we give equal weight to our own journalistic contributions.
    The CoF has a new life. It had devolved to a list serve used by a few hundred people a month, and all but invisible to the vast majority of the FastCompany.com community.
    And now? We’ve signed up 30,000 new members in less than two months — it took us five years to get that many members signed up before the relaunch.
    These members have created 793 blogs for our site — dozens and dozens of which have been featured on the homepage of FastCompany.com. Tens of thousands of reader’s have contributed answers to our daily discussion topics.
    Hundreds of thousands of our visitors have read the contributions of our members, something impossible with the old CoF.
    Now, when you look up a member, you not only see there name and title (old CoF), you see all the contributions they’ve ever made to the site, the articles they favorited, their contacts on the site, the feeds they subscribe to, and more.
    In other words, you can really get to know people by the quality of their ideas, not just their name and title. That might have been enough in 1997, but not in 2008. People expect much more.
    In fact, FastCompany.com is leading the media pack by a mile once again. None of our other competitors have anything even similar to this level of community integration into their sites.
    Since our launch, BusinessWeek.com has scrambled to get a deal together with LinkedIn — a weak move, in my opinion. Why hand over your community to a third-party when it’s your most valuable asset? (Content and community are about the same value, these days, I’d say.)
    Finally, we are still evolving! We have the next six months of features planned for roll out, including improved groups that allow better event planning and broadcasting of messages to your fellow group members; improved RSS readers to accumulate the best innovation content from across the web; improved blogging tools with an easier user interface and more capabilities. The list goes on.
    If you’re really interested in recreating the hey day of CoF, when you could meet dozens of new people passionate about business ideas, then you’ll give the new FastCompany.com another chance. We’ve jump started a whole new community.