Questioning the value of Facebook’s latest feature

Do you find value in Facebook’s new questions’s function? This is the question I posed my Facebook friend this week as I tried out the new feature for the first time. The whole object of the exercise was to help me determine my own answer to the question, and I can now say that yes, I definitely find value in this new feature.

I started by posing the question on my personal Facebook profile and just left it alone to see what happened. I got three quick replies and then nothing for the next 24 hours.

I then sent the question to 67 of my friends who I know have a strong interest in social media as part of their work or volunteer activity. Over the next 24 hours a further 21 votes came in, including a handful from people I don’t know and am not connected with. Twelve people clicked yes. Four people clicked no; another four voted ‘I’m not sure’. Five clicked on ‘I’ve never seen them before now’.

I guess it’s not surprising that within my social media biased community that half of the respondents said they find value in the question feature. I was mildly (and pleasantly) surprised that some friends of friends took the time to vote.

But the real value for me came from some of the people who took some time to a comment. Joseph Thornley, a Canadian PR pioneer in online reputation management said, “I’m not sure. I’ve tested Facebook questions and, so far, I think it suffers from a lack of context. Different people use Facebook for different reasons. So, when they answer, their responses reflect why they are Facebook. Some provide serious answers. Some offer funny answers. Some simply see it as a chance to poke at something. Unless you can get people into the same frame of mind and a common context, answers will be of limited utility.”

It’s a valid observation and one that I tend to agree with. That’s why I had only sent my question to friends I know have professional interest in social media. This addressed the context aspect to some extent but doesn’t account for friends of friends.

Lisa Larter, who knows a thing or two about building social communities said, “No. First of all when I clicked no I got an error that says something went wrong, and secondly I find the way the options roll up in how the question is displayed makes it not intuitive for the end user. Thirdly I find I get more responses when I just say Question: and ask it.”

I understand Lisa’s frustration. It’s maddening when a new feature gets rolled out witout it working perfectly…but that’s part of Internet life. And, I’m jealous that Lisa’s community is just so responsive! Not everyone’s FB friends and fans will take the initiative. I saw a big difference in response after sending the question to specific individuals.

Web designer Martyn Cain said, “No. I’ve only seen them used for junk so far. Maybe they’d be more useful on LinkedIn or restricted to Fan Pages only.” I think that Martyn makes a very good point, but only time will tell how the community will use this feature. It my very well be taken up mostly by brands and marketers….who knows?

Software engineer Nathan Pledger said, “Meh. It gives me something to register my highly insightful opinion on. I have one in mind … “Do you care where people are, what people eat, watch, listen to, etc.?” His point is that Facebook questions will create extra noise in the same way as Facebook Places and Foursquare. Again I say, time will tell.

So what does this prove? Posing my question helped me learn about a range of attitudes toward the Facebook Questions which will inform my future use of the feature. It got a conversation going on my profile, which is always good. I found some contacts who are friends of friends and are interested in social media. To me, all this spells value.

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Sherrilynne Starkie is a consultant at PDMS. For almost 18 years, Sherrilynne has been advising blue-chip organisations on both sides of the pond, covering Britain, Canada and the United States. For three years, Sherrilynne was the Tech Talk columnist for the Isle of Man newspapers. She serves on the steering committee for Isle of Man Women in Business, is on the Executive Council for the Isle of Man Junior Chamber of Commerce. In the past she was on the management committee for the Isle of Man British Computer Society and the marketing committee of Junior Achievement.