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Netflix Built it, But They Didn’t Come



With all the hype about social media marketing, it often seems like Facebook is the key to instant success. This week, however, Netflix found out that just building it wasn’t enough to make the people come.

Two years ago, Netflix added a Facebook component to their system that allowed you to easily share your movie choices and reviews with your friends. Okay, that’s not exactly true. From the sound of it, the app wasn’t easy to use and “allowed” was more like “forced,” so Netflix shut it down last week.

Director of Product Management, Tim Willerer explained the reason for the shut down on the company blog. He said:

Very few of you have signed on for this so we’re pulling it back today to regroup, which includes testing new concepts, and ultimately finding a more appealing program for all of our members.

The explanation on the Facebook app tells a different story. As you can see from the block at the top of this page, the app lays blame on “unfixable issues” and “less than delightful experiences.” Three cheers to the person who wrote that. It’s honest and sarcastically fun at the same time.

If you look at the comments that follow on the blog post, most of them complain about the entire concept of linking Facebook and Netflix. Originally, Netflix had their own in-site friends community which was abandoned, presumably because they thought the Facebook app would take off. Users also didn’t like the fact that each of their updates hit their FB stream with no option to turn all or some of them off. There are complaints about the fact that the app was broken more than it wasn’t. Even bigger are the people who pointed out that the app wasn’t well publicized and so most Netflix users didn’t even know it existed.

Not surprisingly, if you go to the Facebook app itself, you see people bemoaning the loss. The best comment in the bunch:

With all the technology today why aren’t you able to make this work?

Good question. Why couldn’t a powerhouse brand like Netflix make Facebook work? A writer at Technologizer thinks the problem lies in the subject matter.

Cultivating a network of people with similar tastes in music or movies takes a lot of effort, and most people don’t have time; . . . and watching a movie or listening to music is often a personal thing, and only folks who are really confident in their tastes will care to share. To put it another way, social networks like Ping or Netflix “Friends” aren’t natural. They’re a forced conversation that very few people want to have.

As a person who spends a large amount of time talking about TV and movies with my social media friends, I can’t buy this argument. Recommendations are a huge part of social media, so recommending what I just borrowed from Netflix should be a huge draw on Facebook.

I believe this was strictly a case of expecting too much return on too little effort. To make Facebook work, there needs to be a clear connection between Netflix and Facebook that includes the ability to pick and choose which bits of information you want to share. Obviously, the app has to work properly and it must be continuously marketed to users.

To do it right, you have to put in the time, effort and often some money. Once it’s built, it has to be monitored and nurtured. I wonder how many people who work for Netflix actually used the app on a daily basis? Want to bet, not many?

The lesson here is that social marketing isn’t a quick fix. Facebook can be a valuable tool but it won’t do the work for you.

  • http://realworldtraffic.com Real World Traffic

    Sounds to me like some social media “enthusiast” with some degree of power at Netflix pushed the idea too hard and it was released prematurely. I think what they really need to reevaluate to make this app work is ease of use and privacy concerns, the idea is great but these 2 roadblocks are enough to ruin the social presence of a brand even as big as netflix.

  • Jeff

    I didn’t know this was an option from Netflix. I would have used it if I’d known, and if I could choose which movies to post on Facebook. Doesn’t sound like too hard a technical nut to crack.

    I saw a great NF movie this weekend that I’d love to know if my FB friends had seen. But I don’t think they need to know that I’ve watched ANOTHER episode of 30Rock. I agree with RWTraffic that it sounds like an exec got excited about social media but wasn’t willing to devote the real time/money it takes to integrate them well.

  • Cynthia

    And to top it off, it looks like Netflix removed the option of putting DVDs in the queue from your mobile phone. They sound like they’re going backwards by the minute.

  • jonjon

    Seems like the real problem is that they have ineffective product management over there at netflix. Two simple things that could not get to work probably because PMs couldnt execute rather than bad strategic decisions. They probably realised after the fact that pulling DVD catalog results into searches for streaming movies was a performance killer and decided to revert to the old way of only being able to search for streaming movies.