Despite the uncertainty in the economy (or perhaps because of it), there have been a number of noteworthy acquisitions in tech this year. Two attracting intense buzz and scrutiny are Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and Adobe’s deal to acquire Figma. There has been a great deal of media coverage and punditry about them, as well as spirited discussion on social media. But almost all of the debate has been driven by commentators and social influencers. We wanted to know what real customers are thinking.
We asked Figma customers and active Twitter users to tell us what they thought and whether they felt that the change in ownership of these platforms would impact them. When we looked closely at their feedback, two key themes became apparent:
- The discussion on social media about these deals does not tell the full customer story. The online discussions were emotional, superficial, and tended to be dominated by a single perspective. When we spoke with typical customers, they shared some of the same concerns as the social media commentators, but their comments were far more nuanced and thoughtful, and we found diverse opinions that didn’t reflect the consensus on social media. Someone using social media as a proxy for an opinion poll on the deals would have been severely misled, and also would not have understood the reasoning behind the opinions.
- In contrast to the social media storyline, customer reactions to the deals were shaped by very practical concerns about issues like pricing and usage policies, combined with the companies’ own previous statements and value propositions. We found that users often do pay attention when companies talk about values and strategy, and if an acquisition violates those values, there’s likely to be a customer backlash. Companies making acquisitions should be mindful of the implicit promises they have made to customers, not just the topics that generate heat on social media. To understand those issues, it’s important to reach out directly to average customers, and not rely on pundits and social media as your guides to customer opinion.
Adobe and Figma
When Adobe announced its intention to acquire Figma, the news sent a shockwave through the design world. Sure, the $20 billion Adobe offered is a lot of money (2x Figma’s most recent private valuation) but more importantly, Figma was perceived by many people as an anti-Adobe product. Figma’s own marketing had reinforced this image. A look back at Figma’s history shows how that situation developed.
Following the initial release of its design prototyping product in 2016, Figma established itself with a straightforward mission statement: make design accessible to everyone. With a simple message and a user-friendly product, the company quickly began chipping away market share from well-established players like InVision, Sketch, and several others. According to UserTesting’s 2022 CX Industry Survey, Figma was the most widely used software tool used by UX Designers (note: this question focused on specialized software and did not include basic productivity apps like Office and Google Docs):
Another study that was published in 2022 by uxtools.co showed the rapid user growth of Figma since 2017:
Much of Figma’s brand messaging over the past few years has positioned itself as a more elegant cloud-based alternative to desktop-based products, like Adobe’s, that have long been the stalwart of the design world. Figma’s founder and CEO, Dylan Field, even Tweeted as recently as 2021, “Our goal is to be Figma not Adobe.” This brand positioning strongly resonated with designers. As Andrew Drach and Monila Jociunaite of the design consultancy, Solwey, noted in a recent TechCrunch article about the merger:
“Figma has always been very clear with its value proposition, differentiating itself far away from legacy Adobe products and design processes. At the end of the day, Figma was created because Adobe couldn’t meet the market needs.”
News of the acquisition hit Twitter like a firestorm. Loyalists of Figma were quick to tweet their frustration about the news or find humor in the prospect of Figma somehow being integrated within the Adobe Creative Suite.
One example likened Adobe’s products to the tortured toys in the movie Toy Story. It was very typical of the emotional, visceral reactions seen on social media:
But the conversation on Twitter only scratched the surface. To better understand how Figma loyalists really felt about the announcement, we talked to them via online self-interviews. We asked them to share their perspective on the potential acquisition and how they felt it would impact their lives as designers. What we heard was much more nuanced, logical, and mixed than the online consensus.
What do Figma’s customers think?
It’s safe to say that the majority of the users we contacted have reservations about the Adobe acquisition, primarily because they are worried about how the product will potentially change after Adobe assumes control.
But we also heard a lot more.
Three key themes emerged from the Figma customers:
- Pricing: Some folks expressed concerns over the financial struggles they expect to face if an Adobe-like pricing model is introduced to a product that they either currently use for free or at a cost that is far below the typical price for Adobe products. Figma’s pricing had long been a big selling point not just for the designers using the product to create prototypes, but also for collaborators and stakeholders invited to review and comment on projects within the platform. The relatively high cost of Adobe products came up in most of the conversations that we had with Figma’s customers.
- Product Changes: Other people told us that they were concerned that Figma might transition from a cloud-based product to one that is more desktop-based like most of Adobe’s current product suite. Figma’s customers like the fact that the platform is cloud-based and offers the flexibility to use the tool on almost any device with an internet connection. People also told us that Adobe’s products are much more complex and difficult to use, requiring a much longer learning curve than the more intuitive and straightforward design platform offered by Figma.
Note that both Adobe and Figma have already stated that the two companies will maintain independence and that there is no plan to change much about the experience or pricing, at least not in the near future. But customers are anxious anyway, and some suggested that they are already looking for alternatives.
- Business Practices: Some of the folks that we talked to also expressed concerns about Adobe’s perceived acquisitiveness. Were they just going to keep gobbling up every competitor in the space?
It is worth pointing out that we also heard optimism from some of the Figma customers, a perspective that was drowned out on social media. A few folks talked about how this acquisition presents opportunities for Figma and Adobe products to better integrate with each other. After all, most designers, even the most loyal Figma customers, still use Adobe products and Figma in tandem as part of their overall design tech stack. Other folks expressed optimism about how Adobe’s resources could be used to support enhancements to Figma or even that the product folks at Figma may start influencing positive changes to Adobe’s products to make them perform and function more like Figma.
Elon Musk and Twitter
Elon Musk’s on-again, off-again plans to acquire Twitter over the past few months have driven a great deal of discussion and speculation about how the experience of using Twitter will change with Musk in control. He has often described some of the key transformations that he planned to make on his quest to acquire the company.
Some of the most important changes that Musk wants to make to Twitter have been seen as highly contentious, and there have been reports of a mass exodus of employees from the company. But we wanted to understand how Twitter’s users are affected by the situation. We asked a group of highly active users of the platform to discuss the deal, and the prospect of changes being made to Twitter. As we found in the Figma case, Twitter users’ reactions were more nuanced, practical, and diverse than the dominant themes on social media. Here’s what we heard:
Conflicting views on the limits of free speech
Elon Musk has largely positioned his desire to control Twitter as being about protecting free speech and not censoring any legal content on the platform, even though some critics have argued that this could open the floodgates to hate speech, spam, and propaganda.
Twitter users were split on this issue. Some were vehemently opposed to a policy of zero content moderation, expressing the fear that the platform would become a place where misinformation proliferates. Others were more open to the idea of no moderation. But even many of those who were more amenable to no moderation still expressed concerns that this could exacerbate the misinformation problem that the platform already deals with.
The edit button is popular
Musk lists adding an edit button, to allow changing a Tweet after it is first sent, as one of the top product priorities if he were to take over. Twitter Founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey publicly stated in the past that the platform would likely never get an edit button. He feared that it would be abused to alter tweets after they had been widely shared.
The group of Twitter users that we talked to welcomed the idea of an edit button, and some even expressed their frustrations that it has taken so long to add it despite the functionality being so widely requested.
Many users fear a subscription fee
Twitter’s business has long been supported through an advertising model, with advertising income accounting for over 85% of the company’s annual revenues. But the company has struggled to be profitable on advertising alone. Since going public in 2009, Twitter has posted a net loss every year with the exception of 2018 and 2019.
Part of Musk’s plan to fix this is to move to a subscription model for more users of the platform. That would mean that at least some segment of users would have to pay to use the platform. It was clear that this idea worries many Twitter users. Many of the folks we talked to were vehemently opposed to paying to use the platform, saying that it does not offer enough value relative to other social media platforms that can be used for free.
Views of Elon Musk are mixed
Platform changes aside, Elon Musk is also a focal point of controversy. While some have hailed Musk as a visionary shaping the future, others have criticized some of the more controversial things he has said and done.
Leading up to the close of the acquisition, we were curious to know how Twitter users would feel if Musk were to successfully assume control. Responses were split between apprehension and excitement. Those that expressed apprehension told us that they feared Musk’s controversial style of operation would create an overall more contentious experience for users of Twitter, some even suggesting that they may no longer use the service if Musk were to assume control. Others who expressed excitement were optimistic that Musk could bring a refreshing spirit of innovation to unlock the true potential of Twitter and make it a better, more enjoyable product.
Conclusions: Talk to your real customers, and be mindful of the expectations you’ve created
The customer feedback pointed to two key lessons that show the importance for companies to collect a diverse range of perspectives from their customers:
Social media is not an accurate barometer of how customers are really feeling
The feedback we collected on these two acquisitions showed that social media is a marketplace for emotions and not a place of nuanced, rational discussion. The conversations that we saw happening on social media were heavily oriented toward snarky, attention-grabbing commentary about the situation. You shouldn’t ignore the conversation happening online, but there’s a feedback loop of social and mainstream media feeding off each other, and it doesn’t reflect the more practical, balanced perspective of your customers as a whole. There is an entire class of rational issues that gets drowned out and if you don’t talk to your customers directly, chances are you’ll miss many of the issues they care about most.
Through fast feedback, we can capture the important stories our customers have to tell us about changes to their experience
The feedback that we collected reveals the clear impact that major changes, in an event like an acquisition, can have on your customers. But this type of feedback does not take weeks or months to collect. The same techniques often used to get quick feedback from customers on detailed segments of digital experience, like the design of an online shopping cart, can also be used to capture quick insights into deep customer thinking on a critical strategic issue.
We were able to capture and review the sentiment of Figma’s customers and Twitter’s users about these acquisitions in a few hours. This can even be done well in advance of changes being announced (or on the same day) as a way to do a temperature check with customers whose feedback can inform strategy and communications. This exercise illustrates the opportunity to incorporate fast feedback at any stage or change in experience to enhance your company’s overall customer understanding.
Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of UserTesting or its affiliates.