With a user base of more than 300 million people worldwide, it’s not a surprise that many companies flock to Facebook to reach customers. Facebook has something for everybody. For individuals, it’s a place to connect with friends, and for brands, it’s a place to reach key audiences on an accessible and popular platform through Fan Pages. This week, Facebook announced some simple but important changes to its fan pages to make this process easier for companies already using the site, and to encourage more brands to utilize their large network. Although these changes are geared to make Facebook even more popular with brands and attract more users, Facebook’s emphasis on companies could jeopardize its user experience and call users’ privacy into question.

facebook design 1 Facebook Gives Brands a Boost with New Design

The new feature, dubbed “Connected Profiles,” will change static text (in the “Interests” section of user profiles) to active links to existing fan pages. For example, if you’ve listed Apple as an interest, Facebook will suggest you “Like” the Apple fan page. In your profile, a link to the Apple page will be created in the “Likes and Interests” box. For companies and advertisers, the process makes users more aware that the products and companies they’ve listed in their profile have official Facebook pages.

Privacy issues come into play here, as users will be listed as a fan of something even if they haven’t actually “Liked” the page. User’s hometowns, jobs, and schools will all be linked to Pages — sensitive information that many people don’t like to share on such a public forum. Facebook says, “We’ve improved the profile so that it doesn’t just list your information, but now links to Pages instead.” It seems simple enough, but the changes have made Facebook unpopular with many users once again. The biggest concerns for users opposed to these new changes is another loss of privacy, and the fact that Facebook is using personal information to profit even more.

facebook design 2 Facebook Gives Brands a Boost with New Design

When Facebook overhauled its privacy settings a few months ago, it encouraged users to be more open and share information to make Facebook more of a community than a limited network – but it didn’t make a difference. Instead of loosening their privacy settings, users tightened them up. Each time Facebook makes privacy changes, it becomes clear that people want Facebook to remain as private as possible. Instead of listening to users, Facebook is still trying to make its information more public; by monetizing its content and commercializing the network, Facebook is abandoning the core aspect of its user experience — simple social networking.

Connected Profiles is a good idea in theory, but it could be the last straw for many users unhappy with Facebook’s changes and the way information is handled. If Facebook wants to correct these privacy issues, they need to establish more effective communication with users. Although they make announcements on the official Facebook blog, these announcements are usually made the day changes are implemented, leaving users no choice but to go along with it. In the future, the Facebook team should alert users to upcoming changes, notifying them of any privacy issues that may arise, giving the choice to opt in or out. If customers are alerted early on, they may be more apt to try out new features instead of rebelling against them.

Facebook can also utilize Connected Profiles and Pages to be more than just links. To make it even more interactive and user-friendly, they could feature the top “Liked” pages of the day (similar to Digg) on a user’s news feed, or allow users to search pages by topic or category. This way, users can discover new pages daily, and the Pages feature would be less static. Once Facebook gets the privacy kinks worked out, Connected Profiles has the potential to be one of the network’s most popular features.