Initial Thoughts on Google+

The biggest news in social recently has been Google announcing their latest foray into social media: Google+. For those who still may not know, Google+ is a social network seen as a competitor to Facebook. I’m finally on there now after Google imposed a brief moratorium on sending out invites. Here are my initial impressions of it.

In the main, it is quite similar to Facebook.  Your home page is a news feed just like Facebook. But this one seems somehow cleaner. It’s not that you have less info (indeed, you have just about everything Facebook does), rather I think it is because Google+ uses bigger sizes for everything which make things easier to see. This makes things easier to read and, in turn, makes things easier to digest which gives it a less cluttered feel. One thing I like in particular is that when a posted photo shows up in your feed it’s a lot larger than in Facebook. They’re big enough that you almost don’t even need to enlarge them further by clicking on them.

The main feature of the site as a whole and what most strongly differentiates it from Facebook is that it gives you better control over how you can group and communicate to the different sorts of people in your life. As Facebook got bigger and bigger this became more of a concern as people were forced to add their buddies, their Grandmother and their boss all as “Friends”. With Google+ you can easily sort your contacts into different categories or Circles. You start out with four basic ones: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following (This is where someone’s public updates can show up in your feed but you can’t interact with them). You can also create custom ones based on your needs. You can do similar things on Facebook but Google+ really makes it much more easy and intuitive. The interface for Circles is one where you simply click and drag a person’s name and photo into a Circle, let it go, and they’re in. There is also a section on the left hand side of your feed that allows you to easily filter your updates so that you only see those from, say, your family. This may seem a small thing but it’s pretty nifty if you ask me especially in conjunction with the rest of the categorizing features. As far as feed updates go they are, again, similar to Facebook’s but since people might not be able to see them due to being in different Circles, Google+ gives you a Share link so that you can forward someone’s posts on to one or more of your circles.

Overall, Google is off to a good start and I’m sure it can get better. But the real question on everyone’s mind is whether this is a Facebook killer. My answer to that is no. Stranger things have happened of course. MySpace supplanted Friendster and Facebook subsequently surpassed MySpace. But the situation now is different. First off, Facebook is more entrenched and successful than those two ever were. Secondly, Zuckerberg & Co. have always been careful to update both the look and feel of the experience as well as adding new functionality so as not to become stale or outflanked by competition. So whatever Google can come up with Facebook will surely copy in short order if they want.

So why bother with creating a new social network at all (especially since you already have one with Orkut)? There’s a school of thought that says that the intent is not to topple Facebook but rather to further cloud computing and, more specifically, to further Google’s position as the gatekeeper to said cloud. The thinking is that Google+ can be a collaboration tool for individuals and companies especially once it’s fully integrated with Google’s other current (and future) products. So whereas Facebook’s social experience is about updating people on what you had for lunch, playing Word Twist, or sharing photos; Google+’s will be more about two people collaborating remotely on a PowerPoint presentation, sharing links to relevant articles, or using the Hangout feature to stage video conferences. I think that this or something similar to this way of thinking is probably correct. In the first place it’s a more differentiated and, therefore, more own-able position. Secondly, it has to do with the cloud and who better to attempt something like this than Google who is all about the cloud? It may seem ambitious but when you’ve been called the world’s most important company you get to be ambitious. It will definitely be interesting to see how things develop over the next year or so.


Which is More Effective?

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about the famous texting-while-driving PSA from Britain (below).  I was impressed by its unflinching take on its subject.  I think it’s one of the best PSA’s I’ve ever seen.  He then turned me on to the second one, also from Britain, which also has safe driving as its focus but takes a decidedly different, softer approach to the subject matter.  I thought they were worth juxtaposing because of the contrast between the two.  I think both are well done but feel the first does a better job.  Which one do you think is more effective?


Can it Be? TV Alive and Well?

Can we once and for all stop this talk of the death of the :30 spot? For something that has supposedly been on its last legs for the past few years TV is looking pretty sprightly. In the last month Advertising Age has shown studies that show viewing hours have climbed steadily the past ten years, ad spending on TV has been rising to keep pace with the internet, the number of TV’s per household has grown, and that CMO’s still believe in the medium’s power.

Then there’s the empirical evidence of what’s actually being aired. Consider what GEICO has wrought. Since the success of the cavemen and the gecko with their large TV budget other insurance companies have fallen over themselves to get on TV with quirky creative as well. You have Mo with Progressive, the magically appearing State Farm agent, the blue-phone-toting Nationwide salesman and the warring electronic and phone customer service teams of Esurance.

But what I find most interesting is the irony that the internet is helping keep TV healthy. Think about it. The Tire Rack, GEICO, Esurance, Zoosk, eHarmony, Match.com, Progressive – they’re all internet companies and they have all been using TV lately. This will most likely only continue as more and more start-ups with outrageous valuations have stellar IPOs and, accordingly, need to pull out all the stops to get a revenue stream flowing. Groupon/LivingSocial is a good example. They’re the two best known companies in the daily large coupon space which doesn’t really have much differentiation between its competitors. So, in classic Ries/Trout positioning thinking, each is spending on TV in order to be “first into the mind” of consumers in this segment and secure the leadership position. What better way to do this in the ultimate crowded marketplace of the internet than with TV and its unmatched reach and awareness-building?

The internet isn’t going away but neither is TV. It’s not a zero-sum game. In their haste to trumpet a new medium, too many people in our business felt they needed to denigrate one in order to lift up another. But, as always with media, it’s about the proper mix. And TV, to this point, is still the most powerful ad medium in that arsenal.


What Can a Furniture Store Teach Us About Social Media?

Albert Einstein once said that if you can’t explain something to a six year-old you don’t really understand it yourself. This principle holds true for social media as well as advanced physics. The connection isn’t as tenuous as it may seem. Explaining the sometimes intangible benefits of Twitter or a viral campaign to a dubious client can be as difficult as trying to sell a room full of skeptical physicists on string theory. So when I find myself in such a situation I like to use the following example.

When IKEA came to Malmo, Sweden in Autumn of 2009 the issue it faced was a common one. It needed to get the word out about its opening without having an advertising budget big enough to include TV or radio. The solution was a novel use of Facebook devised by advertising agency Forsman and Bodenfors.

How it Worked
A profile page was created for store manager Gordon Gustavsson. During a two-week period 12 photos of showrooms were uploaded to the profile’s photo album. Whoever tagged their name on a product within the photo first, won it. To tag a photo, one had to first “Like” the page. These activities showed up on users’ profile pages and the public news feed which in turn alerted all of their friends to what was happening and word of the opening spread rapidly.

Results
News of the store not only spread through Malmo. Because of the natural exposure it got through Facebook it quickly spread to Twitter and then got picked up by blogs like Mashable thus spreading out across the globe.

Why it Was Successful
It matched its objective with an appropriate medium. In this case it was spreading a simple message paired with the already-existing and automatic mechanisms of Facebook which are specifically designed to disseminate news amongst users. In addition, it provided its audience with value for their involvement (ie A chance to win something they actually wanted by first liking and then visiting Mr. Gustavsson’s page). Lastly, the showroom photos were posted at random times throughout the life of the promotion thus forcing people to continually visit the page in order to have a chance at winning something. And as a result of these last two things, users were also far more engaged than they would have been with another medium such as TV.

What it Means

  • You don’t have to completely upend what you’re already doing in order to employ social media. It’s important to remember that things such as Twitter are only tactics to be used not strategies in and of themselves. A product giveaway is a tried-and-true method for promoting a grand opening, using Facebook only enhanced this already proven gambit.
  • You don’t have to be a huge company in order to have a need for it. IKEA is, in fact, global but the Malmo store was like any other small business looking to get the word out with its opening without having a lot of money.
  • This example shows that social can be effective for smaller, nuts-and-bolts types of things like promotions as well as larger, brand-level initiatives.
  • Using social media doesn’t have to be complicated. Facebook is an already-existing, easy-to-use, free-of-charge service which is available to anyone.

I like this example because it’s multifaceted and elastic enough to address many concerns that a client might have before trying social media, but mainly I use it because it shows that social media can be practical. It shows how it can fit in with your current communications strategy and produce measurable ROI. These are things any client wants to hear.


Twitter’s Second Act

comScore released its year-in-review whitepaper earlier this month with one of the interesting findings being the gains and losses in share of visitors for Twitter.  The 18-34 year-old demographic gained the most with almost 10% growth since 2009 while 2-17 year-olds declined the most with a comparable 8%.

I think these numbers can be attributed to one thing: career advancement.  On the younger end of 18 – 34 year-olds you have college graduates looking to enter the workforce.  They use Twitter to stay on top of news in their chosen field and also to get job postings from companies or headhunters.  Towards the older end you have established workers looking to set themselves up for long-term career success; and whether you work on the client side or for an agency this increasingly means being fluent in social media.  Being active on Twitter is a fundamental way to demonstrate this especially as more and more companies ask for things like your LinkedIn profile URL or even if you have a blog when you apply.  On the other hand, if you’re 17 and younger you obviously aren’t concerned with this so you’re microblogging need is best met by Facebook where it’s conveniently bundled with other social activities (such as sharing pictures and social gaming) in a place where all your friends are already congregated.

Why does this matter?  I’ve always wondered about Twitter’s long-term prospects.  When it was introduced it was a novel way to communicate.  But it’s also simple.  When you get down to it Twitter has a USP that ain’t all that U and is easily replicated (See: Facebook and, more relevantly, LinkedIn who have both made microblogging functionality the centerpiece of their users’ home pages.)  Combine these factors with the fact that there is no switching cost involved to dissuade defection and you’ll be forgiven for wondering why someone would need a stand-alone service for this.  But maybe between companies using it for their needs (spreading the word about promotional offers, enhancing customer service, and monitoring consumer sentiment) and more individuals using it as described above, Twitter has found a niche as the microblogging platform for all things business- and work-related.  This could have legs as all those 2-17 year-olds will eventually move into the next age group and likely see the need to start tweeting based upon that.  Nourishing this image and continuing to enhance the functionality in appropriate ways is perhaps the best strategy for Twitter’s continued success.



It’s Not Better Simply Because It’s Online

This is a recent post on Mashable that I think is worth sharing. The subject is a recent study regarding online opt-in communications from companies such as e-mails or Facebook updates received once a person “Likes” a brand.  It’s specifically about how often and why people sour on and discontinue them. Interesting not just for the high numbers but also that the reasons cited by respondents are the same things that have plagued these sorts of vehicles (eg direct mail) since their inception. It’s more evidence that just because you move an offline tactic online it doesn’t necessarily make the strategy more effective.

Here are a few key findings from the study:

  • 91% of consumers have unsubscribed from opt-in marketing e-mails.
  • 77% of consumers report being more cautious about providing their e-mail address to companies versus last year.
  • 81% of consumers have either “unliked” or removed a company’s posts from their Facebook News Feed.
  • 71% of consumers report being more selective about “liking” a company on Facebook than they were last year.
  • 51% of consumers expect that a “like” will result in marketing communications from brands, while 40% do not believe it should result in marketing communications.
  • 41% of consumers have “unfollowed” a company on Twitter.

Click on the link to see the numbers for each medium.


Have You Really Lost Control?

You’ve lost control of your brand.  You’ve probably heard this increasingly over the past few years, right?  Or maybe this:  Today’s savvy consumer armed with such weapons as Twitter and YouTube has freed themselves from the tyranny of the old top-down branding model and now decides what you will and won’t be in today’s marketplace.

Hogwash.

You’re not at the mercy of social media.  Companies have always had, and still have, control over their brands as they have control over what they produce.  Remember that a brand is nothing more than the reaction the consumer has to your product.  Put out a subpar product and you have a poor brand.  Put out a superior product and you have a great brand.  People don’t refer to Comcast as Comcrap because they’re spiteful.  They do it because of the bad experiences they’ve had with their customer service.  Social media don’t create this reaction.  They merely amplify it.  In the old days if your cable repairman fell asleep on your couch you were just irate.  The difference now is you can film him, upload it to the web, and tag it “Comcast” so the world can share in your frustration.  But it doesn’t change the fact that your company was performing poorly in the first place.

This is an important distinction.  Remember that an application like Twitter, for all the commotion surrounding it, is just another, albeit advanced, medium for communication.  It’s ultimately up to you whether that communication is flattering or not.  (8BQ9N4BXBSY9)


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