By Joshua Reynolds
Global Technology Practice Leader
Hill & Knowlton
Google+ takes on Facebook; How and Why It Matters
Recently, Google announced the launch of Google+, its own social network answer to Facebook.
At first, this seems to many a late-to-market, me-too play. Facebook has 750 million users and a six-year head start on Google. But this is Google, whose leaders may experiment once in a while, but when they get serious, they seldom fail. And don’t forget, Facebook overtook MySpace, which Rupert Murdock just sold for a fraction of its original value. Titans rise – and fall.
Hill & Knowlton has a unique perspective on this challenge to Facebook, in that we worked directly with Mark Zuckerburg and his original marketing administration in 2006-2007 to articulate their competitive positioning against MySpace. Back then, the strategy was to damn MySpace with faint praise: “They’re an awesome media site, designed to cram content down you’re throat. We’re all about being a social utility, something you use everyday, not just something you consume.” That was the party line
And now here comes Google+, entering the social networking world extremely late (by its own admission), but determined to offer something new. It’s Facebook, but it’s not. It’s designed to extend the Google experience, but not just that.
How do you tell that story? And what does it mean for other marketers and storytellers in adjacent spaces?
For starters, what you don’t do is go feature-for-feature against Facebook. Google+ touted its “Hangouts” function, a non-invasive video chat room that people can choose to enter and join in a conversation. Practically moments later, Facebook announced its Skype integration. If there’s anything to be learned from the mobile handset wars of yore, don’t go hanging your hat on a sexy ringtone or touchscreen when a few minor supply chain tweaks and strategic alliances later, every device has one.
And secondly, don’t get hung up trying to convince everybody this isn’t like Facebook. Of course it’s like Facebook. It’s a social network. And it’s admittedly in response to Facebook’s legendary growth and success.
But what you can and should do is to differentiate yourself based on the only thing that really matters – how people decide to use you. This was one of the most brilliant things H&K learned from working with Facebook. While most communications consultants were telling Facebook that it had to tell its users what its mission statement was, Facebook’s instincts were just the reverse. Its attitude was more democratic. Facebook let its users tell it what they wanted to use Facebook for. That’s what it meant to be a “social utility” after all.
And now Google has the opportunity to do that to Facebook. Facebook may have cornered the market on “personal connections,” but Google has cornered the market on “the world’s information.” Which makes for the better story?
What This Means For…
Marketers. It’s no accident that Google+ is making this move now. Marketing dollars are increasingly shifting toward social network-based advertising. Global budgets for email advertising will hit $16B in 2011, but will grow at about 2x to hit $34.6B in 2020. Search, which Google dominates, will hit $14B in 2011, and is projected to nearly 3x growth and hit $40.9B in 2020. But social media and social network-based marketing, which in 2011 is at just about $1.9B, will see 23x growth over 10 years to hit $46.9B in 2020, according to industry estimates.
So while there is currently no advertising space available on Google+, one has to assume that it won’t be too long before the marketing angle materializes.
The object lesson for marketers – move faster! Google seems to have figured out how to integrate email, search and social marketing strategies before mainstream marketing has. Time to figure out your integrated marketing strategy, now – and how to tie it to your overall communications strategy.
PR Professionals. Watch the competitive communications unfold here. And let’s see what maneuvers we learn here. In classic competitive communications, one of the first things you do is pick your approach. Are you openly combative, or do you keep to the high road and let your allies do your competitive de-positioning for you? Who are your allies and who will back you in your messages to the market? With Google and Facebook as dominant as they are in their respective markets, their approach to third-party allies has been more directive than collaborative. They are the bandwagons to jump on, not the band leaders who orchestrate. Will that change in the coming competition?
The other classic competitive communications maneuver is to define your finish line. Where and how do you claim success? On the one hand, Google+ isn’t positioned as a direct Facebook competitor, and on the other hand Facebook casts too long a shadow for it not to be seen as competitive. As of yet, we’ve not seen any definitive declaration of the exact finish line Google intends to cross first. That will be the pivotal moment in this campaign.
Public Affairs Professionals. The privacy and security debate is about to reboot and reheat. It’s one thing to sit and debate whether or not we’re comfortable with the likes of Google and Facebook tracking our personal connections and information. And we all are familiar with the old balancing act of personalization vs. privacy, and making sure marketers have the best information they can get so they can pitch us more effectively.
But what happens when that personal information becomes the day-to-day artillery with which the Google vs. Facebook war is fought? What happens when our personal information becomes a commodity that Google and Facebook trade on to try to out-do each other? At some point, the general public will wake up and realize that not only is this a discussion about users’ privacy rights, but also the economic value of personal information. And before long, you can expect to see public policy debates about how the general public values its personal information as an asset, not just as a privacy concern. This will be an interesting one to watch.
Telco players. One could easily argue that Google+ v. Facebook is a win-win for consumers. Whether you focus on casually sharing info or on digitally managing friendships, you get what you want. It’s also a win-win for other Internet companies whose success depends on the Internet becoming the new ubiquitous dial tone of global conversation, commerce and content.
But you know who isn’t winning in this discussion? Telecommunications companies. Remember the age-old ad campaign, “Reach out and touch someone?” That brand promise now belongs to Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, FourSquare…and the telecommunications providers are now left to scramble for brand primacy with the consumer. Watch for the telco giants to stage their own come-back here and reclaim their relevance.
For further reading:
Introducing the Google+ project: Real-life sharing, rethought for the web
June 28, 2011
First Take: Google+ Gets Features Right –But Offers No Reason to Leave Facebook
June 29th, 2011
Finally, after many mis-starts and social media product debacles, Google gets their social networking offering down right. The downside is, there’s no reason to call this a “Plus”, it’s just catchup.
Will Google+ succeed? Probably. Will it replace Facebook? Nope.
June 29, 2011
You woke up this morning to the news that Google is once again entering the social space, this time with an offering called Google+. It’s not the first time. Google’s Orkut social network is a great success — in Brazil. Google Buzz bombed. There was the collaborative system Wave … we waved goodbye to that. You can almost taste the urgency — Facebook is taking over people’s time online and a lot of advertising dollars, and this is a threat to Google.
Is Google+ Going To Kill Facebook?
June 30, 2011
You’ll have to forgive Facebook if they woke up this morning thinking the sky was falling; if they were subject to the same avalanche of news, comments and questions about Google+ as the rest of us were these last 24 hours it’ll seem like they’ve already been condemned to the social media scrapheap. And in case Facebook needed any reminder how quickly social networking pioneers can fall, Google+ was launched on the same day MySpace, once supposedly valued at $12 billion, was sold for just $35 million to an ad network.
Fun, And It Looks Good – Now For The Hard Part
June 28, 2011
Another Try by Google to Take On Facebook
Claire Cain Miller
June 28, 2011
Google’s Facebook Competitor, The Google+ Social Network, Finally Arrives
Search Engine Land
June 28, 2011
Google+ Social Network: Hands-On First Impressions
Megan Geuss and Mark Sullivan,
June 29, 2011
Google+: 5 Features and Drawbacks
June 29, 2011
- Integrated in Google navigation bar
- Easy data liberation- download data from your Picasa Web Albums, Google