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If, like me, you are watching Google+ fever spread across the twitternets with a mixture of bemused fascination and eye-rolling annoyance, read on.

If, however, you have jumped heart and soul onto the Google+ bandwagon, gorged yourself on its koolaid with such gusto that your sweat now tastes Googlicious, and think Google+ would make a fine spouse were you able to marry a digital platform… read on.

Based on some of the questions I have been asked repeatedly these last few weeks, here are 8+ things you probably should know about Google+:

1. Will Google+ change the world or the internet?

No. Google+ will not change the world. Or the internet. But if it scales, it might help Google buy a lot of really big yachts, really fast private jets, small countries whose names end with “-Stan,” and install a few hundred thousand solid gold toilets in its offices and server farms around the world.

2. Will Google+ kill Facebook?

No one really knows. I suppose it could, but the odds are not in Google+ killing anything anytime soon. If it does, it will be to some degree related to Facebook’s inability to compete both as a social network and as viable revenue model and not because Google+ is particularly awesome or groundbreaking.

Pros:

_ Facebook needs to stop antagonizing people (privacy concerns are still a major Achilles’ heel for Facebook, for starters). Love = loyalty. No love = well, you know.

_ Facebook’s functionality is still very limited. It doesn’t really plug into productivity and collaboration tools, and this is a problem as users (consumers) increasingly look for seamless integration of word processors, email, video conferencing, VOIP, calendars, mobility, spreadsheets with their social platforms.  The simplicity of Facebook’s design and the limited amount of customizability that helped it compete against MySpace (and win) may also bring about its own undoing now that digital platforms have matured.

_ Facebook lives in a fairly closed and limited search ecosystem. What this means is that its advertising revenue model is also rather limited compared to what Google is trying to build. Facebook has kind of backed itself in a corner with its model while Google has a lot of breathing room. That gives Google an enormous strategic advantage. (It does not, however, mean it will succeed in doing anything with it.)

_ Speaking of search, it is a lot easier for Google to build and scale a social network than it is for Facebook to build and scale a search engine. And moving forward, you kind of need both to win. (Or at least a model that incorporates rich, real-time consumer data and massive reach.)

_ Facebook is the biggest fish in the pond because it is pretty much the only fish in the pond. It’s the default winner. That isn’t a good long term survival strategy. After all, what is the cost of jumping ship? $0. These platforms are free. Social equity can be both moved and rebuilt pretty easily. Can Facebook stand up to a better, cooler alternative?

So basically, Facebook needs to adapt very quickly in order to stay relevant. Size alone won’t carry its dominance forever.

Cons:

_ Facebook is huge. HUGE. As a social platform, Google+ has an enormous challenge in scaling to size. It has to do it, and it has to do it fast unless it wants to become the Yahoo of social networks. Without scale, Google+ is just a nice little productivity interface, and the only company it will be competing against is Microsoft, not Facebook.

_ Google+ isn’t sexy. Sorry Google+, but you kind of look like crap. Remember that you aren’t just after middle-aged computer nerds, bloggers, social media “gurus” and… well, yeah, what I said: computer nerds. The rest of the world has to want to use you too.

_ Google+ isn’t compelling enough for most people outside of the nerdy middle to want to bother with it yet. Facebook may be annoying, but it’s familiar, everyone is already there, and the effort of having to leave it and start over isn’t being driven by excitement or necessity. (It has to be one or the other in order to enjoy any kind of velocity.) What’s missing in Google+ right now is a compelling reason for people to want to make the effort (and take the risk) of making the switch. For most people around the world, it is missing the compelling “why.” (“It’s new” won’t ever be enough. After 5 months, when the tech bloggers get bored of talking about it and move on to the next Quora or Empire Avenue or Spotify, what will drive an accelerated adoption?)

_ Google Wave and Google Buzz were going to revolutionize the interwebs too. Ooops. Sure, Google does search VERY well, but that doesn’t mean it will do anything else well, even in the pursuit of taking search to the next level.

_ Google and Plus will have to deal with the same privacy concerns Facebook did. Perhaps more so. You don’t have to be the most trustworthy company to win. You just need to be less shady and risky than everyone else. If Google finds itself at the center of enough privacy concern discussions, Facebook might come out the lesser of the two evils. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is a pretty important element when dealing with an adoption campaign. If Facebook begins to feel threatened, expect this topic to magically surface at regular intervals.

In other words, it could go either way. Facebook and Google+ have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

3. Is Google+ really the “Blue Ocean” product some tech writers claim it is?

No. Google+ is simply Google building a better data acquisition mousetrap and advertising delivery pipeline. It is Google’s natural evolution. Let’s quickly look at that in more detail.

Data acquisition: Seeing the majority of search queries isn’t enough. Google also wants to be able to see what Facebook sees, what Twitter sees, what Foursquare sees. Not only that, but it wants to own that data. It wants to be able to understand and profile consumers better based not only on their searches and the content of their emails, but also on the types of conversations they have, on the content they share, who they share it with, where they hang out, etc. This paints a far more granular (see “complete”) model for consumer tastes and behaviors, which allows Google to better target them with ads.

And yes, selling ads is how Google makes a chunk of its money.

Advertising pipeline: In the same light, Google has looked at how much time people spend on Facebook and did the math. If they can build a platform that will attract as many eyeballs as Facebook and for as many minutes (even hours) per day, it will be able to sell a lot more ads.

This isn’t “Blue Ocean.” It’s just the evolution of an existing model.

And yes, if it pulls it off, Google will pretty much own the web.

If.

Everything else you hear about how awesome and cool and functional Google+ is, is basically window dressing. If you want to get to the heart of what Google+ is really about, this is it: Data, eyeballs, behavioral modeling, better targeting, ownership of advertising revenue on the web.

4. What about Microsoft?

Google+ seems to me a bigger threat to Microsoft than to Facebook right now. Think about how Google has gone after Microsoft Office and Outlook. Think about what Chrome is doing to Explorer. Now bring the Google+ interface into the mix and see how Google’s productivity tools offer a compelling, very well integrated alternative to Microsoft’s aging core products. If you have been paying attention these last few years, you have probably watched as Google has been systematically working to erode Microsoft’s market share, one product at a time. Now Google+ promises to give collaboration and productivity a forward boost. What is Microsoft’s answer?

Here’s the irony though: Microsoft’s R&D people are 5-10 years ahead of everyone else in their ideation and prototyping, but the company still refuses to bring its coolest product ideas to market. Google and Apple are where they are today in great part because Microsoft chose to pass on projects it figured it could always get back to someday. Its weakness has never been technical. It also hasn’t been due to a lack of imagination or access to talent. It is purely cultural. If Microsoft is going to be a contender in anything except gaming (XBox) five years from now, the aging giant needs to change its approach to product development, product diversification, and it needs to work faster. And for that, it has to step away from itself and realize that not fully understanding who you are as a brand, as a company – in other words, having a static vision of yourself – kind of gets in the way of being a market leader. I am rooting for Microsoft, but something has to change. Microsoft simply has to start thinking bigger. In a way, Microsoft has to unMicrosoft itself in order to move forward.

5. What about Twitter?

What about Twitter? It is still evolving and growing. Unless Google builds a solid substitute for Twitter that plugs into its little universe and it all scales really well, Twitter will be fine for a little while longer.

6. What about Amazon?

Amazon has a history of partnering with Google (1)(2)(3) and it makes a lot of cash. Amazon is fine with or without Google+, but yeah, if Google+ scales, Amazon won’t be hurting for chewing gum money.

7. What about LinkedIn?

If Facebook didn’t kill LinkedIn, chances are that Google+ won’t either, even if it becomes the Goliath of the interwebs.

8. What else should we know?

For starters, you should know how to get started with Google+. Whether Google+ is the next big thing or the next big flop, these handy videos by Chris Brogan will help you get started with the new platform and find out for yourself what the big deal is about. And if that isn’t enough, check out Mashable’s complete (and very handy) guide. If you love Google+, great. If you don’t like it, great. The world spins on either way.

Beyond that, I caution you against drinking anyone’s koolaid. Shiny object syndrome is a major source of noise on the web these days. Tech bloggers make a good living creating content on their blogs with the purpose of attracting as much traffic as possible in order to make as much advertising revenue as possible (and catch the eye of larger media outlets like Mashable, CNN, etc.) So every tech story they can get their hands on has the potential of earning them stacks of cash. The incentive then isn’t to truly analyze or report (or even wait and see), but to sensationalize every new platform release, from Quora to Google Buzz. There is nothing wrong with it, but just be aware of how the web “thought leadership” and content curation bubbles work. A lot of noise doesn’t mean a whole lot except a feeding frenzy of web traffic and incremental revenue. Right now, Google+ is the big story. A while ago, Google Wave was too. Don’t fall for the link-bait.

No one can predict the success of a digital platform. No one. Google+ could be the coolest thing in the world and yet never go anywhere.

Apps moving the the cloud is nothing new. SaaS (Software as a Service) is nothing new. Digital social networking platforms are nothing new. Integration of productivity and collaboration tools is nothing new. Will Google+ do it better? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. maybe all Google+ will manage to do is inspire another company to build something that blows everyone out of the water and truly revolutionizes the web and computing. Google+ may simply be a milestone in a fast and long technical evolution. A footnote. A catalyst. No matter what happens, Google+ will be replaced by something else eventually. Maybe in 6 months, maybe in 6 years, but this is inevitable. So stay adaptable and flexible, and don’t get too attached.

If you want to leave Facebook and put all of your eggs in the Google+ basket, that’s fine. No one says you can’t try out Google+ and stay on Facebook as well. There is no need to take sides. You can own a Mac and a PC too without tearing a hole into the space-time continuum. You can like tea and coffee, paper and plastic, surf and turf, Lady Gaga and Mozart. Don’t make Google+ (or any social or digital platform) into a religion. Do you think the first people who tasted Pizza stopped eating spaghetti? Did headlines in the newspapers read “Pizza: The Spaghetti killer?” Did people wear buttons on their lapels at social events reading “I’ve switched to Pizza?” A little perspective goes a long way.

If you want to wait 3 or 6 or 12 months before jumping into the Google+ universe, nothing says you can’t. There’s no rush. Ease into it at your own pace. In the meantime, people will still be able to reach you by email, through Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or even by sending you good old hand-written postcards – you know, with stamps.

I hope this helped. Cheers.

*          *          *

And if you haven’t picked it up yet, “Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Programs in your Organization” (the quintessential social media operational guide for executives and business managers) is now available worldwide in both print and e-format at fine book sellers everywhere. Read some reviews, sample a free chapter at smroi.net, or if you just want to order it from Amazon, click here.

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My professional interest in the social web and social media tends to focus mostly on the possibilities that the medium offers to businesses, universities, non-profits, government agencies, and so on. Most of that deals with positive potential: In the business world, it touches on improving consumer relations, attracting new customers, improving loyalty, yada yada yada. In the communications world, the focus shifts to facilitating education, protecting reputations, avoiding and managing crises, etc. And from a social standpoint, building communities, enhancing collaboration, and political action tend to top off the list.

Wherever I go and whatever project I work on, the most negative aspect of social media I usually ever have to deal with is a bad product review, angry customers, or public outrage over an incident (as with the BP oil spill) or unpopular policy (as with Nestle and its palm oil supply chain). But this weekend, I was introduced to a different kind of negativity on the social web, one that steps beyond the boundaries of consumer indignation and political discord. One that, although unprompted by contemporary injury or injustice, incited people to give voice to a shared xenophobic grievance.

After having spent weeks digging deep into the amazing impact that the social web has had in giving common, often disenfranchised people the power to unite in ways they never could before, impact their own elections, topple dictators, and finally give their voice a long overdue breath of life, running into the complete opposite this weekend felt like someone had just sucker-punched me in the gut.

On Saturday, I started noticing tweets and Facebook updates like these (screenshots):

One collage of Facebook comments in particular found its way to the twitternets. Click here to see it. Patrice Leroux also shared this link (see comments).

#PearlHarbor may have even briefly become a trending topic on Twitter on Saturday (although the notoriously misspelled #PearlHarbour might have beaten it to the punch, which is telling in and of itself). This only hours after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and left hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people dead.

Typically, I much prefer to focus on all the ways that social media can make the world a better place. For instance, Japan’s early earthquake and tsunami warning system sends texts to citizens’ phones, which is a pretty simple but clever use of SMS technology. That is a great story. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google helped people in the disaster-struck area let their loved ones know they were all right, and continue to help folks outside of the affected areas locate their missing loved ones. Again, brilliant. Critical real-time information was and is shared via mobile devices and social platforms to help save lives. Google’s Crisis Response project is another example of what can be done with the web to help save lives and rebuild affected areas. Stories like this rock my world. But the CNNs and BBCs of the world are already doing a fine job of covering that angle. What isn’t being touched on a whole lot is the flip side of that coin. The ugly side. So I want to touch on it for a couple of minutes because it too is important.

This little blip of shame deserves its own little moment in the spotlight, if only to remind us that in spite of the wonderful technology we enjoy today, humanity isn’t yet quite as evolved as we would like to think it is. A connection to the internet doesn’t necessarily make someone smarter. Having hundreds of “friends” on Facebook doesn’t necessarily make us more social or human. This #PearlHarbor hashtag incident is a subtle, yet important reminder of what always lurks beneath the surface of human interactions. It may be a mere blip on our collective radar, sure, but a blip on the radar can sometimes turn into something more. Something bigger and uglier and more ominous.

Here’s what’s important to keep in mind: 100% of the social web’s potential is tied to human potential. That potential can be fueled by innovation, altruism, progress, collaboration, and even kindness. It can also be fueled by little more than narcissism, idleness, ego and self-gratification. And sadly, it can be fueled equally by xenophobia, cynicism, hatred, indifference and even cruelty. Tools and platforms like Twitter, blogs and Facebook are blank canvases. We decide what we paint there. The “content” we produce for the social web is a reflection of the world we want to build for ourselves and others. We can build something worthwhile, or we can build something ugly and destructive. We can build something self-serving and predatory, or we can build something beneficial to all. We can use social media to facilitate and promote progress or hinder and weaken it. Through the use of social platforms, we can be a force for good, or a force for cruelty and hatred. The potential for both is exactly the same. We decide, both collectively and individually, where things go.

On a more positive note, the #pearlharbor hastag on twitter quickly rallied thousands upon thousands of outraged social web denizens who reacted with shock and disgust to the horrible racist statements which gave rise to this post. That’s a very good sign.

Moving on…

Here are a few ways you can help already start to help Japan today:

The Red Cross

Save The Children

Global Giving

Google Person-Finder

Google Crisis Response – Japan

UNICEF (Thanks, Ann)

BelongingsFinder.org (Thanks, Eric)

And lastly, this beautiful effort by signalnoise.com:

 

If you have more links to share, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Cheers.

 

Suggested/Additional reading:

Victoria Pynchon for Forbes (Thanks to Jill Elswick for the find)

 

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Pure genius from Gavin Heaton (again):

We all shuffle into the meeting and take our chairs. We greet one another, sip our coffee and lift our pens in silent readiness — after all, one never knows when an action point will be thrust across the room.

Before long, even the most strategic of strategy sessions will be punctuated by tactics (and let me admit I am as guilty of this as anyone). In a bizarre twist on meeting bingo, marketing bingo is littered with words such as “viral”, “youtube”, “facebook” — and increasingly, “social media”. Much of this is driven by short-term, campaign oriented thinking and a focus on short-term objectives. However, when it comes to advising our clients (whether they be internal or external), it is important to remember that campaigns (and microsites) are no longer stand-alone. Google has seen to that.

Where once we built our discrete campaigns around various plans to raise awareness, generate demand, build brand, stimulate sales, accelerate trial etc, brand custodians now need to consider a longer term narrative line that incorporates the way that consumers engage with the brand over time. We no longer have disconnected brand campaigns but discontinuous brand interactions. The crucial link between each of these campaigns is a combination of social media powered by Google. That is:

  • The articles or references that bloggers make about your campaign (whether it is digital or not)
  • The perspectives published by the media (advertising media as well as other publishers
  • User generated content that riffs off your campaign

All of this can be found by Google. More importantly, it can be found by Google well into the future — long after your campaign has ended. For example, when I search on some of my old projects, I can find all the pointers, the conversations and the discussions AROUND them, but the project has passed. The microsite has gone. All we are left with are traces leading nowhere. This is brand equity being squandered.

In the future, we need to think about brand lifecycles. We need to think about brand “through lines” — and design experiences with entry and exit strategies. We need to start putting as much thinking into “reversing the launch” as we put into the start of a campaign.

When we reverse the launch, we can draw upon the P-L-A-Y framework, delivering an experience that enhances and continues the conversations that evolve around your campaign. In fact, part of your strategy could be to build upon some of these user generated conversations as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue. After all, creating the talking point is one of the early challenges, maintaining or stoking that conversation requires much less effort and attention.

This reminds me of a lesson one of my English teachers shared with me one day many years ago: Try telling your story backwards. Start from the end, and work your way back to the beginning. (This is basically the writer’s version of proofing an equation.) There are very definite applications here, especially for those of us who look at brand development as more than just a finite sets of tactics and campaigns. As Gavin points out, the reality of today’s digital world is that nothing in communications is finite anymore. (Not that it ever was.) Search engines, blogs and message boards keep a record of every conversation, every opinion and every intersect between your campaign, launch or other tactic and the public at large. The ripples keep spreading long after you’ve dropped the pebble in the water.

As one of my weapons instructors told us before our first group live fire exercise: “You can’t call back a bullet.” Once you unleash a product, a message, a campaign, you’ve unleashed it. Even if it runs very far away and you forget about it over time, it’s still out there.

It isn’t enough to just build, launch and move on to the next thing anymore. You have to look at the effects of every brand-to-people engagement in terms of ripples. In terms of momentum. In terms of intersects with other ripples. This is the difference between looking at things from a strategic standpoint and looking at things almost solely from a tactical standpoint. The pickle that many companies find themselves in these days is simple and comes in two forms: a) Too much tactical, not enough strategic (not enough focus on strategy to guide the tactics or give them purpose and continuity) and b) Confusing strategy with tactics (the subject of an earlier post).

None of this stuff is rocket science, but when companies spend too much time operating in response/fighting fires mode, they tend to miss out on the big picture. There’s a reason why rally drivers have co-pilots: When you’re racing along treacherous roads at 100mph, you need one guy to drive and another guy to read the map and tell him what’s coming up next. More often than not, CMOs don’t get to hold the map anymore because they are too busy pushing buttons or turning the crank. Without someone dedicated to managing the map and calling out the next obstacles, even the best drivers will put their car in a ditch – or simply fall out of the race.

If you’re a high level exec – especially a CMO – take the time to take a step back once in a while. Remind yourself of the difference between strategy and tactics. Invest time, thought, and resources in a solid strategy. Hire people whose insights you trust, even if they aren’t experts in your particular industry. Surround yourself with people who can help you develop and implement tactics based on that strategy. Map out your process. Sketch it out. Model it visually. Then, once you’ve built a solid strategy and a framework of tactics that will help you bring that strategy to life, work your way backwards – from the end back to the beginning. (Hint: Do this at the “official” end of each tactic as well to see if you’re still on target. If the plan is still whole. Each time a tactic gets reviewed through a “post mortem,” go ahead and cover the tactics you already put to bed weeks or months earlier. Have someone do research on what little nuggets these tactics have left behind. See how what you find fits with the brand image you would like to enjoy.

Brand development work is about much more than marketing tactics and thanks to social networks, connectivity tools and the evolution of communication channels, your brand’s playground is now much larger than it used to be. Make sure you adjust your outlook accordingly.

😉 Have a great Wednesday.

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