Facebook vs Google+ for companies

Update 1st July: Google now requires everyone to login to view anything so the first row of the table has gone red too. Makes it even less useful and it was already struggling to justify any effort…

The short version:

Facebook vs GooglePlus for company pages

The details…

The Wall Street Journal has a great article looking at Google’s efforts to rival Facebook – The Mounting Minuses at Google+ <- title kind of indicates how well those efforts are going.

Some quotes that stand out from the article:

“Nobody wants another social network right now,” said Brian Solis

Intel Corp said 360,000 Google+ members have signed up to receive updates from the chip maker since it set up a brand presence on the site. [But] While Intel gets dozens of responses to its posts on Google+ the company has nine million “fans” on Facebook and gets thousands of comments there [according to Ekaterina Walter who manages Intel’s presence on social media sites]

Facebook and Twitter helped change the way people discover new things on the Web, rivaling Google as the chief gateway to the Internet. Much of the activity on Facebook is private and can’t be accessed by Google’s search engine, making search less useful as people spend more time on Facebook.

All of this makes it more important for Google to win over people like Ben Hopper. The 29-year-old photographer in London joined Google+ shortly after it launched. But in November, Mr. Hopper stopped using Google+. Instead, he re-focused on Facebook and social media sites like Twitter. Google+ “was an additional tool that needed time investment—time I didn’t have to begin with,” he said.

That last sentence is particularly relevant.  When you are not first to a market, you need to not just do something different or better, you need to make it easier for the people who you want to not just attract to the product or service, but keep them using it. This is where Apple succeeded with the iPhone. It wasn’t the first smartphone, but without even talking about the hardware design compared to the standard at the time, its user interface was incredibly well thought out in terms of making features easier to use. Simple steps like when you move the handset from your ear to look at the screen, the keypad automatically appears (it assumes you are about to do something). Previous phones I used (both Windows and Android) required you to press a button to reactivate the screen – half the time I’d press the button that cancelled the call. Doh!

Having experimented with both Facebook and Google+ from a business perspective, the opportunity that Google has is making content accessible to everyone. I can add a link to a Facebook page on my web site. But nobody can see the Facebook page without first logging into Facebook and nothing from that site will ever appear in search results.  Facebook may have 800 million and counting users but there is a growing backlash to being logged into it all the time and I don’t want to make those sorts of demands on any client.  Google+ doesn’t require the same – anyone can view my company’s page on Google+, the page will appear in search results, and nobody needs to login unless they want to participate in the conversation.  All good reasons to prefer Google+ over Facebook.

So why is Google+ so quiet?

Google requires you to invest too much time to keep the site active. I haven’t found an easy way to share blog posts automatically through Google+. At the moment, I try to remember to go over and add it to the feed. Once there, I usually have to switch accounts because my Google Apps account doesn’t currently work with Google+ but my Gmail account does.   I’d like my Twitter feed (all or by a certain hashtag like #in for LinkedIn and #fb for Facebook) to be automatically added. If it can be done, I haven’t figured out how. This is compared to a great little tool I used a few years ago called FriendFeed that looked visually similar but made it easy for you to automatically integrate data feeds so that you didn’t have to duplicate effort. FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook.

But even the act of adding a manual status update isn’t obvious on Google+ in some areas (it is in others – consistency, or lack of, is another gripe). Where as Facebook and Twitter both put it right in front of you in the main part of the page, regardless of whether you are on your own profile or a fan page for a company, Google has taken a different approach for each area.

Google+ Example

The image above is the start of the stream for the Joining Dots company page.  See if you can spot where to add a status update (I’m logged in as admin for the page)…

…It’s the tiny + visible just to the left of the logged in account ‘Joining Dots’ in the top right corner. Go figure.

If Google seriously wants to take on Facebook, it needs an Apple mindset to make Google+ as easy and intuitive as possible when you are on the site. And it needs to start making it easier to add in automated feeds such as Twitter updates, blog posts when they are published etc.  Along with Likes and all the other trickery that Facebook has done so well  but keeps locked and hidden inside their walled garden (even if it is a big garden).  Until then, as the photographer Ben Hopper soon found out, Google+ is simply too much hassle. And that’s Google’s, not than Ben’s…

We’ve been down this road before

It's a road

So Google finally unveils one of its key directions going forward – cheap laptops running Google Chrome focused on cloud computing as the primary working area and local computing relegated to being the offline backup. No huge surprise. Tons of reports covering the news but Sarah Perez sums it up nicely on ReadWriteWeb:

…this initiative pushes forward many of Google’s agendas: get into an institution through its end users, not its admins, get more people online so they’ll click Google ads, and, the future is the Web, not the hard drive.

That’s how Office and friends first arrived (the first bit, no web for most back then).

References:
Photo: Taken by me! Travelling from Geneva to Annecy for a Microsoft offsite, many moons ago. The mountain is Mont Blanc, according to the taxi driver 🙂

Hidden Business Models

Two factors helped Google become the dominant search engine on the Internet in the early 00s:

  1. It provided better search results than any other search engine at the time
  2. It came up with a business model that helped fund the search engine without detracting from it

When the advertising world began to inhabit the Internet in the late 90s, we all suffered the sparkly annoying banner ads that literally popped up everywhere. Google avoided that route by placing only small text ads around the search results. When it came to figuring out what ads to place next to what results and in what order, well there had to be an algorithm for that… Auctioning keywords became a billion dollar revenue generator. And the model scaled beyond the search engine, as web sites began to include ads managed by Google for a slice of the keyword revenue.

Since then, as new technologies gain mainstream awareness if not adoption, the question always being asked is: What’s the business model? For many, the answer is advertising. It’s the wrong answer.

Facebook is rumoured to be finally in profit. Revenue is claimed to exceed $1 billion this year, up from $700 million-ish last year but the infrastructure to support a 500 million user social network costs a fair bit. The assumption has always been that Facebook needs to find an advertising method that works for social networks the way auctioning keywords works for search and web sites. In the meantime, another company has found a better way to make money from Facebook’s social network.

Zynga creates games for social networks. If you’ve got any friends on Facebook, at least some will have tried to recruit you to join their gang to start a Mafia war, or will be seeking chicken food for their farm in Farmville… simple games can be very addictive and people will pay small amounts of money at regular intervals to keep at the top of the game. Zynga has tapped into that ego/ addiction and is estimated to be earning revenues of $50 million per month with a potential profit margin of 30%.

Google started out as a search technology but the money is made by owning the advertising channel – be it next to search results or on web sites. Facebook started out as a social network but the money needs to be made by owning the transaction channel – Facebook should be an online bank.

…and it looks like that small point hasn’t gone unnoticed. Facebook is planning to introduce credits with a view to taking a 30% cut from applications that use its social network. Not as strong an approach as Google’s auction method, they seem to be looking more to Apple’s model (which takes a 30% cut from all sales on the App store). Time will tell.

Apple’s approach is niche, albeit a big market – they own the devices and developers can only sell apps for the devices through the single App store. With strong market share and a strong brand, Apple have a loyal and large customer base for developers to sell to. Facebook’s network is certainly large but is it loyal to Facebook? Enough to pay artificially high prices that a 30% tax on Facebook apps will create… I’m not so sure. A better approach would be the flexibility of an auction that enables application providers to determine how much of their profit margin they are prepared to lose for access to Facebook’s network. And that approach would scale beyond the Facebook web site, just as Google’s auction scaled beyond the search web site.

References

Lessons from Facebook’s experiments

[Update] Adding links and references as they bubble up on this topic…

There has been a range of news recently about Facebook’s latest approach to users’ privacy.

Wired has an article – Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative – explaining the concern being raised by many. By default, Facebook is now connecting and publishing every piece of data you choose to share on the platform. You may think you are only sharing your photos with your friends and family, but you are granting permission for Facebook to share your content with everyone and anyone on the Internet.

Robert Scoble has an article – Much ado about privacy on Facebook – with the counter argument. That we’re kidding ourselves if we ever thought anything we share on a computer, especially one connected to a network, is private. Facebook is just exploiting that which others have exploited less visibly (or easily – and that’s the key difference) in the past, and in the process helping people find what they need in ways Google never can.

Robert has a point. However the picture is a little more complicated. Not everyone wants to share their entire life online with everyone else and every organisation on the planet. Some people have very good and legitimate reasons not to. You could argue that such people simply shouldn’t be on Facebook. But in the past, it wasn’t a problem – the default behaviour in Facebook’s privacy policy was that information would only be shared amongst your network, which could be as large or small as you choose it to be. And your content stayed within the walls of Facebook unless you chose to opt-in to third party applications. That has now all changed and Facebook does not make deleting anything easy. Even if you choose to leave, if your ‘friends’ have already shared your content or tagged their own content with your name then your identity will continue to persist without you. And if you choose to stay, for certain content it is now all or nothing – if you try to opt-out of sharing with everyone then it will be removed from your profile and friends will no longer see it either.

Facebook is transitioning from a site for building social networks between friends to being one giant social network. A new mesh of connected personalised data is being created that has never before been possible. And that mesh is being shared with whatever organisations Facebook chooses to do business with. At the same time as we are seeing new tools arise that can mine massive amounts of data for patterns and profiling… We don’t yet know what all the implications – good and bad – will be. And whilst Robert highlights the good, history tells us there will also be bad. This is a live experiment that over 400 million people (and that’s just the active users) unknowingly volunteered to participate in.

Related Blog Posts

References

Other posts of interest on this topic:

Did the clouds just get darker?

Dark clouds over Bournemouth from freefoto.com

In February 2010 three Google executives were convicted of a privacy violation in an Italian court and received suspended prison sentences. The reason for the trial and conviction: they allowed people to upload a video to Google Video showing someone being bullied. It was two hours before the video was removed following complaints.

“It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post”

The BBC covers the story in more detail here.

The trial sets an interesting precedent and could have far-reaching consequences for social media and cloud computing services. In particular the costs to provide such services if content is supposed to be pre-screened and the viability for organisations to use them for business data. Will Internet Service Providers be held to the same level of account if an employee complains about data an organisation stores using online business services? China is not the only country with a government wielding local power to disrupt global Internet services. And although Italy is singled out in this example, Australia has been planning to introduce strict filtering controls that could restrict access to social networking sites. The UK is exploring how to prevent illegal downloads and considering blocking broadband access for those accused. The list goes on… Providers of online ‘cloud computing’ services will find more turbulence as they cross political borders.

References:

Image courtesy of freefoto.com licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License