How Google can win social (for now)

Jeremiah Owyang discusses Facebook personalised adsI read three articles this morning that brought me back to the question of how Google beats the competition in social media.

Each feature relates to core credibility issues facing social networks at present.  Critically for a post IPO Facebook, this includes the challenge of monetising people’s personal, professional and sometimes private interactions.

Facebook’s eternal struggle to deliver advertising value (especially outside their own community) is well documented.  Whilst they still host the vast majority of day to day social interactions worldwide, it’s evident that old fashioned advertising models simply don’t sit comfortably with them. Being sold to just isn’t what the vast majority of people are interested in or looking for from their social time online.

But why should we expect the sanctity of our friendships and interactions online to be immune from commercialisation?  They certainly aren’t in the real world. Irrespective of whether advertising in social environments really works or not – advertisers still buy space and try.  It’s unrealistic to expect it be any different in social networks. As Jeremiah Owyang said on a Google+ post earlier today “No service is free and FB needs to generate revenues. This is just the start”.

He made that post in relation to an announcement that Facebook were set to develop advertising carrying users own images to target friends in their network.  I assume this means you can expect to see your best friends face on a personalised Coke advert targeting you if you are a Pepsi drinker sometime soon?

Frankly, the thought fills me with horror – but the service probably isn’t aimed at me and it’s a fact that (and I quote  Jeremiah again) “social ads are just starting. We’re in round 2 of 10. Much more to come”.  If Facebook don’t push the commercial aspect of their business (especially through mobile) then the second article – “Facebook to disappear by 20:20” may well be an optimistic view of the network’s future. The clock is always ticking to deliver social media ROI for all of us – big or small.

So where does this leave Google and in particular their social endeavor, Google +?

Well it leaves them in an incredibly strong position from my perspective. The core strength of Google is in the accuracy & speed of its search and it see’s  “social signals” as being ever more important to maintain a competitive advantage in this key internet space. All its recent updates amplify the value of genuine social signals (+1’s, favourites, likes, re-tweets links etc) on its search results – with the aim of delivering a personalised (more relevant) search experience.

Currently Google makes far greater revenue than Facebook, primarily from its targeted advertising services and networks . So I ask the question – do they NEED to directly monetise advertising on their own nascent social network?  Well they don’t currently carry advertising on Google + and I think that’s the key to the network developing a USP for itself.

NEVER sell advertising in Google +.

It’s a challenging idea, but if they keep Google + ad-free they could build a model around it as a long term “pure play” social only space.  Sure,  encourage brands & businesses to further develop the profiles a lot of them have already set up and try to engage with fans & users through the Google + stream – but leave the rest alone.

By continuing to  silently collect data on user’s genuine interactions, relationships, preferences and favourites on Google+ and beyond – they could still deliver that ultimate social search & ad serving experience without ever “polluting” their own users’ social space.

Job done?  Well for me it would be – at least in the short to midterm.  Social only 24/7 = perfect.

But longer term there’s still a bogey man that haunts all of the corporate leviathans of social. Privacy.

As the final story “Facebook ask users to vote on privacy” confirms,  privacy is still a major worry  for the major networks. I believe influential early adopters (the users who give credibility and commercial potential to any network) simply don’t want to be “flogged to” without having real control over who gets their information and how it’s used. In that respect Facebook and Google both increasingly play fast and loose with the rules of “Big Data” and their reputations suffer because of it.

I still think there’s massive potential for a true opt-in social network – but for now, Google+ staying ad-free might just win them a much bigger slice of the social pie.

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Commercial and social? Best of both worlds when content is king

Whilst signing up for the commercial “art for the people – by the people” service earlier today – I had one of those very rare  “I’m joining something overtly commercial and social – and it’s fine” moments.

It’s  a “you order – we’ll print” service that’s fuelled by a limitless supply of original and carefully crafted images by piggy backing the creative output of iPhone photo sharing community Instagram.  The business model promises a share of revenue from art sold to it’s subscribers.

As well as delivering a simple but smart use of Instagram images,  CEO @mattmuns and his team have pitched their organic registration campaign just right, though it feels pretty  pushy.

Users who subscribe to the service,  are encouraged to get their social network friends, including those on Instagram, to “vote”  to have their gallery opened.   The process must be generating thousands of leads for the LA based start-up, as friends and fans “vote”with their email addresses.   Once you have “voted” (aka registered) they promise to send you an email when your friend’s gallery is open – and in doing so, presumably take the opportunity to up-sell  their service.   Easy sharing of your “vote” on Twitter and Facebook completes the loop.  Like all great social ideas and campaigns – it’s simple, it taps the sharing instinct, adds value for subscribers and is potentially very commercial.

“Igers”  (Instagram addicts) have sent me many requests to “vote”, most of which I have responded to & the network effect must be huge.   I never begrudged one “vote” and have pondered the possibility of ordering something myself.

“A reasonably “high ticket” physical product that leverages the limitless output of a smart tech creative community they didn’t have to fund the development of themselves?”…  surely it’s one sort of investors wet dream.

When social and creative combine with a simple well-considered commercial offering, that’s fuelled by an equally well-judged viral execution –  a big return on investment should measurably follow.

Congratulations to all involved – it’s a great idea well delivered.  From my point of view,  I can’t see how Instagram would fail to invest some of their recently earned Facebook IPO bounty to acquire the service in time.

Oh! and you can vote for me here:

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Start nurturing

Nurturing starts at home

Standard “setting out on my journey” missives aside, this is actually just me finally accepting the need to walk the talk, which is all to easy to do when you are telling other people what to do all day.  Truth is – hands on experience cannot be replaced by books and manuals with “human business works” (as Chris Brogan would doubtless say).

So expect occasional nurturing around the topics of adoption and use of social media by people and business, plus opinions on creativity, innovation and more.

I’ll also be expressing my views and opinions on why consumer privacy matters for networking, business and society, irrespective of the way value chains and glorious technology have been developed.

Privacy is not inconvenient or obstructive – it’s a requirement of  a free and accountable  society – just as transparency in business and governance is.


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Filed under Nurture Social Media