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.