The Social Network – How to Make Friends and Influence People
As if your social media manager or agency doesn’t already have enough to do with maintaining your Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter feed and blog, a new contender enters the social media ring – namely Google +. Which leads to the questions – 1: How does Google+ differ from the other social media offerings and 2: When does the social media landscape get to saturation point?
Google + offers its users the ability to create circles primarily from people they know via their contacts in Gmail accounts. ‘Real life’ sharing is the positioning Google have chosen to differentiate Google + from other social networking sites – in other words, sharing your ‘stuff’ only with people you know – at least in theory. ‘Google have clearly decided to exploit the fears many people have in relation to social networking,’ Dave Jabbie states. ‘On sites such as Facebook or MySpace anyone can pretend to be anybody they like. Building your social networking around people you already know and communicate with allays many of those fears.’
For parents of children itching to have a social media presence, this may be one way of allaying those fears. ‘With its emphasis on creating your social network around existing contacts and sharing individual likes and dislikes when it comes to movies, music, etc, Google + is clearly positioned more for individual use rather than companies,’ Jabbie states. ‘One glance at their landing page just confirms that. ‘Circles’ is all about connections and Google+ emphasises off the bat that you can share things with your buddies ‘and almost nothing with your boss’ to quote directly from their page. There’s ‘Hangouts’ for chatting with friends and ‘Sparks’ – ‘A feed of only the things you’re really into’. ‘This is social networking for the individual and not for the body corporate,’ Jabbie confirms.
Advertisers need to cherry-pick their social media formats carefully. ‘Of course it comes down to relevance. For some companies and organisations a social media presence is not only unnecessary and irrelevant but would detract from their position and even result in a loss of credibility.’ Advertisers often need guidance on this from their agencies who have their client’s overall positioning and messaging at the forefront of any social media strategy and can advise on the appropriateness of a social media site or overall campaign. For those active in social media, there is the need for constant reassessment of their strategy. ‘It’s all about being aware of the prevailing zeitgeist,’ says Jabbie. ‘Marketing and advertising campaigns are usually adaptive strategies that react and evolve according to social and consumer drivers. The same goes for a digital and social media campaign. Advertisers and their agencies need to remain aware of what is driving their customers. When we look back a few years ago, there was the moment when a significant number of MySpace users all deserted the networking site in favour of Facebook. Advertisers who continued to maintain emphasis on their MySpace pages would have been left out in the cold if they failed to realise the significance of the move. And that’s not to say it can’t happen again. While Facebook at present remains the social network du jour, you can’t rule our a mass migration to another site in the future – whether an expanded Google + or even one which has yet to grace the social media landscape. Keeping your finger on the digital pulse and knowing how to react is the key to maintaining contact with your customers.’
Facebook is presently the major platform for Zynga – the on-line game developer that has made farmers and Mafia hit-men out of millions of on-line users. ‘In my mind there is no coincidence that Zynga has floated a $1 billion IPO at the same time Google + is rolled out,’ says Jabbie. Zynga must be looking at Google + as a key to its expansion. While a Google + social media presence may not be appropriate for companies, depending on its take-up, it will most probably be forming part of a digital strategy in the future for both agencies and their clients.
‘Everything Google does is very cleverly thought out and geared towards revenue generation,’ says Dave. ‘With agencies and advertisers now understanding the benefits of advertising directly to ‘tribes’ Google + appears to come with a built-in way to target those tribes via their Circles and Hangouts.’
So when does the social media landscape become saturated? ‘I don’t foresee that occurring for a long time yet,’ predicts Jabbie. ‘I think what we will see is the popularity of the established players rising and falling according to the preferences of their users.’ New players will continue to appear – and also disappear. ‘Agencies need to gauge not just the popularity but also the longevity of networking sites before committing large chunks of their digital budgets to newcomers,’ Dave advises. ‘Facebook is an established player and Google will have done their research. If Apple launched something similar as an evolution of iCloud, then I’d say they would mount a major challenge. As for any other players wading in – my advice is to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude.’