And by YOU I mean YOU Internet marketers, B2B, B2C, and B2E experts, PR masters, and SM junkies in general who are raving about the stuff. Yes guys and gals, YOU are –mostly– alone in this one. Here’s my take on the why, using a cool example to draw parallels from.
Consider these two sets of competing products: Sony’s PS3 (console) and PSP (handheld) vs. their Nintendo counterparts, the Wii and the DS. Despite being technically superior in many aspects that pertain to gaming, both of Sony’s devices were never neck to neck in the race against those from the big N. Hell, they were never even close. And why? Because Nintendo’s creations were actually groundbreaking; they represented innovation at its most exquisite level. And that, friends, draws customers in: 87.5M vs. 51.2M on home consoles and a staggering 147.5M vs. 68.5M on handhelds [Source: VGCharts Network]. You can call Nintendo’s strategy gimmicky, but the features it bestowed upon their products were unmatched for a long time. Even now, with the addition of motion control on Sony’s home console front, the dynamics introduced by the Wiimote and Wii Motion Plus controllers are legendary.
[Edit: thanks to Danny Brown for commenting upon something that was missing from this comparison --price. Nintendo's gadgets have always been priced way lower than Sony's. Still, if we consider price as a feature, Sony did fail at attracting buyers in THAT specific area, which, in such a competitive arena, can prove quite damaging.]
What we are dealing with this face-off (ha!) between Facebook and Google+ is what I like to call “Race of the Features.” Unlike the aforementioned example, where the hardware limits the ability to improve upon a shipped product, integrating –and enhancing– features from Facebook into Google+ and vice versa is a relatively easy task.
Besides that, we have an inescapable issue here: Google is not a groundbreaking platform; not by a long shot. So, even though there might be differentiation at some point or another –sharing, notifications and video in Google+ are, for example, very well thought out– the competing guy will always be quick to catch up. This could be a very drawn out case of the proverbial pissing contest.
YOU might like these shiny new/improved features because they suit YOUR purposes best. But on this race, Facebook can turn the tide at any moment.
When Nintendo’s Wii console came out, it drew in thousands of new players that were previously oblivious to electronic entertainment; it practically defined the term casual gaming. Housewives, top execs, teachers; they all jumped onto the bandwagon of Wii Sports and Wii Fit. Almost overnight, the Wii was in more households than the PS3 could ever expect to. And, although it has struggled with stains like shovelware (kiddie movie tie-in games, anyone?), most of these casual gamers just don’t care. What they have is good enough for them and, in the long run, only numbers matter. Lemme try to be funny here: My name is Legion, for Wii are many.
Facebook has the whole social media thing pretty much nailed down and has a subscriber base that ranks in the hundreds of millions. Now, I’m not saying it does everything right; we know better. But for the large percentage of users that don’t mind what it does wrong, Google+ offers no compelling reason to do the switch. There’s no real, overwhelming benefits for the brunt of these individuals.
Now, returning to the subject of YOU. YOU might want to trade the blue for the multi-colored because YOU are smart, because YOU are mindful of privacy, because YOU care about the value of networking, and because YOU simply adore engaging and sharing. I know I do. But, you know what? The moms and the teachers and the co-workers… not so much. For them, Facebook fills a more primal purpose: just being social. They will, I think, choose the Like over the +1; they will remain within Facebook’s ranks and files.
Let’s look at this real quick: Nintendo has a perpetual collection of aces down its sleeve with the oldest and most revered franchises in the gaming industry: the Marios and the Pokemons, the Metroids and the Kirbys, the Zeldas and the Smash Brothers; Nintendo owns exclusivity for all of them. These fellas –in any of their incarnations– have only been available for the big N’s devices and they move numbers without failure because people know and love them.
In the subject at hand, Google’s perceived strength is search. Yeah, Google Docs has its followers because it has proved to be a powerful tool with zero to little competition, and Chrome is slowly gaining ground as the prettiest kid on the block, but this doesn’t mean much in terms of profitability. Even Google’s first peripheral property, Gmail, has not yet attained the elusive No. 1 spot when compared to old, established brands like Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail (or Windows Live, whatever you wanna call it). The thing is, the G has had trouble gaining traction as a brand on fields other than search. Google+ is up against a giant that has a choke hold on the social media market, and removing it from the topmost place will prove to be a monumental task.
Now, back to YOU. YOU have only recently started using Facebook for professional reasons. YOU have been using Facebook as a marketing, engagement & networking medium for a relatively short time. YOU have had no chance of developing a strong bond with Facebook or have chosen not to, for maybe YOU move quickly with the times and the trends. But the mainstream does not. They love and then they settle, at least for a while, and marketers know that: it will be a long time before Google+ becomes fertile ground for ad revenue.
What does Google+ want to be?
If we look, for example, at Twitter’s inability to be profitable and assume it’s because there’s just not much buying power and message reach due to its numbers, we can extrapolate and visualize Google+’s short/medium term future IF they only want to be up in arms against Facebook. But go ahead and read this post by Jeff Nolan on how it could stack up against other players: G+: Twitter and Tumblr are Biggest Losers.
What I think is that, with some focus and direction, Google+ can be something other than what it’s trying to be right now: a Facebook killer. But for the time being, only YOU think it can be so.
In the end, it’s all speculation, right?
If you’re Michael Jordan, I’ll buy your sneakers. If you are Sean John, I’ll buy your fragrance. If you’re Martha Stewart, I’ll probably buy your kitchenware. Well, add some question marks to the last one. The bottom line is that my relative perceived value of those items, if you’re into economics, relates well to the amount of money I’m willing to spend on them, and to the benefits that will go with their ownership. Now, allow me to be blunt and skip the niceties:
If you’re Chris Brogan, I definitely won’t buy your blog topics.
And unless you like people selling you a bill of goods, I suggest you don’t either.
If you haven’t been paying much attention to his blog and/or tweets, you probably don’t know what this is all about. You can read more about it here:
Done? Good. Now, if you’re still with me, here’s my two cents on the matter: I’m disgusted.
Don’t take me wrong, Chris seems like a nice, successful guy, and I’m sure he’s got smarts to last until kingdom come, but this move rubs me the wrong way for two main reasons:
1. Social Media stardom is starting to take itself too seriously. To pretend it has reached the maturity level, if stardom in general can be called mature at any point, where someone can slap his/her name onto a generic product and sell it, is a little insulting to us audiences and consumers. SoMe people, sorry to break it to you: you’re not quite there yet.
2. Blog topics are not a product. Ideas and expertise are commodities, yes, but these are not ground-breaking innovations. They are not part of a consultancy service either. What are they then? For me, they’re chunks of text that I could have come up with in an hour or two of topical research.
Come on, if you’ve set out to write a blog, make it your own. Completely. If you need inspiration, for Pete’s sake, look for it, don’t buy it.
To his credit, Chris acknowledges these things are geared towards a specific crowd:
“Is it for everyone? Definitely not. Is it for someone who wants to keep their blog populated with interesting topics and ideas, and who could use some creative encouragement? That’s who this will serve the best.”
To sell something, that’s as good a reason as any: there’s probably a market out there. Nonetheless, if you’re one of those best served by this initiative, the chances your blog post will be relevant to me and many others are, well, slim.
What do you think, folks?
Social media is definitely helping brands take care of their followers in many ways: brands have a space in our everyday lives, a place we give them from our own accord and which makes them easier to relate to; brands also have a voice that speaks and provides valuable content instead of shoving useless crap down our throats; and they also have a pair of ears that listen to us, their loyal customers, when the need arises. That’s all peachy.
But when companies get to be too big and wide-reaching, it’s easy for them to lose focus on the local tier of the business, specially while following new trends. And there’s no better way than a true story to exemplify this.
I remembered my local Applebee’s as a place to go for a down-to-earth, no-frills yummy meal. Knowing well beforehand that I was up to nothing fancy, my expectations were set at an appropriate level and all was good and dandy.
Smash cut to last Sunday.
Here’s the succession of horrors that ensued that day:
1. What looked on the menu as a beautiful hand-battered fish n’ chips dish materialized in the form of three sad, oily and flat BREADED fillets.
2. The head cook said that was the way the kitchen received the ingredients, but acknowledged that it looked different to the picture on the menu. Change of dish.
3. My crispy orange chicken bowl came back 5 minutes (!!!) after I ordered it. Not even my microwave dinners are that fast. And apparently Crispy decided to chase white rabbits that day and left her cousin Soggy in her stead.
4. Other dishes at my table were equally unappetizing: pungent, minuscule shrimps, some undercooked, some overly chewy.
5. The cherry on top of the cake: the server took my bill into her own wallet and gave me change from there. Never did I see her near the order machine. Awkward.
There’s a point coming right up, be patient.
The call to action
I left that place as fast as my legs allowed. I was appalled, to say the least: my neighborhood grill gave me no pleasure anymore. I knew something had to be done, franchises in Mexico have a tendency to get away with murder quite too often. So I tweeted.
I directed my shouts at the global, verified Applebee’s account, having no success at finding a local one with good activity.
Day 1: crickets.
Day 2: tweeted again.
Day 3: crickets. Then something: Applebee’s director of social media started following me. And asked me what was wrong. I replied scantily, too much for 140 chars. He asked for my e-mail. Then nothing (it was late at night).
Day 4: e-mail from him first thing in the morning: “tell me everything”. I did.
Day 5: Nada.
Day 6: I get an e-mail from Applebee’s Mexico marketing manager. In a bad english she basically says: “Thanks, we’re working hard to please you, come again”.
Hmmm, is that it? No acknowledgement of what went wrong? No gift certificate? Hmmm again.
For big brands seeking success in a wide market, local presence is not an option, it’s expected. Traditional media strategists, inside and outside corporations, know this better than anyone and have tailored campaigns and tactics accordingly for a long time. Now it is imperative that social media efforts follow suit. Here’s a couple of ideas:
- You don’t need a social identifier for every branch or franchise you own. Just be sure to engage all equally, without any location related preference, and try to maintain a standard response time. Also, the use of operator trails can help make things transparent for your brand followers. Example on Twitter: “@mary Thanks for your comment, we’ll add Gruyère to your cheese dip next time. ^kellyintoronto”
- If you do have localized accounts, make sure they all follow the same guidelines and are as active as your main brand account.
- Establish proper escalation channels for locals and let the social media managers/directors/operators have a clear knowledge of the process. No need to send someone to HQ if branch can handle the issue.
- Leverage your icons: create engagement activities around local landmarks, celebrities, or even food. We localites are crazy about our own stuff, make us happy by using it in your campaigns.
We are giving brands one more chance and we’re letting them get closer to us with each social media step we take. It is then their duty to get closer to us too, don’t you think? Discuss at will my friends.
Note: I have to thank Scott Gulbransen, Director of Social Media & Digital Content at Applebee’s, for his efforts to make this right, regardless of how disappointing the end results were.