Jason Cross, a  Consultant in our US  Marketing, Sales and Service practice introduces the new online social networking product developed by Google, and explores how companies should prepare their long term marketing strategy taking into account the imminent competition of challengers like Google Plus for Facebook

In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded the social networking giant formerly called “TheFacebook” (and now simply “Facebook”) which drastically affected the online landscape for all internet users worldwide. Never had it been so easy to connect and associate with individuals all over the world and remain informed on their day-to-day life experiences. Businesses have come to embrace the capabilities of Facebook by creating fan pages for supporters to receive the most recent deals and marketing initiatives, thus forging a low cost yet lucrative marketing initiative that many companies quickly followed in suit.

Since its introduction to the public in 2004, Facebook has enjoyed what would be considered by most as a monopoly in the social networking marketplace. Facebook has its undisputed niche acting as a network for one’s social necessities. While MySpace and Twitter are both active social accounts, MySpace conceded the social crown and focused on the music industry, and Twitter’s niche lies within the stream of information coming from people and organizations from across the world.

Herein lies the potential for a new entrant to make an impact in the social landscape online and ultimately compete directly with Facebook – many have tried and failed, including Google previously with its Buzz product. Nate Elliott from Forrester listed Google’s prior failures in his recent blog, stating that “Google Buzz was largely ignored, Google Wave was largely ridiculed, and even Orkut may be starting to lose its famous lead in Brazil.” In the upcoming months, we will see right before our eyes the threat levels (or lack thereof) from Google on this new product launch. One thing, however, is certain – there is definitely a buzz amongst online users interested in learning more about the product.

This opportunity could be filled by Google Plus (as referred to as Google+), a social networking site that allows users to share information with a select amount of other users, thus enabling more of an exclusive information-sharing communication channel with others – powered, as ever, by Google search. Google Plus, released Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 in a “free trial period” to a select group of trial users (unfortunately, I did not receive an invitation to test the product), offers differentiated features on its interface such as:

  • Group video conferencing (in a feature called “Hangouts”)
  • Exclusive friend networks (called “Circles”)
  • Proposed articles to read and videos to watch (called “Sparks”)
  • Group texting system (called “Huddles”)
  • An Easy photo or video file-sharing system (appropriately called “Instant Uploads”)

Though the total amount of Facebook users is increasing from a global perspective, Facebook has seen a drop in the number of users in established countries (most notably the United States and Canada) within the month of May. According to Eric Eldon from Inside Facebook, “the United States lost nearly 6 million users, falling from 155.2 million at the start of May to 149.4 million at the end of it. This is the first time the country has lost users in the past year. Canada also fell significantly, by 1.52 million down to 16.6 million, although it has been fluctuating around that number for the past year. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Norway and Russia all posted losses of more than 100,000 (users).”

This can be due to a wide range of possible factors, including security/privacy issues, or displeasure in the Facebook settings and features. Alternatively, the drop can be attributed to the drastic infusion, the complete internet take-over in countries: there are users who are undoubtedly critical to the mass following of the product and therefore dissociate from it.  Does this open the potential for a new social champion?  Can Google Plus alleviate the concerns of Facebook’s dissatisfied users and can it convince the millions to move across?

Will there be a new look strategy for businesses within social networking ?

So, how would a new product launch such as Google Plus affect Facebook’s prominence in the social networking space? More importantly, how are businesses of all sizes going to react to Google’s initiative when their company’s’ Chief Marketing Officer sits down at the conference room table to discuss the long term business marketing strategy? Shall businesses plan to diversify their marketing initiative in the social networking space, or shall these corporations take a completely different approach entirely? It will be both interesting and exciting to follow the progress from Google and Facebook within the increasingly competitive landscape, and the businesses whose marketing strategy is so intertwined and dependent on their reach through these online mediums for success.

One thing is clear: businesses shouldn’t bank on Facebook alone and ensure their social media strategy is flexible enough to relate to any current, or future, social networking platform.

18/07/2011 – See updated viewpoint here