Can Google+ rival Facebook and Twitter? Some initial thoughts


Google+ Google Plus icons for Circles Spark Hangouts

Google+'s features - Home, Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Photos and Huddle

It’s too early to tell whether or not Google+, the company’s challenger to Facebook, will find success. Google’s Documents and Apps have seen widespread use, yet other services have struggled, like Wave. Early feedback suggests that from a user perspective, Google+ is getting some things right, but is not yet a solid package or a true rival to Facebook or Twitter.

The plus

Its real USP is ‘Circles’, which is a way of quickly and easily managing those you follow and then targeting those groups with content. This is a fantastic addition to friend/follower management and is something Facebook users have needed for years. It’s also potentially one of its biggest problems: if Facebook reacts quickly and introduces better peer management and targeting, then Circles ceases to be a differentiator.

Beyond Circles, it’s also promoting group video chat (‘Hangouts’) and topic browsing (‘Sparks’). Personally, I like Sparks. It works for me in the same way Bing does, i.e “let me browse but yes, give me that initial spark”. Hangouts is a great feature for those who like video chats. But I’m not sure it’s enough to take audience from, say, Skype. Google has fantastic voice recognition facilities for its mobile services. It would have been great, for example,  to support Hangouts with automatic voice transcription for the hard of hearing or for business meetings.

…and the minus?

It’s therefore going to be an uphill climb. Google hasn’t done itself any favours with its staggered approach to release. It worked for Gmail because people were looking for a great, free e-mail service and its central features did not rely on who or how many people you knew. Google+, however, requires you to have friends who are also using Google+. I have 300 friends on Facebook who are constantly chatting with me and giving me content to explore. Why should I go to Google+ to interact with 20 people?

If they want to succeed, then from a user perspective they really need to offer more of what the other networks don’t have (and a killer could have been decent cloud storage and streaming) and they need to make it easy for users to aggregate. Something as simple as grabbing contact e-mails from your Facebook friends en masse would have instantly made this more interesting. Why not allow me to connect using Twitter and Facebook to pull in feeds from both? Google could have made Google+ something I want as my homepage, my one-stop shop to the internet. They could have reinvented the internet portal - something Microsoft has been trying for years with MSN but failing because of poor application.

The value for brands?

As for brands, I don’t think there’s anything in this for them in the short term. Longer term I think brand engagement will be in the form of specialised search and content advertising (eg through ‘Sparks’ or interspersed through the stream). There’s a lot of white space that would be perfect for advertising. On top of that, Engadget found references to game sharing in the background code, suggesting that there’s much more to come that users and brands can do.

Perhaps that’s the central benefit Google will try to sell? ‘Come to Google+. We have ads, but it’s not nearly as invasive or pervasive as on Facebook!’

Social media diary 19/12/2008 - Skype


Skype Limited

Skype launches video cards in Facebook

Just in time, perhaps, for those of us who haven’t yet sent all our Christmas cards, Skype this week launched Skype Video Cards, as both an application in Facebook and also as a standalone feature at

The concept is quite simple and it works well as a Facebook application. You choose a basic card, record your video message and send this to your friends. They receive a personalised flash video message from you (and with Skype branding!). It’s a nice application, and out with good timing as we enter the festive season with a force. It’s simple to use (in four clicks you can create a card), creates a personal message and sends a flash video card which means it can be viewed directly from a web browser.

So what can we learn from this?

One question that this application raises is why is Skype doing this? As some people have noted, the video card tool doesn’t make use of any Skype technology, it doesn’t even integrate with your Skype contacts list to send to your friends.

For me this doesn’t matter, especially not for the Facebook application. If this were only a standalone feature, then it would be odd that it didn’t actually showcase the product whose brand it carried. But in Facebook, and indeed in other social networks, it is not so easy to market and product-place in this way.

As we’ve written about before, it can be very difficult to advertise in social networks. Primarily because social networks are social environments with social rules. People are there for their own, personal reasons - to upload their photos, network with their friends, plan their events and talk about issues that are of interest to them. It’s a ‘me’ space and when brands enter this they need to be fully aware of the social rules they must abide by. It’s not that easy to just place your product in front of people or pump your marketing message to them.

This is why the Skype Video Card application works for me. Rather than trying to integrate their actual product and develop an application that people will use and forward to their friends. Instead they opted for the solution of creating an application that creates real value for the users (especially those who have forgotten to send holiday greetings already) and allows the Skype brand to be associated with this.

Facebook and other social networks can be scary places for brands, and difficult places for them to succeed in. My advice: think first how you can add value to the users experience and then put your brand on it. You have a great chance of being successful, and of getting that brand forwarded round the internet faster than you could hope for.

Read all our Social Media Diary entries

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  • There Are No Dancing Elves. But Skype’s Got A Video Greeting Card App For The Holidays
  • Skype video cards: holiday cheer with a side of humbug

Research 2.0 – from a vertical to a horizontal world


At FreshNetworks, we work very much in Research 2.0. Our sister company, FreshMinds, has been market research agency of the year here in the UK for the last couple of years and some of our communities are specifically designed for research. It was interesting, therefore, to listen to a great presentation from Guillaume Weill at CRM Metrix on his take on what Research 2.0 is.

For Guillaume, Research 2.0 is letting brands finally converse with their customers. They talk to them (advertising) and listem (market research) but don’t actually engage with them. In fact Guillaume would say that brands talk 50 times more than they listen as global advertising spend is about 50 times the spend on market research.

To start to converse, Guillaume things that market research companies need to shift from a vertical view of the world to a horizontal one. He defines these as follows:

Vertical World Horizontal World
Questioning Listening
One-shot Always on
Quant vs Qual Quant and Qual
Transactional Conversational
Representative Targeted
Descriptive Insightful
Scientific Art and Science

To acheive this, Guillaume recommends that brands and market research agencies:

  • use the potential of online conversations to listen to their customers
  • analyse these conversations in a new way - allowing customers to comment on and refine others’ contributions
  • converse more often with their consumers, ideally leaving the conversation on all the time

This all makes sense and is similar to what we have been saying for a while and wrote in our white paper earlier this year (see post here).

So what does this all add up to? Guillaume thinks that Research 2.0 allows you to get the same quality of results but more quickly. This is where we disagree. We think that the quality and depth of insight you can get from a well managed conversation with your customers can be qualitatively different to traditional research techniques. Taking qualitative methods online can revolutionise the depth of insight you get and the ability to bring your customers inside your business.

If you want to find out how we’d do this then feel free to get in touch of course!

Communities for customer service - the SNCF example


I love going abroad. You get to spend time learning about new things and also to get a different perspective or new examples for things you already know. This happened to me this week in Paris.

There is lots of talk about Dell’s Ideastorm and MyStarbucksIdea as examples of using communities as customer service vehicles. They are, infact, all based on a SalesForce platform and are all essentially front ends of CRM systems. In France, however, I came across an example that has much more elements of an online community.

SNCF, the French Railways, launched their site, Opinions et débats, initally for a six-week period. They were running a project where executives in the firm would answer questions from the public. The exercise was so successful that it is still running.

The Dell and Starbucks sites are simple. You can suggest an idea, comment on other ideas or vote for ideas. SNCF adds another layer which takes their site from a simple transactional process to a more community feel. The homepage of their site includes a list of employees (including their first name and a picture) and when you pose your question you need to decide if it should be posed, for example, to Clément (a station manager) or to Domonique who runs the TGV high-speed train network.

This is a simple difference, but it makes the site fundamentally different. Rather than posing a question into the ether, you choose an employee and get them to answer it for you. Traditional customer service will take a question into a general department who will then choose who should answer it. With SNCF you choose, and others can add to, expand or criticse and responses.

A great site and one I know I’ll be using as an example of a customer service community in the future.

Eight best practice ideas in word of mouth marketing


Emmanuel Vivier gave a really detailed and great view of word of mouth marketing. For him we have entered the Consumer 2.0 era - for marketeers the time when you could control people is over. They have become immune to advertising spam and are facing death by choice. You have to be cleverer about how you target people and how you use word of mouth. So Emmanuel’s eight best practice ideas are:

1. Create products that are so good that people want to talk about them

  • As Martin Oetting from trnd had said earlier this can either be because the product itself requires word of mouth (no point having a fax machine or using Skype if nobody you know does), or because the product is striking and makes people want to talk about it

2. If your product is not cool, offer great and attractive content for free

  • Why has Kinder always given out toys with it’s eggs? Because the chocolate itself isn’t great but people buy it for the additional gift.
  • In France Bonux, a dishwasher powder, used to give out free toys for a similar reason - to encourage sales by pester-power. It now gives a free mp3 download with every purchase from it’s site

3. Don’t sponsor the entertainment, be the entertainment

  • Lots of great examples here and a real trend at the moment. A good one is Burger King, who made and sold (admittedly rather good) computer games that you could buy for $3.99 with any meal in store. They sold over three million copies. Advertising that the consumer pays you to see!

4. Let consumers participate in making your marketing

  • As well as cocreation tools, a real opportunity here is to leverage user-generated content (UGC). As Emmanuel admits, most UGC is not very good. But volumes are high and some is.
  • The French radio station Skyrock launched a blogging platform a few years ago and took a significant share of the market. They saw this fitting with their role as a media organisation who helped people to stay up to date. Blogging now contributes 50% of their revenue and also provides the content for their web presence.

5. Provide a service to the community

  • This is what Nike have done with iPod. Creating a joint campaign which includes an ability for you to use your iPod, nike trainers and a website (here) to track and record how much exercise you do and to keep up with your training schedule.

6. Make it easy for people to forward your message

  • Make it something they want to forward and then let them do it easily.

7. Surprise your audience

  • People notice things that are different, especially in the world where we are drowning in advertising. BBC World did this with a series of billboards which allowed people to text to vote in a question - with the results updating on the billboard immediately. Questions included things like were the US troops in Iraq liberators or occupiers. Challenging stuff (see here).

8. Turn bloggers into brand champions

  • As previous people at the conference had said - if people are writing about your brand, and they’re well read, then you really should be engaging them. Provide special content for them and they’ll spread it for you.