Google is primarily a search company while Facebook is primarily a social outlet. Both are giants in their respective markets and are valued in billions of dollars. They hire the world’s most talented people. Their products have revolutionized the world, and are known to the entire population of the globe.
These two giants are seen as clashing in a competitive war, stepping on each other toes. Google is entering the social arena with Google+ and Facebook is working on Graph Search and Integration with Bing. But have they lost their ability to innovate? Is rivalry through patent wars, fan confrontation, and competition for talent what lies ahead? Will one finally win over the other? I don’t think so.
Facebook and Google are looking at things from different perspectives and are acting with different goals in mind. As a result, these social platforms attract different audiences by creating significantly different social experiences. This translates into diversity and fragmentation of the entire social media market.
This series is about seeing the differences between Facebook and Google+; seeing how the weaknesses of one are compensated for by the strengths of another; seeing how together, these social platforms are more likely to become a strong fundament for a wholesome social media marketing strategy.
We will be looking at four pillars - Vision, Product, Users, and Dataset - that make any social media platform a channel for a particular audience with unique goals and strategies. Finally, when we have studied the components of these platforms, we will see how each social channel fits or does not fit our marketing strategy. So let’s begin.
To give people the power to share and make the world more open.
With this mission in mind, Facebook gave unity and power to over a billion people worldwide. How did Facebook manage to acquire so many users in less than a decade? Timing? Execution? Something else? There is no single reason for Facebook’s success, but there is one I hold as particularly important; Facebook was the first social media company to truly understand the concept of the Six Degrees of Separation.
“Even if our mission sounds big, it starts small - with the relationship between two people” says Mark Zuckerberg in his letter to investors. The entire population of the world is believed to be connected through 6 handshakes - from one person to another. Facebook is the first truly global, free, social platform that utilized these existing real life connections and brought them to the web. And what can be done with it is truly fascinating.
“We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services … over time, we expect governments will also become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people.”
By helping the world to get hyper-connected, Facebook is taking part in establishing stronger ties between people, their favorite brands, and their governments. The social dialogue that takes place creates transparency, fosters creativity, and promotes uniqueness and oneness. In my article ‘Social Media: The Hype of Transparency, Innovation & Inflation’, I further elaborate on this subject.
Today, we can measure Facebook’s success in numbers - 1.2B connected people, 240B shared photos, and 1 trillion connections, helping to produce billions of comments and likes daily. But more important, we can measure Facebook’s success by the impact it made in the world. along with Twitter, in the course of the Arab Spring.
Perhaps through sharing in social media, we are also redefining democracy - the rule of the people. Perhaps the Arab Spring is just the beginning, and even governments in developed democracies have much to hear from their people. And with so many people connected through Facebook it is entirely possible.
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Google had established this mission long before social media hit the world. All of Google’s products have a mission of their own, but still serve the same big idea. Google+ is no exception, but it is also notably different from all other products. In fact, so different that rather than calling it a product, Googlers call it a project.
While studying Google’s vision as it relates to Google+, I was impressed with how the Ten Things Google Knows to Be True still hold to be true in the Google+ project, and its ultimate mission. Let’s look at 4 of them pertaining to G+ as a social platform, leading to better search.
“3. Fast is better than slow. We know your time is valuable, so when you’re seeking an answer on the web you want it right away - and we aim to please”
Search Plus Your World (SPYW) is a personalized search that garnishes custom-tailored search results depending on your engagement on Google+. Benefits of SPYW are just half of the story about how Google+ makes search faster. I personally like the second half of the story even better. Google brought to life a social platform where people answer difficult questions faster and more reliably than traditional search.
The other day, I asked a question about Google+’s mission in The G+ Resource community. Sure enough, I received an answer within 5 minutes from Thomas Morffew. I know I could not have done better Googling this answer because I did so before asking. Social search, eh?
“4. Democracy on the web works. Google search works because it relies on the millions of individuals posting links on websites to help determine which other sites offer content of value”
The democratic web of today relies on webmasters. The democratic web of tomorrow will rely on all socially connected people. In his book, Eric Schmidt says: “Within search results, information tied to verified profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification.” Schmidt is talking about the future of establishing and measuring topical authority with the use of Authorship and Author Rank.
“7. There is always more information out there. Once we indexed more of the HTML pages on the internet than any other search service, our engineers turned their attention to information that was not readily accessible.”
Through the benefits of Authorship that Google+ offers, we are seduced to share our expert thoughts in social posts and conversations. These thoughts are the information that would not be otherwise readily accessible to the entire world. On Google Plus, people share and discuss, test and theorize, argue and come to conclusions on virtually any subject.
“8. The need for information crosses all borders. Our company was founded in California, but our mission is to facilitate access to information for the entire world, and in every language”
Google+, a multilingual and global social platform, comes into play nicely with its international community of passionate people and elaborate conversations. As of today, Google+ is the only major-league US based social network not yet blocked in mainland China.
At Facebook, we’re inspired by technologies that have revolutionized how people spread and consume information. We often talk about inventions like the printing press and the television … they gave more people a voice. They encouraged progress. They changed the way society was organized. They brought us closer together.
There is no doubt for me that at Facebook they understand the importance of serving relevant information to users. Nor do I doubt they are having bigger issues doing just that when compared to search engines. Why? Their approach to relevancy is different.
For ages, there existed two modes of retrieving information - active and passive. Active information retrieval required the query. Libraries, directories and search engines serve people who have a query in mind. Passive retrieval is exactly that - there is no query in the searcher’s mind. Printing press, radio, TV, random conversations, storytelling - all serve the passive ‘searcher’. Passive channels have been struggling to stay relevant to their audience for ages. Facebook is in the same boat, but on a larger scale. It is a passive retrieval channel that needs to keep peer-to-peer sharing relevant.
“We think the world’s information should resemble the social graph - a network built from the bottom up or peer-to peer ... we have helped more than 800 million [1.2B as of recently] people map out more than 100 billion [1 trillion in latest reports] connections so far, and our goal is to help this rewiring accelerate”
It is obvious to me that socially-connected people bring at least one major benefit and at least one major challenge. The benefit is that we gain access to more information than ever before. The challenge is making it relevant. The good news is that Facebook is working on both - getting more people and businesses connected, and making your stream more interesting and relevant.
“We are excited to be able to keep making [Graph] search more useful, fun and central to how you explore existing connections and make new ones on Facebook” Under the Hood Blog
The ultimate goal behind Graph Search is to accelerate rewiring, and to make your existing connections more relevant. As to making your stream even more appealing, Facebook designed EdgeRank and is also working on Facebook Home (previously rumored as Facebook Phone), Newsfeed and Timeline.
Out of the 10 things Google knows to be true, 3 are about user experience and continuous perfection.
“1. Focus on the user and all else will follow. Since the beginning we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible … When we build new tools and applications, we believe they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.”
“2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well. Through continued iteration on difficult problems, we’ve been able to solve complex issues and provide continuous improvements to a service that already makes finding information a fast and seamless experience for millions of people. Our dedication to improving search helps us apply what we’ve learned to new products ...”
“10. Great just isn’t good enough. We see being great at something as a starting point, not an end point. We set ourselves goals we know we can’t reach yet … Through innovation and iteration, we aim to take things that work well and improve upon them in unexpected ways”
Vic Gundotra - VP, Engineering at Google - was recently interviewed about Google+ project by Social Direkte. In this interview, he further reinforced the validity and the high value of these 3 points in this large-scale project: "In many cases, the breakthroughs that we are going to have in the next couple of years in social and mobile, and local is going to be about which company can make it simple and make the technology disappear and just let the magic come through."
It’s true, Google has been focusing on our experiences in each of their products - search, Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, Android, Docs - just to mention a few. However, the number of Google’s offerings grew and grew and grew. They grew to a point where usability of Google as a whole became absolutely viable and necessary, but difficult for the regular user. There are so many products and features that hardly any user knows them all. Now is the time to fix this large-scale user experience issue that Google acquired over the years. Therefore, Google+ comes with a mission of its own where one area of focus is to make Google universally usable and people-oriented:
To bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to the web, and making all of Google better by including people, their relationships and their interests.
In addition to making all of Google better, G+ is destined to improve upon our social media experience through interesting offerings like Google Hangouts and Google Glass. It is a very complex task to make search, tons of apps and social interaction all work together seamlessly, and be a lifelike experience. It may take years for Google to complete this project, and Vic Gundotra recognizes this in his interview. However, one thing is certain for me. Despite the complexity and scale of this project, Google+ is being done really, really well. G+ is already making technology disappear and letting the magic come through!
Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iterations. Hackers believe that something can always be better and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it.
Facebook’s approach to creating long-term value through continuous improvement and iterations is common among tech companies specializing in web services. But enormous risk taking is what makes Facebook different.
In his letter to investors, Mark Zuckerberg lists five core values that guide Facebook’s Hacker culture: Focus on Impact; Move Fast; Be Bold; Be Open; Build Social Value. Notice how 3 out of these 5 core values are about risk taking. No doubt, people at Facebook have building social tools as their #1 priority. They are passionate about innovation and continuous improvement. But the hacker culture also asks of employees to keep testing boundaries of the impossible and to keep achieving at a very fast pace.
At Facebook, they also spend a lot of time testing, discussing and improving user experience. Products seem to be carefully planned and tested by various user groups. Employees are being open about the challenges they face and the achievements they make on the Facebook Engineering page. Everything seems to be in place to ensure great experience. But there is something that helps create all this negativity surrounding Facebook:
We have the words ‘Done is better than perfect’ painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping. … We have a saying: ‘Move fast and break things.’ The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.
Yes, at Facebook they care about the long-term value of their product. But it seems to me they care about it to a point where they neglect the short-term value of it. Being a social company, Facebook lacks the perfectionism necessary to create a great social brand. As they are now, Facebook is likely to be criticized for many moves they make and still remain a social media giant. In AJ Kohn’s article about Facebook's destiny, the social media platform “won’t die, and it won’t own the Web, it’ll just be… mediocre”. Somehow, Facebook’s story reminds me of Microsoft - great visionaries but mediocre execution.
This is not something that bothers me much personally. In reality, Facebook does not have to be perfect. They just need to keep shipping and go for the masses. And for as long as Facebook is a home for 1.2 Billion connected people, it will present great opportunities for savvy marketers and brands.
Google’s stock is structured in such a way that Larry Page and Sergey Brin own 56% of the voting rights at Google. Only in the case of disagreement between the two, the remaining 44% become valid voting power of which Eric Schmidt owns around a quarter. This system resembles democracy where Sergey Brin and Larry Page are the two major parties in collusion. Sure, it may ultimately serve interests of the two. But more likely than that, this voting structure allows the top visionaries to pursue their joint interests and goals within and beyond the realm of search.
Work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun ... our atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge in the cafe line, at a meeting or at the gym, they are traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed ...
Google’s collusive democracy also translates into creative fusion and respect for employees and customers. People at the company do not “create” 9 to 5. Ideas may spark anywhere and at any time. Creativity and talent are paramount in the course of product development. An environment that fosters creativity and retains talent at Google is the key to making challenge fun. Even if Google’s CEOs fly corporate jets, the company’s employees are treated with respect, and clients get great product experiences.
“Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission - to make the world more open and connected. … Hacker culture is extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should win - not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.”
In essence, the unique proposition of Zuckerberg’s band is nothing short of Kant’s Anarchy - “law and freedom without violence”. While the majority of the corporate world is stuck in political battles, Facebook is experimenting with the rule of ideas through its Hacker Culture.
Hackathons - monthly prototyping marathons - encourage development of new ideas. Hackamonth - a yearly month-long event in the life of each employee - allows people at Facebook to choose a new idea to work on. Bootcamps - where newly hired managers and engineers experience Facebook in a hands on approach - provides an understanding of the challenges their teams face and the tools they use to make things happen.
“As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have impact on the world and learn from other great people.”
Facebook’s entire culture is focused on impact. Hackers strive to achieve results and efficiently through prototyping and risk taking. Ideas, not management, govern the company. Building this kind of culture is probably the boldest move and the second biggest idea behind Facebook.
Seemingly, this culture hurts company’s relationships with investors and clients. But because Zuckerberg owns 57% of the voting power at Facebook, big ideas are still governing the company’s course of development.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. True, this is another reason why Facebook is earning all this negative evangelism. However, this system is opening new horizons in corporate governance and allowing the company to keep its focus on impact rather than investor relationships.
“6. You can make money without doing evil. The revenue we generate is derived from offering search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on our site and other sites across the web … we firmly believe that ads can provide useful information if, and only if, they are relevant to what you wish to find”
Google has been a long advocate of relevancy in advertisement. Vic Gundotra, when asked about ads on Google+, specifically mentioned that relevancy is a factor and that ads are not coming to Google Plus in a “foreseeable future”. People enjoy the ad-free environment on Google+ and many believe Google will keep G+ this way for a very long time. In particular, +Mark Traphagen is a big believer in and an advocate of an ad-free social platform, where Google+ is already monetized externally through AdWords.
It is obvious that Google can indeed afford to keep its social network monetized indirectly for now and that is a planned advantage over competitors. Time will tell if Google can indeed sustain ad-free social experience indefinitely. I personally would not be surprised to see ads on Google+ in the distant future. What is important then is that there is a dataset and mechanism in place allowing for and favoring highly relevant ads.
From the beginning, the people who founded Facebook wanted it to be free for everyone. Showing ads is how Facebook continues to support its growth and development. http://newsroom.fb.com/Advertising
Sure, Ads are a product that causes the frustration of many and hurts Facebook’s brand. Reasons like intrusive experience, privacy concerns, ineffectiveness, irrelevance and deliberate corruption of organic exposure are cited by bloggers, journalists, users and marketers. But Facebook is a business and ads are what ultimately allow them to continue providing free social services. Facebook is not so fortunate to have its network sponsored by external ad revenue.
As time goes by, many of the existing concerns about Facebook Ads might evaporate. Today, we hear many stories of failed campaigns on Facebook. In 3 to 5 years, those who embraced EdgeRank and the best of Facebook Ads, will finally start sharing their success stories with the public. This is when I believe we’ll start seeing a lot more positive feedback about marketing on Facebook in general.
The important thing to understand is that Facebook does seem to care about delivering long-term social value. A fact I found interesting is that Facebook’s net income in 2012 was only 32M on a 5 Billion revenue. That means FB spent 99.4% of its ad revenue on operations and development of their products. That makes it obvious to me that their social mission comes before short-term financial interests.
By looking at the vision behind Google+ and Facebook, it became obvious to me that the two companies see the world through different prisms. What I found interesting is that each company’s name explains precisely their perspective on social interaction.
Facebook came as the name for an online yearbook that would help students stay connected. Obviously, the company made it far beyond its original concept of an online yearbook. Today, Facebook is the world’s biggest social media platform. However, the idea stayed the same - to make the world more open by connecting people who know each other in real life and letting them share.
Google+ is not just another Google’s product or social media outlet. Google Plus is a whole new convolution of Google. Google+ is here to “make all of Google better” - better search, better collaboration, better user experience. By including people who already use the company’s products, Google is also hoping to improve our social media experience through better and more lifelike means of sharing. Google + is a social and collaborative layer (as denominated by the ‘+’ sign) for the entire universe of Google.
There is just no reason for marketers to ignore one or the other social platform. Both social services have enormous user bases and are used world-wide. Both present unique long-term opportunities for brands. Those who can embrace the best of both worlds will win big.
In the next article in this series, we are discussing Facebook vs Google+ in terms of significant differences in their products.