Soul of a Social Network

Unlike other hosting services where we can host our photos, music, data, or other things, hosting friends list ( on a social networks) is a bit different. Photos, Music, and Data are “objects”.  Friends are not objects. They are real people with emotions and thoughts. They can identify good from bad and have feelings about certain things or certain way of doing things. This makes hosting of friend list different than hosting any other “possessions”.

A social network not only has to provide competing services but also has to appear very genuine in its interaction with its users. It should give a perception of being an active “listener” and not causing “harm” to the social fabric. More importantly, it should not appear to be piling on the private information of people and profit from it. People, in general, understand that the Social Networking company has to make money to provide the service to them. But if they feel that the company is just bent upon extracting money off of their personal profiles, there would be a sense of disenchantment among the users.

Recent euphoria about G+ validates this theory. G+ seems to be more open than Facebook and for a large portion of users, it appears to be closer-to-heart than Facebook. It violates privacy almost as equally as Facebook does. But still people are happy to give it a pass. Difference being that G+ appears to be listening to what people are talking about. Hordes of Google Product managers + Engineers are openly soliciting feedback in public stream. I myself had a hangout experience with G+ product Managers where I shared my opinions and gave some inputs. Whether or not these suggestions are accepted is another thing…but atleast Google plus appears to be making an effort to be closer to people’s hearts. And thats what counts when you want to host their friends list and be a provider of their social fabric.

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Soft Power of Google

Last few weeks were very hectic in the Social Media world. Google came out with Google plus, and then the tech bloggers started evaluating it. Overall theme: Google+ beats Facebook in the Look & Feel as well as in the Features, but it will be a steep climb for Google to fetch users from Facebook.

I would put things in a different perspective. Its not that Google will win this contest…its that Facebook might (or will) loose it.  Advanced usability features of Google plus will make a difference, but the biggest difference will be made by Facebook’s shortcomings.

Soft Power: Google vs Facebook

Google wields a huge soft-power over its bigger Social Networking rival. Analyzing the sentiments in blogs and comments, it is quite evident that there is a general sense of “enjoyment” or “happiness” in the tech community. It appears that people just want someone to pose a challenge to Facebook’s increasing dominance.

Maybe it is Facebook’s blatant breach of Privacy, its apathy towards developers, its philosophy that users revolt but eventually concede to the changes. Or maybe its Facebook’s open PR attempt to malign Google. Maybe people are just awestruck or a little bit envious by the meteoric rise of Facebook. I can not pin-point exactly what it is that people do not like about Facebook but it is still (and will remain for a long time) the biggest Social Network in the world.

Maybe people did not have a choice..and now that they feel that there might be an alternative to Facebook, they feel overjoyed. Its kindof like the Arab spring where people are joyous that they have an option to get an alternative rather than listen to a dictatorial regime.

Its not that Google is everything good and Facebook is everything evil. Google also breaches on People’s privacy quite openly. But most people do not feel “happy” or “over-joyous” over the success of bing (search engine from Microsoft).

So why are people so happy about Google Plus and not about bing? Difference is Google’s soft-power that has a comforting and soothing effect on people. Something that Facebook and Microsoft do not have in their DNA.

Yahoo and its comeback

Yahoo is good at generating Content. In 90s it was a very good core competence to have but after the onset of social media (esp. blogs), generating content has become a commodity. Anyone can generate content…and thanks to Google and Twitter, this content can be searched/distributed by anyone across the globe. People do not have to go to big brands (like Yahoo) to find good content.

In this context, Yahoo’s core competence became irrelevant. It tried Search..then it tried Digg style ranking, and now a days it is trying to be social (with yahoo connect). My thoughts: For a company that is as big as Yahoo..these strategies will not be helpful. Remember…you can not beat them at their own games. What Yahoo needs to do is…play its own game and let people compete with it on its own turf. In business language: Develop a new core competence.

There is a general notion that “social/connection” is important. No doubt it is…but it is only as important as the content that is shared between the connections. So, in a view, “content” is more important than the “social”. Yahoo has a lot of content (its strength). What it needs to do is to find out a way so that the content can “connect” with the user. A lot of pattern learning, profile learning, and behavior analysis will be required for this. . To cite an example: Let us imagine a scenario where you go to the Yahoo site..and find stories breaking out (just like Twitter) that are very relevant to you. Will you not go to Yahoo again and again to see that? I will. And the best thing is that Yahoo has the resources to do that (another strength)

Yahoo, are you listening? I will love you for ever, if you are able to do that.

ciao~

 

Core Competency and the buzz

Every successful company has a “core competency” that gives it the assets to be unique, strong, and ahead of the curve to beat the competition. Top managers know that “Core competencies can not be copied”. But still, sometimes the buzz around CEOs creates such a big pressure that they overlook the basic rules.

Social Media is the buzzword for the past several years. With Facebook taking the Silicon Valley by storm, a lot of people have started believing that every company should either have “Social” in their products or they are out of touch.

Facebook

Core Competency: “Ability to connect users with each other in an informal way”

Twitter

Core Competency: “Ability to distribute/broadcast content/information”

Google

Core Competency: “Ability to find the meaning (context) of content/information”

Yahoo

Core Competency: “Ability to generate content/information”

All core competencies are good…but the business cycle makes importance of competencies go up and down with time. No matter what the business cycle is, the fundamental rule still holds: “Core competency can NOT be copied”. In layman’s terms: “You can not beat him in his own game”.

Let us see what these companies are doing now a days:

Facebook is pretty happy because the current buzz is “social”. They have to be careful because, with business cycle, the importance of their competency will change. Twitter also feels good, but somehow is being pulled into being “social”. Google is holding Search to its heart but is a bit disturbed by the “social” . I hope its not trying to copy Facebook’s core competency, else it will fail. Yahoo tried the “search”..and is now trying “social”..with no success.

So, what should the companies do?

Simple answer: Adhere to these 2 principles of Core Competencies:

1. Do not make a mistake and loose your own core competency. Remember, others can not beat you..but you can still loose (if you mess up).

2. Develop other (new) core competencies that are currently non-existent in the industry. Simply said: “Think beyond social”

Ciao~

After Facebook

Why do I want 400 friends in Facebook and hundreds of followers on Twitter?

Facebook wall is “cluttered” with messages that make less sense every passing day. My friends’ list contains 90% acquaintances and maybe 10% friends. The probability of me reading the content on my wall is dependent on the “quality” of the content…not the person. So, its fair to say that the quality of content is more important that the person himself/herself.

Now the question is: If content-quality is more important…then why can’t I see feed from others who are not in my “friends list” but who are still posting good quality material on Facebook. I dont care where that content comes from as long as it “connects” with me. So… what I want is the “intelligent” content that “knows” what I like.

Next question: How do we do that?

Facebook does not do that and will not do that because it goes against its core principle. Maybe I should be able to “follow” a content..or be friends with the content..rather than the person. Maybe a new company/product is required that can understand my profile and stream relevant content to me. I should have the ability to block each piece of content (or rate it). My feedback will make the system smarter. It is a circular loop.

And yes…this product should not start collecting friends. Leave that task to Facebook.

Google…are you listening?

ciao~

Facebook and Marketing

This is a short brief about how the marketing fits into Facebook’s Internet:

Direct Marketing
============

As of now, Facebook Ad Manager (dominant revenue generator) is less than optimal in its performance (as compared to the Google AdWords). Yes, the company is relatively new and with time its products will get better…but I have my reservation on that. Here is the reason why:

– Facebook ads are limited by the parameters defined by the users in their profile. As an advertiser, I do not have a lot of flexibility to tweak my parameters to get better result.

– Yes, I can target the audience by their age, location etc etc…but for me as a marketer, this much is not enough. Also, there are a lot of people on Facebook who just love to “like” things. For them its a game. Somehow Google has managed to keep its “clicks” very relevant. Facebook has its work cut out in that field.

– Direct Marketing is primarily run by ROI. If I am spending a $, I want some output from that. As a marketer, as of now, I rely more on Google to get useful leads than on Facebook.

Branding
=======

Some people might argue that this is not Direct Marketing…but the branding that will bring chunk of revenue to Facebook. But I have my doubts over the effectiveness of Facebook even for Branding. Here are some small notes:

Interaction with the users and brands happen on Brand’s fan pages. Brands invite users to their fan pages using interesting campaigns and events. People “Like” their page and woooow…it flows into the stream. That is very very viral. Brands love it. Now the user starts getting updates/feed from the Fan page on his/her own profile page. This is a brand manager’s dream come true: Constant Interaction with the target customers.

This is where the situation becomes tricky. There is a very limited space on the profile page of the users. And the constant running stream is getting more and more complicated every day. To make things worse, many users have 100s of friends and 100s of fan pages. You can imagine the amount of activity being generated on their profile pages. In this much noise, brands again go back to the same problem of being buried in the constant noise around users. Yes, they can broadcast their message constantly…but in this situation there is a fear that the user might “block” them or “remove” them from their streams.

Solution
=======

So, what should Facebook do so that it can provide a good solution to companies so that they can use it as an effective branding platform?

Here are some tips:

1. Make the stream on Users wall much more useful to the user. (Yes, that means intelligent filtering, blocking, positioning, and targeting of the content on users’ wall).

2. Use Intelligent ways to limit users from adding hundreds or thousands of friends. Also use some methods so that people do not “like” a fan page just for the heck of clicking it. Now these 2 points might sound counter-intuitive, but in long haul, they will be required to have a good experience for the users as well as brands. Remember Myspace and its doom? Some control on he content (either creation or positioning or targeting) is required for a good long term experience.

3. Give more tools to brands so that they can target customers not only just by their basic profile info..but also by their behavior. There might be a big opposition for this from the community, but we know that Facebook can get past that with little trouble.

4. Create new avenues where the user and brand interaction will take place. In Goggle’s context, it was the display partners (publishers who display google’s ads). Facebook can do something like this by saying that the users can take their stream anywhere they want to. Now..that would be something new. Also, publishers will demand some sort of control over the content being shown on their pages. Its going to be interesting, but it surely can be done.

There could be some more items….which we can discuss at a later time.

ciao~