Google+, the next Facebook?

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You have all heard the news that Google is once again entering the social space, this time with an offering called Google+. It’s not the first time. Google’s Orkut social network is a great success — in Brazil. Google Buzz bombed. There was the collaborative system Wave … we waved goodbye to that. You can almost taste the urgency — Facebook is taking over people’s time online and a lot of ad dollars and this is a threat to Google.

But this is the first social launch since Larry Page took over as CEO and declared that social was a major battleground.

Google+ is based around the idea of circles. A circle is a group of friends. Circles can upload and share content, update each other, even participate in a little group texting.

Google is, of course, starting from the relationships it has. Specifically, Google IDs and knowledge that comes from Gmail. It seems obvious that Google Groups will be part of this as well.

Google has finally figured out that an all-out frontal assault on Facebook will always fail. Facebook just has too much of an embedded user base. As Charlene Li has pointed out, Google+ attempts to fix a problem that many have with Facebook — they accumulate 800 friends and then realize they don’t want to share everything with everyone. In other words, it fixes one of the big privacy problems.
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But if people were really all that upset with the privacy problem they would have left already. (Recent reports of “Facebook Fatigue” notwithstanding, there is no mass exodus happening.) People are putting up with it. It’s like a bad habit — you know it’s a problem, but inertia keeps you from leaving.

What will happen? Facebook’s traffic will not suffer. People will keep using Facebook. But when you have a tight little group, you may find Google+ to be just right for sharing with that group. So I think Google+ will catch on with lots of groups — Boy Scout troops, book groups, college cliques, that kind of thing. It may build a nice niche out of these groups, and extend the value of Google Groups in general. It will get people to spend more time on Google.

But it won’t replace or even dent Facebook any time soon.

What does this mean for marketers? First, you should keep a close eye on this, and consider advertising on it to the groups that matter to you. If Google+ makes it easy for companies to create brand groups, that’s worth a look.

Apple “Pings” Facebook With ITunes-Based Social Network

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Even Apple, which lives in a bubble of its own device-centered success, can’t resist the lure of social networking. Today, CEO Steve Jobs formally thrust the company into the social-media fray with an iTunes-based network, Ping.

Why would Apple want to get into social networking?

It’s where consumers are spending most of their internet time, and Apple has millions of iTunes customers as an instant revenue stream. “We think this will be really popular very fast because 160 million people can switch it on today,” Mr. Jobs said during his keynote, where he also announced a version of iOS 4 for the iPad and a new $99 version of AppleTV, with 99-cent TV and $4.99 movie rentals.

But the creation of Ping thrusts Apple into an entirely new market, one dominated today by Facebook, with Google on the outside and peering in eagerly. Jobs said Ping will have all the social-networking features we have come to expect, such as friends, photo and video sharing, and of course privacy gradations. But the biggest angle for Ping is the way it’s centered around sharing and shopping for music. With the latest software update, every single user of iTunes — those 160 million customers — could turn on Ping today.

“The ambition for Ping is not to compete with Twitter and Facebook; they just want you to buy more,” said Forrester analyst James McQuivey. “Even if the existing customers buy just one or two more tracks a month because their friends recommended them, Ping is a huge success for Apple.”

Because customers are buying, and Apple isn’t dependent on ad revenue, the tech company is not as concerned as Facebook and Google with how much time consumers spend on the service. “Because Facebook’s revenue stream is based on advertising, the measure of success is the length of time users remain in Facebook,” McQuivey said. “But Ping’s revenue stream is iTunes, not advertising.”

Built into Ping’s features — among them what you would expect, such as what your friends are listening to, where your favorite musicians are performing — are many “Buy” buttons. This purchase feature is already at least one step ahead of Facebook, which has a fledgling Facebook Marketplace that has not shown much movement. Facebook sells Facebook credits for use in the Marketplace and games, but compared with iTunes, that revenue is spare change.

MySpace has used music discovery and its network of music fans and artists as its last bulwark against obsolescence. If, as Mr. Jobs hopes, artists begin congregating on Ping, it could accelerate MySpace’s decline. Mr. McQuivey says he sees new artist discovery beginning on YouTube, then going on to iTunes or Amazon, bypassing MySpace altogether. For artists that don’t have music videos, they or their fans tend to upload songs to YouTube along with static images. In this sequence of discovery, Ping is more of a competitor to YouTube.

Privacy could also be an issue for Ping, given that Apple has some pretty sensitive information on iTunes customers, including credit-card information, past purchases and, well, what’s on their iPods and iPhones.

Because many users will have already shopped on iTunes before, Ping can be much more direct and honest that it will use this purchase information to try to sell them more product. With the Genius feature, iTunes has already been suggesting music purchases based on users’ music libraries.

Will MySpace Lose Their Space?

MySpace is seemingly Lost In Space. They have been losing users at an alarming rate.
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To MySpace’s credit, they listened and have introduced new user features (Profile 2.0), revised their music section, and launched a “connect” feature. They also ousted their CEO to bring in former Facebook exec, Owen Van Natta.
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Additionally, MySpace is offering a Beta version of ”MySpace Local” which provides some of the functionality of Twitter, like; “Where can I get a great Tuna Sandwich in Kansas City?”

To be honest, other than the music search on MySpace, it’s always been a miss for me.

And the music section, until lately, wasn’t the best: if you sifted through enough dreck, you could find a rare gem. The newly revamped music features on MySpace are far better than what they had, and leagues beyond anything Facebook has to offer.

Yet is it too little, too late? Should MySpace have made these changes mid-year 2008 when they knew Facebook was closing the gap? Facebook overtook MySpace as the largest Social Network in existence this year, and it’s not showing signs of slowing down. (My mother, in her 80s, recently added a Facebook account to keep up with the “grand kids”) So, Facebook’s growth, in addition to the growth rate of Twitter (1300% from 2008 to 2009) leaves MySpace with difficult challenges to overcome.

It’s doubtful in the near term, but it will depend on Van Natta’s leadership, innovation, and speed. MySpace will also need to rollout “MySpace II” carefully, not losing current users while regaining previous members.

The other huge benefit for MySpace: it’s owned by NewsCorp, the same company that owns Fox News, along with the WS Journal and NY Post. With that kind of breaking-news potential backing the site, it’s possible that MySpace may emerge as a pseudo-combination of Digg and Facebook, with an awesome music application, online dating services, and the Twitter-like MySpace Local application.

Another hurdle for MySpace to overcome is the “ghetto” feel when compared to Facebook. Facebook is branded thoroughly on every page of the site whereas MySpace has multiple skins that can be utilized; some from third party vendors that lead to pages not to loading correctly or causing your browser to hang.

Additionally, MySpace is not positioned like Facebook in regard to the “employment” factor. Facebook is setup to “brand” yourself to potential employers…which means that users tend to keep it clean of profanity in the headings, as well as use actual names rather than online IDs.

But, then again, maybe that is part of the MySpace charm. Facebook has experienced their share of problems; they’ve disenchanted some of their members with sweeping changes to their privacy policies (although later rescinded), and have changed the user interface, much to the chagrin of many. In fact, many demand that the “old” Facebook be brought back.

Finally, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg seems to be hold the future of the site solely in his hands, as evidenced by the mysterious departure of Chief Financial Officer, Gideon Yu. CFO Yu’s departure was the latest changing of the senior management ranks at Facebook, “whose employees and investors are anxious about Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s plans for the social-networking site.”

But, Facebook is out in front, leaving MySpace with the challenge of implenting changes quickly; not only to maintain their 130 million current members, but to also reel in former users that broke ranks. According to Nielsen, MySpace and Flixter were the only Social Networking platforms to lose users from 2008 to 2009.

Where is our beloved Xanga?

Look Out iTunes, MySpace Music Launches

Sony Pictures, McDonald’s, State Farm and Toyota have signed on as platinum sponsors of MySpace Music.
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The e-commerce venue is slated to launch in the next few weeks. It will be integrated with MySpace proper for some functionality, but can also be used as a standalone resource by those who are not members of the News Corp.-owned social network.
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I believe that MySpace Music will succeed because of the social filter on top of it, making the service more like an online community than simply a source for music.

Jeff Berman, president of sales and marketing drew a distinction between the site’s relationship with the music labels Sony BMG, Universal and Warner and the new sponsors. “We haven’t made just a commercial deal with the labels, but a joint venture, so they are invested in our success,”

Berman said. Platinum sponsor brands, on the other hand, will be integrated into various MySpace Music programs. For example, McDonald’s will sponsor free music downloads and have a presence among the customized tools on the MySpace Personal Music Player.

The site will accommodate ad-sponsored unlimited live streaming of content, but downloading material to another device would typically require a fee.

State Farm’s brand will be visible throughout the site, gracing the music player and various playlists. The insurer will probably integrate its MySpace Music affiliation with its own content offering, NowWhat.com.

Toyota plans to sponsor “Toyota Tuesdays,” supporting free music downloads and rotating its ads on the music player for the next year.

Sony Pictures is launching a campaign for the Oct. 3 release Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Whereas MySpace users can now only add a single song to their profiles for sharing, MySpace Music will allow them to create and post entire playlists. Sony will exploit that feature by skinning user lists with messages related to the movie. A MySpace Music homepage roadblock for the film is also planned.

MySpace Music will be marketed via the MySpace network of 76 million domestic and 122 million worldwide users and through some offline marketing as well.
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Content Marketing

An ad is a great way to encapsulate information into a tiny bite. Think of it as a appetizer. Done well it leaves the consumer wanting more. I think the main meal is content marketing: creating useful information for prospective buyers.

Content marketing is about providing something useful. A how to video on hanging up a picture sponsored by Black & Decker is content marketing. A blog post about five things we often forget when staying at a hotel sponsored by Priceline.com is content marketing.
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People seem to be more interested if a brand can have a relationship with their brand and teaching the consumer helps build a trust and a bond with more credibility than just a 30 second spot.

Infomercials however aren’t always content marketing. They often are a little too far into the fake-smiles-and-bobbing-head department of gee whiz testimonials. I am talking about useful information presented in a way that makes the receiver of that information feel they have been given a value.

There are many ways to do it for free or cheap. Blogs, video sites, pod casts and social networks are great places to share information and build interest about a product. These can be a great way to measure sentiment, drive awareness, and encourage conversation. Tie this to a marketing funnel and you’ve got the opportunity to convert people who respond to the information into more qualified leads and of course activate sales.