Google+ and what Facebook, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods have in common


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I follow tennis and golf actively. These are two sports I’ve played throughout my life, and it’s amazing how good professionals are. They play a game that amateurs can never fully appreciate.

Remember when Roger Federer was winning all those majors? He was the tennis world’s No. 1 player for a record 237 weeks and won 16 Grand Slam titles — eclipsing the record of 14 held by Pete Sampras. Many thought that record would never be broken.

Then came along Rafael Nadal from Spain, a clay court specialist who rapidly learned how to win on all courts. With 10 “slams” at age 25, he could one day break Federer’s record.

But wait, now there’s this Serbian named Novak Djokovic who recently became No. 1. He won 41 straight matches from the start of 2011, and beat Nadal at Wimbledon.

In golf, Tiger Woods had a long reign as No. 1. He won 14 majors and a couple of years ago everyone thought he was going to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. But after a scandal and injuries, plus competition from a new crop of no-fear professionals, Tiger is No. 20 in the world and dropping like a stone.

The point is this: At the time when sports leaders seem most invincible is when the decline is likely to start. The same is true in business. It’s extremely rare to see a company get to the top and stay there. Good to Great is just one chapter of the story. Good to Great to Gone is more common.

Facebook too big to fail? No.

In the social business world, Facebook has a seemingly insurmountable position. No other social network could possible unseat the industry leader, because it’s just so big. At the start of 2011 it was valued at $50 billion; just five months later some speculate Facebook’s valuation was approaching $100 Billion.

Well, now comes along Google+, and the early reviews have been excellent. So good, in fact, that I think it could eventually challenge Facebook.

Why? Because Facebook users aren’t all that happy with their experience. A recent ACSI E-Business Report found that Facebook scored at 66 — putting it in the bottom 6% of all companies measured, along with perennial bottom-dwellers like cable companies, most airlines and some utilities. Not exactly raving fans.

Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results (the firm that supports the ACSI and uses the methodology in its client work), says the social media market is “primed for a new player” for three reasons.

  1. Poor Facebook user experience
  2. Privacy and security issues
  3. Monetization strategy

In my view, these issues are related to satisfying investors. As investors have gotten more and more involved, Facebook has lost touch with its users. The goal to maximize advertising revenue is readily apparent in the ongoing privacy debacle. Basically, Facebook wants everything to be public, and users can’t trust Facebook to look out for their interests. Instead, they are being served up to advertisers every which way possible.

Who do you trust?

Eventually, excessive marketing will kill the Facebook user experience and users will seek a service they can trust. Like, perhaps, Google+. It’s a brand new service (about 3 weeks old as this gets posted), but already has 10 million subscribers and an amazing amount of positive buzz from social media thought leaders. Some of the same influentials that used to rave about Facebook and Twitter are putting their energy into Google+.

Like Robert Scoble, who already has 65K followers in his “circles” — a flexible way to organize your relationships, both business and personal.

For a good review of G+ with links to other commentary, read What Your Business Needs To Know About Google+ by Jesse Noyes, who sums up this way:

The user experience is clean and crisp. It also provides greater segmentation to users. By dragging and dropping other users into Circles, you can self-select who can access the content you post. For instance, I have an Old Colleagues circle and an Eloqua circle. I can tailor any post only to be seen by past co-workers or my current colleagues.

Of course, Google doesn’t exactly have a good track record in social media (remember Google Buzz and Wave?). But Google’s ACSI ranking is a sterling 83, and it appears to be learning from its mistakes. Facebook? Not so much.

By and large Google has earned a more trustworthy reputation over the years than Facebook. That’s why I’m glad that Google+ is here. That’s where I’ll be building my social networks in the future. How about you?


  1. Bob –

    You make extremely pivotal points here, with lessons for every marketer. The key, and essential, words used in your blog are trust, reputation, and experience – for all stakeholder groups (customers, prospective customers, employees, investors and the financial community, suppliers, etc). Embedding these elements into the stakeholder journey, and into the DNA of the enterprise, helps assure its health, whether the product/service is online or offline. Failure to do so, or to sustain and nurture them once developed, means that the enterprise is always vulnerable to newer, smarter players.

    Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC
    Executive Vice President
    Market Probe

  2. Maybe I gave Google too much credit on the “trust” issue.

    Google+ has a policy that users using common names but its enforcement has stirred up some ill will.

    In Google Plus Deleting Accounts En Masse: No Clear Answers, read about how some users have had their accounts de-activated without any explanation or notice.

    Learn more about this issue in this thread started by “Sai” who has one of those real names that didn’t (according to Google) seem real enough. Sai’s account was taken down, then restored later after he proved it was his full/legal name.

    Robert Scoble tracked down a Google VP for an explanation that is worth reading. He concludes:

    After running through his reasoning, mostly to have a nicer, more personal, community, I feel even stronger that Google is on the right track here even though I feel they weren’t fair or smart in how they spun up these new rules, but Vic convinced me to hang in there and watch their decisions over the next few weeks.

    It seems that Google’s intentions were good, because fake names cause a number of problems in the social world. But Google’s execution leaves much to be desired.

    Now I’m sitting here wondering — should I invest time building a Google+ profile and posting content when some autobot at Google can de-activate my account without any notice to me?

    Google, please put Pogo’s quote on the walls of the GooglePlex: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  3. According to a July 25 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Google+ got 20M “visitors” (I think the writer meant active users) in the first 3 weeks after launch. Another unofficial report says G+ has 25M members.

    No mention of the “real names” controversy though.

    Here’s one reminder that success is not permanent:

    Facebook may have a big lead now, but the two has-been kings of social networking – Friendster and Myspace – are reminders that there’s no such thing as invincibility in the world of technology.

    “People used to be on Myspace chatting all day, updating their pages,” said Hamadeh. “And before that, people were on Friendster nonstop. Before you knew it, the winds had shifted and once the winds shift, they shift very quickly.”

    Read the complete article here.

  4. Well, it seems Google is listening…

    Here’s an update that discusses Google’s new and more commonsense approaches to give users notice of a potential violation and deal with unusual names.

  5. I talked with Michael Wu, Chief Scientist at Lithium about what’s going on in the social media market.

    Wu is a trained academic with a Ph.D from UC Berkeley who has studied how the brain processes visual information. These days at Lithium he studies social systems, which he says has some similarity to the neurons in the brain.

    He says that Facebook’s success can be traced back to its origins supporting a real-world community — the university campus. MySpace (and Friendster) largely did not leverage a community.

    This is an interesting way of looking at social networks. They don’t exist independently, they amplify real communities that already exist around family, interests, or work.

    As to Google+, Wu says it could grow faster than Facebook but relationships may be less relevant (“weaker” ties) because bi-directional consent is not required. Facebook (and LinkedIn) relationships require both parties to agree to a connection before it is active.

    Google will have to deal with the “signal to noise” ratio, a side effect of these weaker relationships. Google’s real names policy may help reduce the number of spammers and keep the noise down, but its unidirectional design will probably lead it to more like Twitter than Facebook or LinkedIn.

    So Google+ is off to a good start and has attracted vocal early adopters. But if quality is not managed, G+ users could start to complain about the “noise” much like they do about Twitter.

    It’s interesting that virtual social networks must work like real ones. Just collecting a bunch of business cards at a meeting doesn’t mean you have meaningful relationships. Communities are the foundations of strong relationships, which networks can then support over time.

    Wu notes that it will be hard for people to shift all their friends off of Facebook. I agree with that, but also remember a time with AOL was so dominant that no one could imagine an alternative.

  6. Hello Bob,

    Thank you for the conversation.

    I like to add a little background to give our conversation a little more context. Basically it is the background knowledge from social anthropology. Community and Social networks are two very robust overlapping social structures throughout human history, and they have different and complementary roles with respect to human relationships. In short, community builds relationship and social network maintains relationships.

    If you like to explore this area in greater depth, feel free to check out my mini-series on Cyber Anthropology:

    With that in mind, social networks are not great for building relationships, but they are great for connecting people where relationship already exist and are built in some community. Facebook leverage the pre-existing relationships on campus. Linkedin leveraged the pre-existing profession/business relationships in companies and industry. That is one of the many reasons why they were more successful than other social networks.

    I hope this adds a little more context to some of the points made in the conversation.

    Michael Wu PhD


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