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July 6, 2011

Google+ and Facebook Face Off in the Battle of the Social Brand

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In a survey conducted by Mashable today, respondents are asked to vote for their favored video chat from the past weeks’ major announcements: Google+ Hangouts (Warning: NYT link. Prepare to deduct an article from your monthly allowance or do your own search for more info on the product) or Facebook Video Chat.

Mashable poll Google+ Hangouts vs. Facebook chat

Seems straight-forward enough, until you recognize that the Mashable readership participating in the survey are mostly tech-heads who’ve spent the last week testing Hangouts and have spent exactly how much time using video chat on Facebook since it was announced 7 hours ago?

The debate over which social service will win out is far from settled. It wasn’t long ago that Google was the one getting side-long glances from tech critics pointing to Facebook’s corner on the social space. It was this point that the Facebook team hammered home during today’s announcement. As my friend Philip who rocked the flat top explained during his presentation:

“Remember what we did here and especially focus on how did that feel? Can you believe that your least technical friend can actually get online and connected with someone else? […] Absolutely. No separate accounts. No separate websites to go to. The download is small and easy. One button click to any online friend on a social network that already has all your friends.

Differences In Their Debuts

Facebook livestream announcement screenshot

Here’s one more comparison I’d like to make as far as Google and Facebook’s faceoff. Each took a very different tack in announcing their products and making them publicly available.

Google+’s invite system was shut down within a day or so due to the now infamous “insane demand”. It was a well-orchestrated maneuver that increased interest in the service via manipulated scarcity. On the other end of the spectrum, Facebook’s rolling out their new features to everyone today. And therein lies a major difference between the brands.

Google hopes to manufacture exclusivity and thereby coolness.

Facebook tells everyone to come to the party and hopes that you’ll spread the word.

These different methods of creating buzz, interest and, hopefully, adoption, both adhere to the findings of recent research that suggest the driving force behind social media is emotional arousal, be it positive or negative. People need to be excited, in some way, any way, in order to interact and share. Of course, there’s also a flip side to these approaches.

In the danger zone, the elite-factor of Google+ that might now be promoting excitement among users has the potential to drag it down. With access limited, many users are finding reasons to share photos and comments and convos likewise limited.

Meanwhile, in eagerness, Facebook may have showed up to the party too soon. In covering this afternoon’s event, Greg Sterling felt a nervous energy and a subtext of Google+ that pervaded the announcement. I wouldn’t be surprised if the social platform rushed this roll out under pressure from Google+ and failed to get its communication plan in order, since no one I’ve talked to outside my tech circles noticed anything different about Facebook as of this afternoon. [As Danny said, obviously the product’s been in the works but the announcement itself feels premature and slapdash. Or maybe that’s just because the Zuck is an awful presenter. ─Susan]

At the very least, this revived push for social supremacy has got the Internet marketing and tech industries rethinking old presumptions. For the longest time, Google watchers were dumbfounded by the search giant’s insistence in entering the social space. I watched Buzz and Wave roll by, wondering why Google thought they had to have a horse in the social race. Search was what Google was good at; it didn’t have to be social, and by chasing after social it was in danger of watering down its search core.

However, it’s now clear that search and social are becoming inseparable. Google hasn’t been looking to topple Facebook, per se. Google needs to be in social because the social graph is a significant part of the web’s info architecture that can’t be overlooked by any search platform worth its salt. No surprise that profiles on Google’s social platform will be public and open to search, unlike Facebook’s walled garden.

According to early buzz and demand, it looks like early naysayers may be proven wrong about Google’s ability to compete in social. Maybe some naysayers are already among those who voted for Hangouts in Mashable’s poll. Maybe Google really can make a social product work. Or maybe things are about to get a whole lot chattier on Facebook. With Google and Facebook staring each other down squarely head-to-head, these next months will be interesting.

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7 responses to “Google+ and Facebook Face Off in the Battle of the Social Brand”

  1. Jeremiah writes:

    Hi Virginia,
    Great perspective. Its a lot to digest. Though like most in our field, my opinion is biased (way more of a Google groupie)
    The billion dollar question becomes can Google effectively wear both hats or is one too much to juggle?
    Though I believe social media is here to stay and Facebook’s numbers are undeniable, Google is far more complex than Facebook could ever be. If they want into social media, they will figure it out (though it could be a bumpy ride). FB came a long at the right time and has their respective dominance, but based on Google’s track record, do you really think they won’t figure out a way to create a more relevant experience that suits the whole purpose of social media? Super awesome perspective Virginia. Thanks :-)

  2. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Props on your insight, too, Jeremiah. :) I appreciate your posting it here and adding to my little offering of a much larger, Web-wide convo.

    I hesitate to jump on board the argument that if Google wants it bad enough they can figure out a social media experience that gains public favor. You can’t strong arm your way onto the cool kids table. Nevertheless, I think they’ve hit upon a winner – though no Facebook killer – that suits their interests just fine, and that’s getting their own piece of the social pie which they can incorporate in search.

  3. Jeremiah writes:

    Virgina,
    I love your analogy about strong arming your way onto the cool kids table. So true. I think media and financial analysts are turning this into far more of a rivalry than actually exist between the two. Though there is some bad blood there.
    Both companies are smart enough to understand their identities and how each relates to their business model. The only difference is Google realizes they can no longer remain inflexible about the influence social media has on search engine relevance. Not only is it the next logical move for Google, it could be taken as a defense strategy. Then FB announces their new real time video chat.
    Too often in sports you see a team jump off to a big lead only to play conservative down the stretch and ultimately lose the game. The question here is which team is playing to win and which team is playing not to lose?

    Thanks Virginia. You’re right on point. :-)

  4. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Dude, right on. Your last question really brings it home. Couldn’t agree more.

  5. Rajkumar writes:

    Virgina,

    Wonderful article from you, Hope Google will do this well. They would have learned a lesson from failure of orkut.Every things is good now, let see how this going to battle with Facebook,I came to know that Google never renewed their agreement with Facebook and twitter this year. May be Google + is the reason behind it

    Thanks
    RAJ

  6. Raman Singh writes:

    Google+ in indeed the best, none can beat it. With the launch of Google+, facebook has become like a moon in day light. Google+ is more improvised and updated. It’s A Combination of facebook and Twitter. Google+ has PLUS features than any other Social Brand.
    Facebook says: what’s this ++ ? Google+ ?
    Twitter: ++ means?
    Now when Dad answers;
    GOOGLE+: Dear Runner Ups, PLus means removing all the followers of twitter and facebook & PLUSSING them to GOOGLE.
    hahahhahah :D

    VIsit: http://www.redballoon.in

  7. Business Gifts writes:

    Google Plus has hangouts where people can video chat with multiple friends in one go! Facebook has yet to match this feature! Facebook only has been able to implement group chats but certainly not video chats with multiple users within one chat. Right now there are 750 million users on Facebook and they are happy to use Facebook services, whereas Google Plus is going to need to pull people off of Facebook, wean them off and convince them that Google plus has better features and functions that beat those on Facebook. That’s the only way they can get people to come and use their services rather than the big boy Facebook.



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