Facebook vs Google: What Will It Take To Win?

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(Originally posted on the Involver blog: http://blog.involver.com/2011/07/25/the-battle-between-facebook-google-what-will-it-take-to-win/

In past blog posts I’ve written about the challenges of figuring out when it’s right to cross the chasm and make the leap into unknown territory. Knowing when the right time is, can of course be a challenge. Jump too early to a new platform and you risk sinking precious resources into something that may never be adopted on a large scale. Wait too long and you miss the chance to reap the rewards that early adopters can earn by leading the pack. The astonishing number of indie musicians who still use MySpace profiles as their main website is proof of the danger of tying yourself too tightly to a single platform. Sure, it was hard for bands to leave a place where they had thousands of Friends for a place where no one Liked them yet, especially since Facebook doesn’t even offer a native music player! But times change and we have to change with them. Today Myspace is a ghost town and the musicians who failed to make the leap have watched their audiences evaporate. The only constant in our industry is change, as proven by the recent rollout of Google+. I’d like to talk a little bit about the impacts of this latest change and how I see the coming fight shaping up.

I believe the key factors in how the fight between Facebook and Microsoft on one side and Google on the other will play out are:

1. Audience Adoption
2. Audience Retention
3. Successful Monetization

Technical issues such as scaling and platform stability have obvious impacts on all three of these factors, and so does the mobile experience. Facebook has proven it’s ability to succeed in all three of these areas and is working very hard to close the technical advantages that Google currently holds. Facebook is a dynamic company with very intelligent people and they know full well this fight will not end in a truce. It would be foolish to count them out at this point.

At the same time, in the weeks since Google+ opened it’s virtual doors it’s become the fastest growing social network in history. Because it fully integrates with Google’s other products it has a significant advantage in terms of client retention as well. Add to that a mobile experience that is in every way superior to the one offered by Facebook’s mobile app and you have a powerful formula for success.

This leaves monetization – both direct advertising to consumers and the ability for advertisers to build their brand pages as the wildcard. After all, at the end of the day social networks are really about one thing – advertising and selling products and services to their members. Finding ways to do this which don’t turn off your audience are a constant challenge. I believe the ongoing fight over advertising dollars between search and social is the main reason Google decided to enter the social media arena. If they can beat Facebook at their own game, Google will have unprecedented power. If Facebook wins out their partnership with Microsoft’s Bing to supply social-assisted search, this will not do any favors for Google’s core search business. Both companies are literally fighting for their lives and we can expect them to fight hard.

As a developer, I’m paying particular attention to the branded pages environments on both platforms. Even with the arbitrary restrictions on custom content on mobile, Facebook’s iframe architecture results in an exciting platform that reaches hundreds of millions of people. Google+ is still in the early experimentation phase on this front and it remains to be seen how they’ll implement this functionality. We know it’s coming but no one knows what the final picture will be. If we’re lucky the mobile experience for branded pages will be as natural and easy an experience as the rest of the platform.

What we do know is that no matter which network wins, social marketers require tools that can be deployed quickly and easily and work just about anywhere. Whether it’s a major change within Facebook or a major change in social media like Google+, the key is to stay flexible and be prepared to shift tactics in a hurry. The market is changing – be prepared to change with it.