Can Google Ever Eclipse Facebook

I was watching a pretty amateurish item on the early morning BBC news programme yesterday about Google + and it’s attempt to use video chat a way to eclipse Facebook.

Of course, as in a great game of poker, Facebook saw Google + and raised the stakes with Skype.

So armed with the first, best and most well loved social network in the world and now the number one video chat tool in the world, Facebook and Microsoft would seem to have Google’s number.

And quite honestly I see no way past it for Google. I mean when we say Facebook we are talking about a way of life for many people. The first thing we check in the morning, last thing at night etc. has an emotional grip on us like nothing else and I don’t think Google can possibly loosen FB’s fingers from around our throats.

Surely, they are better off focusing on what they do better than anyone – search.

Google Panda is a wonderful step in thy direction. Making SEO a qualitative discipline as opposed to the boring scientific proceed it had become.

Stick to what you know.

Surely?

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I’m closely following the fortunes of my beloved Chicago Bulls in the NBA playoffs right now. They had the best overall record in the regular season and lost just two of the last twenty three regular season games.

So then to the play offs. In round one, in the best of seven series, they won 4-1. As I write they are leading Atlanta 3-2, with a road trip up next. Basically play off basketball is a different game. They’re finding the play offs tough. They’re not like the regular season at all – they sort out the greats from the regular players!

It gets tough in there! Elbows, arms, heads all clash and guys get hurt.

“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable’, as coach Tom Thibodeau said last night.

And as I heard him say this, I realised that this is just how brands need to think about facing up to social media.

The social web is a difficult place to be for brands. It’s inconvenient, transparent, random, seemingly out of control. It’s uncomfortable.

But you can’t not show up in the play offs and brands can’t choose not to play on the social web – it’s not their decision. Customers have made that one for them.

So how do you get comfortable? It’s not easy. Remember, winning on the social web doesn’t mean organisational change – it means changing the organisation. It means remaining focused, more than ever on listening to your customers – the right ones, engaging with them, being smart, being human.

Humanising your business mans play off time for many businesses, because the rewards are huge.

Who are the brands that can win in the play offs and go on to win the Championship?

Why Social is Something you ARE, not Something you DO

Converse, the leisure / fashion footwear brand currently has just under 16 million fans on Facebook. Its parent company and global behemoth, Nike, has just over 4 million.

I don’t have the turnover figures for the two brands to hand, nor do I know what their marketing budgets are, but I’ll bet my mortgage on the fact that the disparity between the two is reversed – and then some.

So, why does one win on Facebook and the other, relatively speaking seem to be struggling to attract the numbers that its market share would suggest it should have? Well, closer inspection shows the proliferation of the Nike pages – football, basketball etc., but the prime business for both brands is to sell shoes that are worn for leisure and recreation.

But by looking at both pages, you can quickly see that social media is looked upon by the Converse team as more than simply a channel to talk about themselves. Nike, seem to talk about Nike rather a lot.

I’ve maintained many times that social media is like a cocktail party. Guests arrive and talk and listen and engage naturally on a very human level. Spot the person who simply talks about themself and they’ll be the one with no friends at the end of the evening.

That’s why Converse’s plan to hold auditions in cities around the US for up and coming bands, demonstrates a crucial and yet so seemingly obvious point; that the people who love Converse, have more going on in their lives than wearing shoes. They are into music, fashion, movies etc etc and Converse engage with people on this level.

For British brands, particularly with that slightly stiff approach to communicating with customers, this change in the way people roll is a challenge. An inconvenient, awkward challenge that takes them out of their comfort zone. You can’t go to the cocktail party and then start dancing like a Dad at a wedding because you think it’s cool!

But you can listen to what your core customers are talking about on social media and do something with them in the same space.

I’m talking about humanising your business. Relating naturally to customers and not necessarily just on the familiar territory that you’ve occupied before – catalogue, page advertising etc, but on their patch – their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

In fact the marketing textbook term, ‘brand awareness’ reveals the current problem for some – but think about it the other way around. People want to know that brands are more than simply being ‘aware’ of them. They want brands to ‘see them’, ‘hear them’ and ‘talk to them’.

How can you socialise your brand? You could talk to us! The prizes for getting it right are magnificent.

[first posted on http://iainflovatt.com]

Service ≠ Subservience

So impressions of the UK since returning from the Windy City – rain, gray, rain, misery, rain, poor customer service, rain.

OK, so the rain is a given, but it’s the striking difference between the US and UK on customer service that has really struck me. Since being back for just over one month now I have been told by a waitress that she only has “one pair of hands”, been served by a girl in Halfords who said not one word to me, made no eye contact and dealt with my purchase with her feet resting on her desk the whole time and been made to feel plain stupid by London Underground staff, when my ticket wouldn’t let me through the barrier, by just staring at in me looking exasperated.

I was also lectured by a conductor in front of lots of other passengers because I had no ticket – reason being that the ticket machine on my station was vandalised and other travellers clearly had season tickets. That was nice at 6.30 in the morning. Thanks Capital Connect.

These experiences have been punctuated by one or two great ones, namely at the checkout in M&S, who remembered just what sandwich I’d bought a couple of days earlier!

But overall, the experience has been rotten.

I do get the impression that the people delivering this dire level of interaction (to call it service would be quite wrong), have a chip on their shoulder. It smells of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, perhaps borne out of the old British class system that was refreshingly missing in the US. Whilst there, not once did anyone ask me what school I’d gone to, or ‘what line of country’ my father was in!

So here’s the thing, the level of service I experienced and came to expect in the US I feel was a result of the absence of inverse snobbery. In fact there was a real respect for those providing service. I remember the first time I rode the train and hearing the passengers call the guard “Sir”. By the time I left I was doing the same. It was natural. Customers knew that their waiter wasn’t a servant, but a hugely important part of their experience.

And they tipped well!

As I’ve written many times before in this blog, social media now gives a louder voice to those who want to challenge the level of service they have received. Complaints online are amplified through social channels and provide the complainer with a barrier to hide behind that saves them from a real confrontation (something we Brits shudder at the thought of), meaning that their true feelings come out.

The enlightened companies are listening to these voices through the SMM tools such as SM2 or Radian 6, and are engaging with customers to turn things around, listening to the issues that people are facing and using this information to develop products and services into markets with greater confidence.

The adoption of these techniques combined with more of a focus on customer service generally – thank you (Mary Portas and Michel Roux), hopefully mean brands are upping their game in this crucial area.

To serve someone doesn’t mean being an inferior or subservient, but that you are sharing something about which you are passionate, whether that be a product, food or a ride on a train!

Nearly half of all Twitter users don’t read a word you say – that many?

Here’s an article I came across, bizarrely enough, on Twitter the other day. I’m not sure where the author has gathered the information, the source isn’t quoted, but it makes the claim that although the number of people subscribing to Twitter continues to grow inexorably, those who ‘use’ the site are relatively small in number.

The headline says is it all – Half Twitter users don’t read a word you say.

So what?

If you imagine that Twitter is another channel to push your message out to your audience, then of course that message will continue to be mistrusted. That’s not engagement. Remember, the key to winning on the social web is to listen and then to engage.

I continue to see company Facebook pages that don’t allow people to post messages. Is the expectation that people are just waiting to hear what they have to say like the sermon on the mount?

Twitter and Facebook can only really be called ‘social’ media if they facilitate conversations and discussions between brands and their customers and prospects. Those who follow a brand on Twitter are doing so for a variety of reasons, to wait for discounts, find out when the next store is opening etc etc. But more and more, these people are going to have questions. When is the next offer? When is the store opening in my neighbourhood? And they will ask these questions and expect answers – quickly. Those people will be listening to what you say becasue you’ll be saying it to them directly.

That’s the real power of social media.

 

The First Question

I read a wonderful blog post from Oliver Blanchard this week with a list of points on social media. It’s brilliance is that it states the ‘bleedin’ obvious’ as they say in the UK!

The first point is the clearest – “Social is something you are, not something you do.”

Of course! – This gets straight to the point I make to businesses at the earliest opportunity – accept that the world, and your role in it, has changed irrevocably.

So, the first question to ask of a business owner is not “do you ‘do’ social media? But “are you social?”

Does ‘Like’ Go Far Enough? – Rosa Parks’s Facebook Status

Someone I spoke to the other day made a the comment – “What would the Victorians or Tudors have made of social media?”

Got me thinking. And then I read this article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker – an eloquent condemnation of the notion that it’s social media tools that have empowered people to make real change. He sure has a point.

Martin Luther King didn’t need Twitter to mobilise a movement. He didn’t say “I have a mission statement”, and Rosa Parks didn’t post on Facebook “Rode the bus today – some people got a bit angry when I wouldn’t give up my seat. Let’s start a revolution. Please ‘Like’ this”.

In fact when you consider relatively recent historical events of say the last 200 years, it’s quite humbling to see what has been achieved, all without social networks.

Think, William Cobbet’s pamphlets opposing the Corn Laws and support for Catholic Emancipation. Think, the Great Reform Acts, the Suffragettes, the Chartists, the Levellers, the overthrow of Ceaucescu and the Poll Tax riots. All examples of people power and mass mobilisation. The power of word of mouth and engagement. “Come down to Kennington Common – bring a friend” probably wasn’t exactly how the Chartists organised themselves, but you get the idea.

And so are we any more different or more powerful than these people in history, now that we have Facebook and Twitter?

Well, as I wrote about this week, a movement of people have persuaded Gap to change their logo inside a week of launching a new one,  by mobilising quickly and effectively on social media and scaring the bejeezus out of a major brand.

But now doesn’t that sound lame?

The best we can do through these channels is to persuade a business to change its logo because we don’t like it. I’m not disparaging this event. In the history of business and commerce I think it’s a massive one. One that will be written about for years.

But where are the flashmobs organised on Twitter and Facebook to protest against the travesty that is  young carers having their childhoods taken from them as they have to perform the tasks that their handicapped parents are unable to carry out for example?

Have we lost sight of what really matters and of what social tools could really do to help raise awareness and mobilise action? Has the nature of these tools themselves actually isolated and numbed people from what’s really happening in the world?

What if people had clicked ‘Like’ on Rosa Parks’s Facebook status? Would they have left it at that and gone back to their lives?

I’m not sure. What do you think?