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Summary: Facebook’s understanding of what strikes an emotional chord with people will keep them ahead. Can Google learn how to do this or will this reinforce their heavily discussed inability to be a real competitor in social?
Here’s a old video from 1997 where Steve Jobs is responding to complaint from the audience. At about 1:50 in, he makes the most important statement about technology and innovation if it is to successfully find its way into the hearts of its users. (Thanks Stephen Chapman for sharing!)
After the launch of Timeline, it was made perfectly clear that Facebook knows that the golden nugget of marketing is an amazing story that resonates with other humans. Their biggest announcement at f8 demonstrates that they understand this better than most. Make the personal human experience amazing and the business opportunities will fall into place because you already have the people. It also clearly shows the difference between the way Facebook and Google create new products. When it comes to a deeper, richer experience, Facebook has it. Facebook makes things feel good. Google makes things efficient.
Why Google’s only competition will be itself
Google is a tech company made up of brilliant engineers and scientists. It’s more like a giant company comprised of inventors. They build amazing ideas all the time but the problem is that they seem to start with technology first and then they try to sell it to the humans after the fact. When you build stuff for humans, Google should be taking a cue from Apple. If you want to build something that humans will naturally gravitate towards then you start with people’s wants/needs/desires and you build technology around that. Google is and will always be about data and innovative technology. They were founded on it. They are the masters at it. They had one of the biggest technology IPO’s in Silicon Valley because of it. They may be sitting on top of some of the most amazing human behavioral pattern data sets with regards to search queries, advertising, email use and video consumption habits (thanks to YouTube), but those are used to serve technology advancement and innovation on their end, not really to build personal relationships across a digital landscape in a way that is more sentimental than it is functional.
Facebook is the opposite.
Facebook isn’t trying to be the expert in online music consumption. They don’t want to run their own video rental service from scratch or be the experts at video content delivery, etc. They’re choosing to partner with and leverage the brand equity and third-party technology of other brands that are already experts in these specific space. This makes the integration and value proposition SO easy for them. Google tries to claim things as their own - Google Books, Google Maps, Google Music et al. Even though YouTube and Picasa are the exceptions there and Google Maps/Earth are a big hit, they’re still either functional in nature or are more of a ‘wow’ factor as in, “wow, Google Earth is really cool!” There is value for a big brand to claim something as their own but more often than not, you have to be the first out of the gate to pull that off. In Google’s case, by not partnering with brands the way they did with YouTube (which was in reality an acquisition, but at the surface of the user experience, it feels more like a partnership), they are going to struggle.
Look what happens when Google comes up with great ideas. Facebook steals them and makes them their own. Facebook users don’t care where the idea came from. In fact they are stoked! Now instead of signing up for Google+, rebuilding an entire online profile from scratch, learning a new thought process, reconnecting with people yet again, waiting for the rest of the world to adopt a new platform, they get to enjoy more great features (thanks to Google), keep their profiles, friends and the same old website that they are familiar with already. It’s a lose-lose for Google+ because Google will help Facebook innovate, doing tons of the R&D for them. Google will release a new feature in Google+. If it takes off, Facebook will add the successful feature to their user experience, if it fails, they’ll ignore it and take note. All of this on Google’s R&D dime, blood sweat and tears.
You can’t sell a social platform on features alone, even if you are the biggest name in email and search.
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Rich Harris has been a web marketer for over 10 years, with over 14 years experience in high-tech, both in the consumer and enterprise spaces.