Google+ or Minus: Do We Need Another Social Network?

Earlier this week I got a coveted invitation to Google+ from one of my Facebook friends, and like the other 10 million early adopters I spent a good chunk of time kicking the tires and experimenting with it.

In essence it really is not very different than earlier versions of Facebook, albeit with a radical new way of grouping members of your network into different "circles". Circles allow you to post to a select group in your network; you can allow your "friends" to see different content from what you broadcast to your "family", which can come in handy for college students who don't want their folks back home to see what they're up to. There's a live stream, you can post pictures and video, and comment on other peoples' posts. Google+ even has an answer to the Facebook "like" in the form of a "+1", which is already popping up on other web pages for full web integration.

At this point, Google+ is not yet allowing business pages, and advertising opportunities are not yet apparent. However, Google says this will change soon as they want individual users to populate the network first. Ultimately advertising and marketing will find their ways into Google+ because, let's face it, Google doesn't exist to not make money. And advertising provides the money that fuels the web machine.

But for most of this week I couldn't escape one nagging question: why do I need to be on Google+ if I already have a well-established and highly-interactive social network on Facebook? I've never asked that question about LinkedIn because of its focus on creating a business atmosphere, and i've never asked that question about Twitter because it's a different animal altogether. But the Google+ question is bothering me.

It's easy to write off Google+ as being a second rate version of Facebook at this point because it is out-of-the-package brand new. There are only about 10 million users as of right now, and the overwhelming majority are male. There have been a few bugs and kinks to work out and the user interface is (in my opinion) a bit clunky too. Proponents will say that this is an opportunity to escape their old network on Facebook with its heavy advertising presence, and Google+ claims it will offer privacy options that Facebook doesn't have. But is that enough?

It's tempting to try and compare this with the original TV networks that sprang up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, saying that consumers deserve options for where they get their content. But TV networks developed original content themselves--in social networks, the users develop the content and the network is just a platform for interaction. This is more like the telephone. Originally there was only one phone company and it stood alone for decades until deregulation created Baby Bells and communications conglomerates. But the phone companies are just networks too, and they integrate very well with each other unlike Facebook and Google+. They are both competing for social media dominance, while desperately trying not to become parity products of each other.

And that is what makes the introduction of Google+ so great: the users will ultimately decide which social media network wins. This will keep both networks on their toes catering more and more to the users, because social networks without a thriving, interactive and dynamic user base have nothing to offer other than a portal to connect.

As proof, we offer Exhibit A: Myspace.


Facebook Email and Integrated Direct Marketing

While the big buzz this week was over Google's purchase of Skype, millions of people around the world were quietly obtaining their Facebook email accounts. It's the latest round of power plays between these two internet giants, each one trying to become the dominant platform in social networking, communications and marketing dollars.

Google, with it's combination of email, search, YouTube and now Skype, seems to have everything a marketer could want in one integrated platform. Facebook is the dominant global social network, combining email, video, search, e-commerce and a highly mobile audience (approximately 50% of Facebookers use their mobile FB app more than the web version). Targeting your audience on Facebook is a marketer's dream.

But here's the critical difference between Google and Facebook: Google is a utility, Facebook is a destination.

People use Google when they need to search or use their gmail account. Now they will use Google to Skype. Google is something people use when they need to do something specific. Facebook is different. Facebook is something people use every day regardless of their intent. There's a ubiquitous quality to Facebook in that it is a part of peoples' daily lives whether they want to admit it or not. 600,000,000 people around the world spend 40 minutes each day on Facebook. They might be just reading posts from their network, playing Farmville or Scrabble, watching videos, buying from retailers and now sending email inside and outside the Facebook universe. Regardless of the action they take, people go to Facebook and spend time there everyday.

Marketers need to see Facebook for what it is: a network with a highly engaged, identifiable and diverse global audience, a two-way communications device, and a daily destination. It is web based and mobile. And now with the arrival of @facebook.com email addresses, it is poised to become an all-in-one communications portal. Marketers should be licking their chops with anticipation.

If email marketing is part of your mix, then Facebook Email marketing will offer a truly integrated way to reach and grow your audience. If email marketing is something you are considering for your business, there's never been a better time to start.


The Email Subject Line Hall Of Shame

Email marketing, when executed correctly, can be extremely effective in reaching your audience and motivating them to respond in a particular way. But your email must be opened and read first, and one of the first lines of defense against a bounced or unopened email is a well-crafted subject line.

The subject line is more than a “headline” to your email. It is the key to getting through spam filters, which are notorious for degrading the ROI of your campaign.

Here are the stars of the “Subject Line Hall of Shame” and how your emails can avoid being just like them:

1. Everything you need to know about this email is in the subject line, so open it now and read.

At 92 characters long this subject line is likely to get cut off in most email clients, and has a high probability of being blocked by a content-based spam filter. Think about how you write a personal email. The subject line is usually just enough to convey importance, urgency, seriousness, or humor. It should act as an attention-getter, not a summary of the message.

We recommend subject lines be 35 characters max.

2. THIS EMAIL IS SO IMPORTANT, I’M USING ALL CAPS

This email looks so spammy, your filter can’t wait to block it from being delivered. All-caps are an immediate giveaway that the email is a poorly-crafted message that needs to SHOUT to be heard, or it was written by that guy in a foreign country who has $5,000,000 waiting to be deposited into your account. JUST SEND HIM YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER TO GET RICH.

Do not use all-caps.

3. Tips are a tipoff

If I wanted your advice I would have asked for it, so this email must be junk. Here’s a tip: tell me what the benefit is to me in the subject line and I’ll be motivated to read the email. Otherwise, I’ve got 20 other emails in my inbox that have identified themselves as requiring action.

Tips are too passive to be effective, and unsolicited advice is rude.

4. $ave Money!! Act Now!!

Benefit driven? Check. Short? Check. Upper and lower case? Check. Spam? Definitely, according to your filter. Spam filters look for symbols like exclamation points and misused dollar signs in subject lines. And “save money” is such a blind benefit that the reader will wonder how for about 1 second before they delete the email.

“Save money on your cable bill” or “Save money on groceries” focus the reader’s attention better because these kinds of lines communicate real, tangible benefits.


Clicking Is The New Clipping: Coupons In The Digital Age

Contrary to the identity of coupon clippers from years past, the coupon is now cool.

It was unfathomable just a few years ago that a coupon company like Groupon would be considered fashionable or interesting enough to run a commercial during the Superbowl. But combine a struggling US economy with digital media, and a behavioral shift towards living socially online, and the result is a new life for the coupon.

Kantar Media reports the use of digital coupons grew by 60% in 2010, while printed free-standing inserts rose by 11%. This is incredible growth for a marketing strategy that hasn’t seen an increase in year-over-year usage since 1992.

Marketers are seeing digital coupons as a way to revitalize their brands by literally putting value in their customers’ hands, and refusing to cede market share to lower cost competitors. Coupons were once seen as a taboo for higher-end brands because they feared the discounting of their brand value more than the shortening of their margins. And now there is an implicit need to connect with people and help them afford the things they want to buy.

But this new coupon-chic is more than that. Coupons have become the clutter-busters in social media because people love to share with others how smart they are with their money. People want to tell other people that they got a great deal, and they want to help their friends get the same great deal. For a marketer, a coupon is now a social media badge of honor to be worn by loyal customers, new customers, and their networks of like-minded friends. Coupons can be shared, posted, liked, emailed, forwarded, and in the case of Groupon they can be collectively bargained for.

At The Weinstein Organization we have long recognized the value of the coupon. It is a great tool for increasing store and web site traffic, sales, and for building email databases. We enable our coupon emails to be easily shared on social networks to increase the effective reach of the campaign, thereby increasing the marketing footprint for our clients in ways no other strategy can match.


Keep Your Website Up To Speed

Your website must download as fast as your competition. Typical shoppers expect websites to download in 2 seconds. That's down from 4 seconds in 2007. Research from a leading search engine reveals that a delay of 2 seconds results in a:

• 1.8% reduction in queries

•3.75% drop in clicks

• 4.3% loss in revenue per visitor

Slow load times have a significant harmful effect on sales revenues.