Sunday, August 14, 2011

Five Reasons to Trust Your Mom and Not A Social Media Pro About Google+

As I've observed the hard sell for Google+ among social media professionals, I'm struck with how ill equipped the "experts" may be to evaluate new social media tools and to predict how they will spread into the masses. The problem is that the motivations, needs, wants, goals and experiences of social media pros are vastly different from a typical consumer--your mom, for example. As it turns out, the old adage is correct even in social media: Mother knows best.

To be sure, your mother's adoption of a social media tool is likely a lagging indicator; if you wait for most mothers to use a new social media site before you give it consideration, you'll probably already have missed a trend. However, when evaluating new tools, it's vital to focus on your mother's needs rather than the needs of early-adopting, big-name, influence-exerting, social media evangelists. What matters isn't that I, Jeremiah Owyang, or Chris Brogan love Google+ but whether G+ satisfies fundamental needs that your mom has.

Google+ is here to stay; in fact, I shared with my social media team at USAA that I expect before the end of the year we will be maintaining a presence and monitoring member needs on Google+, just as we do on Twitter and Facebook. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean I believe Google+ is poised to go mainstream as quickly as some are predicting.

Charts like this aren't inaccurate, just wildly misleading.
If you listen to some social media experts, you'd think Facebook and Twitter have one foot in the grave and are as old and tired as newspapers and telegrams. I've been dismayed, for example, that some social media pros are hyping wildly misleading charts that convey how Google+ is growing exponentially faster than Facebook or Twitter. Yes, Google has amassed a lot of users--it is, after all, the most visited site on the Internet--but if registered users are what matters, then MySpace's 180 million members still make it a major force in social media.

It isn't users that matter but usage, and there Google+'s early stats aren't nearly as impressive. Experian Hitwise noted that both traffic and users' average time dropped from one week to the next; a Bloomberg/YouGov study indicated Google+ could sign up fewer people in the next year than it did in its first six weeks;
Experian Hitwise notes that "Colleges & Cafes" are
decreasing on G+ while "Kids & Cabernet" are rising.
and Experian Hitwise recently noted Google+ is already dropping among the youthful "Colleges and cafes" cohort, a group considered innovators. Says Experian Hitwise, "It's not uncommon for innovators to trial new services online and in some cases abandon those services when they lose interest." Innovators losing interest doesn't sound like a recipe for rapid mass adoption.

My expectation is that Google+ will be rapidly embraced within certain circles (no G+ pun intended) but it still doesn't meet my "mom test" for mass adoption. While social media pros have been quick to promote the wonders of Google+, I believe they are failing to remove their own biases from their evaluation. Here are five reasons social media professionals may be forgetting their moms in their rush to recommend Google+:

  1. Social media professionals love the new; moms do not: Social media pros never meet a new site or tool that they don't love; their race to (and in some cases away from) Wave, Sidewiki, Digg, Izea, Triiibes, Hashable, Instagram, Quora, Flipbook and the like has been dizzying. Your mom is different--she simply isn't as interested in the new. She doesn't want to learn sparks, streams, circles and hangouts, and she doesn't have the time or patience to recreate her social graph in another tool. Facebook is just fine, thank you--it does everything it is supposed to by helping her keep in touch with her kids, high school friends and coworkers. For G+ to pull mom away from Facebook, Google's going to have to offer a lot more than Google+ currently does.

  2. Social media professionals want more influence; moms do not: To social media pros, influence is a currency as real and desired as gold (even at $1,742 per ounce). They track it in Klout, trade it in Empire Avenue, and monitor it on the Ad Age Power 150. The barest hint that a new social tool may catch on is enough to send social media pros racing to establish a presence; heaven forbid someone get there first and amass a larger audience! But your mom has all the influence she needs and couldn't care less about the size of her social graph. She doesn't have any desire to be seen as an early adopter, and unless and until a significant portion of her friends (and not just her crazy early-adopting son or daughter) shifts to G+, your mom won't either.

  3. Social media professionals travel in packs; moms do not: Do you know what it takes for Robert Scoble or Chris Brogan to build a healthy network in a new social network? They show up. These two well-known speakers and bloggers have large networks who want to stay connected, so when Scoble promotes his Google profile on his site and Brogan shuts down his Facebook profile with an "I have moved to G+" message, they can be assured a vibrant community will quickly develop on their new preferred social venue. But what happens when your mom tries to change social networks? Do all her siblings, her high school swim team and the members of her PTA group immediately follow in order to keep in touch? It's a very different (and much lonelier) experience for the average consumer to join a new social network. A mass shift may never occur from Facebook to Google+, but that is what it will take for most moms to change their social media habits.

  4. Social media pros love to share everything with expansive and complex networks; moms do not: One of Google+'s most interesting features is Circles, which permits users to post messages only within specific networks or sub-networks of contacts. Social media professionals have enormous and complex networks containing thousands of people--they have different relationships with different sets of peers, influencers, coworkers, readers, clients, family and friends. And the promise that Google+ could make their Google calendar, email, or search results shareable is enough to cause social media pros to explode with glee. But your mom not only doesn't want to share her calendar, she's deeply suspicious of having her entire life that wired together. And while she certainly has different sets of relationships, your mother has nowhere near the same need to manage those different networks in unique and differentiated ways. It's okay that her high school friends see the pictures of her grandson or that her family sees a book she shares with her book club. Google+'s Circles suit people who care to manage complex networks of contacts, but your mom is just as happy to stick with the simpler if cruder sharing mechanisms of Facebook. (That said, I still expect Facebook to follow Google+'s lead and begin to offer more controls based on Friend lists.)

  5. Social media pros hate Facebook; moms do not: I've never quite understood the level of disdain the people who make their livelihood from social media consulting have for the world's premier social network. The reason most often cited is that Facebook often violates users' privacy, but the list of entities that make money selling customer data is a huge one that encompasses credit card providers (though not USAA), cell phone services, cable TV, online ad networks, GPS device makers, supermarkets and even physicians. There is no doubt that Facebook has a vast image problem that it would be wise to take seriously, but mom simply doesn't share the same animus toward Facebook that is common among libertarian, open-source-loving, terms-and-conditions-reading early adopters. The irony of social media professionals leaping from Facebook to Google+ is that there is no indication Google will be any more open than is Facebook--after all, Google didn't become an $182-billion company by open-sourcing search and mobile platforms. 

Google+ will be important; it will be necessary; and eventually it may even become a true mass social medium; however, that will only happen when moms start making the switch and not just tech and social media professionals. I simply don't foresee that happening any time soon, no matter what some breathless chart of adoption statistics shows.

It is said that good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that could have been avoided if we had listened to our moms. It's time for social media pros to listen a little more to their mothers and a little less to each other.


Brad Blake said...

Love this. Favorite post I've read about Google+ (and there have been a LOT, that's for sure). #5 especially resonated with me.

Slight tangent here, but when I was doing social media for the MA governor's office, I remember lamenting with colleagues about how much people would lash out about government being involved in social media and what a huge privacy issue it was. A colleague made the point that government is the one organization that is actually responsible for maintaining and protecting our identity from birth (with our birth certificate and social security number) to death and beyond, yet we're terrified of them knowing too much. Meanwhile, we give everything to the telecoms, the credit card companies, etc, and usually don't think twice about it.

Then you've got Facebook. It's hilarious to me how many people were going bananas about the phone number thing, posting things like, "It's MY privacy Facebook! NOT YOURS!". Um, really? Then why did you share everything with them?

Ah, humans...

Jay Baer said...

You raise good points. However, wait until Google starts to integrate Plus into services that Moms DO use: YouTube, Google search, Google maps, Gmail.

That's the play for them. This stand-alone beta launch is just the tip of the iceberg.

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the comments. Yes, people have rather odd and difficult to understand views on privacy. Take the outcry from some about the British government using social media to identify the looter. Really? Some people think they can post images and posts admitted to breaking the law and the government shouldn't use this information?!?

At USAA, we're beginning to look to a future where privacy isn't maintained or protected by governments but by automated privacy agents that help to protect and share one's data only with the entities in which you have trust. I think the days of trusting a big, beaurocratic entity to protect you with laws will wane and in its place will come more real-time and personalized control.

Thanks for the interesint dialog!

Augie Ray said...

Sorry, Jay, but I know you to be one of those folks who have some biases against Facebook. When you say that it will be game changing when Google+ integrates with YouTube, Maps, etc., I have to ask--isn't that stuff already integrated into Twitter and Facebook? I can share a YouTube video at the click of a button. Google Maps are not as elegantly integrated in to social sharing. And I'm not sure most people have a burning desire to share their email with the world via social networks.

No doubt about it--Google+ offers some interesting integration opportunities, but each step they take is another step into the anti-trust danger zone. I foresee a time when the Justice Department may force the separation of Google's search from other lines of business. Any hint that Google is giving preferential SEO value to Google+ shares over, say, Twitter shares and the lawyers will start sharpening their knives.

Bill Anderson said...

Thanks for the grounded perspective; I find it helpful to reminded of my own lived experiences.

Two comments:

1. The phrase "good judgment comes from experience" has a second part: "and experience comes from bad judgement". I learned that early in a career in software engineering.

2. You write in a comment: "I think the days of trusting a big, beaurocratic (sic) entity to protect you with laws will wane and in its place will come more real-time and personalized control." I agree but am concerned about the amount of time and energy required to exercise this control. Maybe I shouldn't worry. Perhaps third parties will offer to do it for me, and that raises the question of who will watch the watchers.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Bill (and thanks for pointing out my mispelling). (At work I am forced to use IE without spellcheck, so you can now see how bad my spelling is!)

I love the additional thoughts on experience. As for personalized control of privacy, I believe we will see automated methods for controlling sharing and privacy. These methods will intuit what and who is important and can make the same real-time judgments we would make ourselves, if we had the time and focus to do so. Years off, of course, but we'll get there.

Terry said...

Augie, your points are well made but I see Google Plus not in the same way I see Facebook or Twitter where you make a conscious decision to join. The big change will happen when Plus is integrated into Google search results and consumers end up on brand pages "by accident". Brands will have no choice but to be on Plus as SEO is more critical than social. Consumers will be drawn to Plus because that's where brands (with deals) are as opposed to Facebook where brands turned up because that was where consumers were. So far we have no brands and a real niche group of contributors (not unlike Twitter). As a brand manager, you will have little choice but jump on Plus as soon as you can and you will bring customers with you.

Augie Ray said...

Terry, I'd absolutely disagree with the idea that search is more essential than is social. The only reason search was big online is that people needed a way to access and organize the confusion of the internet, but outside of the internet and in the real world, social is obviously much more important than search. I think we can expect our online experience to echo our offline priorities (as they always eventually do) and we will find search to be less important than social.

Also, I still content that the moment Google starts toying with search results to increase the value of their own social network, two things happen: 1) The reputation of Google takes a beating, and 2) Anti-trust suits get filed. Google leveraging the power of their search engine to benefit Google Plus is no different than Microsoft leveraging the power of their OS to benefit Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer.

I appreciate the comments, but I'm not convinced. (That said, I'lk always prepared to admit I'm wrong if the future proves so!)