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Protecting your social influence from the sands of time

I have to hand it to Google; it looks like they finally got their act together in terms of their approach to social networking. Granted, only time will tell if Google + will gain a real foothold in the social network space, but allow me to indulge in a bit of hypothetical thinking. Namely, what if the rise of Google+ eventually leads to the utter demise of Facebook & Twitter (much like the rise of Facebook led to the demise of MySpace)?

From a marketer’s perspective, that would more or less be uncharted territory. Here’s why:

MySpace wasn’t fully embraced by brands in the way Facebook & Twitter has, particularly in terms of devoting money, time, and resources in an effort to build a following. Back then – when MySpace was king – social media influence was not a full-fledged marketing objective the way it is today. Therefore, when MySpace faded away into irrelevancy, marketers didn’t have much to worry about. There was little inconvenience.

But think about the implications of having Facebook and/or Twitter fade away. All of those marketing efforts (and dollars) dedicated towards capturing Facebook likes and Twitter follows could potentially be all for not. Sure, brands could attempt to bridge the divide by providing incentives to existing Facebook and/or Twitter followers to attach themselves to new brand profiles in Google+. They could also mirror past Facebook and Twitter marketing tactics within Google+ in an effort rebuild the following and influence they enjoyed on the now defunct social networks that were once at the top of the heap.

But that seems to be a bit inefficient at best, and possibly a bit self defeating. After all, we are at the very infancy stage of social networking and the internet in general. For all we know, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ could be relegated to “old relic” status in the coming years and decades, so it doesn’t make sense to just keep chasing the latest flavor of the month social network, especially when brand influence is at stake.

So what’s a self-respecting marketer to do? Easy. Focus on building followers and influence within your own domain so that you can own the data and the relationships into perpetuity:

  • Build your email database and optimize your messaging strategy to foster an ever-growing subscription list and open rate
  • Build your blog and optimize your content and engagement strategy to foster commenting and RSS subscriptions
  • Build your mobile app and optimize the content to foster an ever-growing list of subscribers and active users that use the app regularly
  • etc, and so forth

In other words, the best way to protect your social following and influence is to build it in ways that are immune to the shifting sands of time (and the shifting nature of social network supremacy).

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  • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

    Hey Hugo,
    Great thought here. One thing that Google is doing different than Facebook and Twitter is allowing someone to take their data with them.

    The “Data Liberation” option within Google+ is a HUGE feature, because if Google+ goes away in 5 years, you can up and move EVERYTHING to a new platform – including your contacts.

    Of course nobody wants to move all their stuff to a new platform, but it’s nice to know that if Google+ fades away at least not all is lost. It actually shows a lot of confidence Google has in their product to let users take their info with them.

    Why do you think Facebook won’t let you have your contacts? Because they know that people will up and leave them when something better comes along. Leaving your Facebook contacts, and the thought of rebuilding your social network elsewhere is what keeps people and brands on Facebook.

    That’s why Google+ might just work. You don’t need to rebuilt your contacts. They are already there via your gmail account. Big ups to Google for putting that in place.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the insight, Dan! That’s a great point and another great benefit that Google+ offers. That said, you still can’t take the Google+ content with you and there could still be issues with transferring your following and influence from Google+ to some new social network of the future, which is I believe that hosting your own content and building influence within your own domain is the safest bet of all, especially if it’s done in parallel with social networking efforts.

      • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

        Yep. You’re totally right. You won’t be able to take your content and influence with you.

        I think the type of content you create on social networks, and the type of content you create on a blog are different. Blogs are more for long form thought sharing, where social networks seem to be informal comments and updates.

        What most blogs don’t contain is your social graph – who you follow, and more importantly, who follows you. That’s the piece that makes the data liberation functionality important in my opinion.

        btw. Now that Google is filling out it’s own social graph via circles, it’ll have a pretty good idea on how to assign PersonRank (I’m not sure if that’s the right term, but I don’t know what exactly to call it).

        I expect Google to combine PageRank and PersonRank for a sort of uber-personalized PageRank. That’s how I think they will ultimately fight against paid links.

        • Anonymous

          You’ve been pushing the idea of PersonRank for some time and I can definitely see it becoming more and more of a reality although I don’t believe that it will trounce paid links (or other forms of link and anchor text exploitation) any time soon. For that to happen, there will need to be several incremental steps forward in terms of artificial intelligence and/or algorithm sophistication (I guess those are sort of one and the same). I also think that once search is mainly a voice and/or thought driven vehicle, it will be easier to assign relevancy.

  • Jim Doria

    Hi Hugo –

    Not sure I’m with you on this one. It’s important for brands to have their own authentic experience on their own properties, no doubt. But I don’t really think these can or should compete with independent sites dedicated to social networking.

    Go where the people are, don’t make them come to you. An untidy truth of marketing but a truth none the less.

    I think what we’re really seeing is the awkward phase of the tech adoption curve where the new platform isn’t truly generic. There are some big entrenched players, and the proprietary systems they built (and are building) still rule the day.

    The rise of Google + does not have to equal the fall of Facebook. MySpace’s demise was due to more than just Facebook’s rise. I think the market will continue to fragment and marketers will have to continue to deal with it.

    The next step should be the evolution of smarter tools to bridge the gaps. Marketers need a system for managing social media engagement that’s platform-agnostic – write once, post everywhere. Then following along behind (eventually, hopefully) will come standards that aren’t tied to a specific vendor’s platform.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for you commentary, Jim! A couple things worth pointing out:
      1) The people are on the world wide web (Facebook and all other social networks are just a part of that wider web)
      2) Many large brands (and oodles of small ones) can and have successfully created engaging social connections within their own domains (corporate blogs, forums, and even email databases count)
      3) Google+ may not cause Facebook to fall but I feel that it would be naive to think that Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ will be the final iterations/brands in the social networking space. It’s important to think about the years and decades ahead, not just the next few years on the horizon
      4) A key concept that I talk about on this blog is marketing equity. You can’t create that if you put your eggs in other people’s baskets. One small but important example is SEO. If you focus your social content and engagement efforts on someone else’s domain any inbound link equity, etc. is theirs and that’s not good long-term approach in my opinion
      5) “Write once, post everywhere” is easy, but it doesn’t always work because different communities have different sets of expectations.