The Social Battlefield Heats Up

By Karen Macumber

It’s been a very busy month already for the press covering social. The big three – Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – all made major announcements (some unplanned) around changes in their organizations and products. The following is a recap of the highlights combined with my advice about whether you should (or should not) take notice. You might be surprised at my answers.

Facebook made several announcements. The most entertaining was the leak about another security glitch that allowed those without authority to access private photos, including those of Mark Zuckerberg himself, just days after announcing the creation of two new executive roles related to privacy (love the title Chief Privacy Officer). Another leak, which they confirmed just this week, is the re-organization of their teams around “products” such as mobile, ad tech and Timeline, in order to become “more nimble” in developing new products. This followed a planned announcement that they are opening their first east coast office in NYC to recruit more engineering talent.
Should you care? Yes. Why? Because the whole privacy issue across all the social networks, and even mobile carriers, could have a dramatic impact on your organization’s ability to leverage user behavior for targeting advertising in the future. It wasn’t too long ago that DoubleClick became the target bad guy, and as a result today we now have to invest in privacy policies and worry about cookie deletion. Second, if your operation is based in NY (or at least your digital one) beware and lock your doors because Facebook is coming ‘a courting your best technical staff! And what engineer or UI designer wouldn’t like the idea of jumping on board when Facebook is about to do the largest IPO in history?

Twitter was busy as well, with a big announcement about their redesign. In a nutshell, they are trying to catch up with Facebook. They have 100M users to Facebook’s 500M and the difference in ad revenue is gaping. In the announcement there are a few key changes positioned as improvements to make it easier for consumers to use the service. There’s a more “Facebook” like way to view images and videos within the Tweet stream. You will also be able to embed individual Tweets within your website, from which viewers can directly re-tweet, favorite, follow or reply from that same page. And brands will now have real “pages” with more options to control the order of content and add more visual elements.

Should you care? Yes, but only about the ability to use embedded tweets to keep readers on your site. That’s a huge improvement.

What you need to remember is that Twitter is well behind the curve now, and their users (brands and consumers alike) are well trained about how and when to use it. My advice regarding Twitter remains the same. If you are a personality it is fantastic for creating an engaged fan base. For magazines it is a an excellent tool for monitoring what potential customers are saying about your competitors, evaluating what your competitors are doing right/wrong, and researching priorities for target advertising prospects. But I wouldn’t rush out to jump on that brand page band wagon quite yet. Chances are you already have a profile that is working quite nicely.

Last but not least, there’s Google+. Their announcement was also around enhancements to catch up with Facebook and others. The first, called Schemer, is a recommendation engine for things to do, to counter Facebook Events. The second is a news aggregator called Currents, an app for Android, iPads and iPhones that presents content in a more elegant, “swipeable” format (think Flipboard). The app is free and Google plans to support it through advertising.
Should you care? Yes. Why? Because Google is the only one at the social table right now that controls the mobile hardware, operating system, email, content (app store, YouTube) AND a huge embedded group of advertisers dying to do more on mobile. In my mind that’s a recipe for success. So if I were placing my bets, they would go behind this horse. Make sure you are active on Google+ (individual and as a brand) to keep up on their progress.

In summary, there are now several social networks – some consumer, some business focused – trying to become all things to all people. It creates tremendous confusion (and extra work) for consumers and brands alike. In response you’re about to see an explosion of “curation” tools and technology that will automatically collect all this content back up into one spot where the user can make sense of it, purge the unwanted and keep the gold. I have not heard the term curation used this much since I went to grad school for museum studies in 1986.

I want to leave you with this final thought. Those of you who lived through the late 90’s can remember how Yahoo!, Excite, Alta Vista and even AT&T Worldnet tried to be all things to all people (that lovely term “portal” was born). And look at how that turned out? Alta Vista and Excite brands are gone. AT&T went back to its technology infrastructure roots. And Yahoo! churns through CEOs while it continues to look for an acquirer.

Sometimes less really is more. Keep that in mind as the social news continues to flow into 2012.

Karen Macumber is CEO of Lifeables, a curation platform for the automatic collection, organization, sharing and safeguarding of family content. She was the the first director of marketing at in 1996, and in 1999 she founded Fulgent Media Group, an Internet marketing consultancy. Fulgent was acquired by AMP Agency (Alloy Marketing and Promotions) in 2008.