For a company that thrives on transparency, Facebook's advertising isn't very transparent. Check out your Facebook home page, note the ads on the right side, and tell me what companies they're for. Sure, the ads probably cite brand or company names in the headlines and images, but who are the companies who paid for those ads? Where will you end up if you click those ads? And an ever better question is, what will happen if you "Like" the ad--will you be giving information to a trusted brand or a spammer?
Now go to Google, conduct a search, and check out the AdWords on the right side. Who sponsors those ads? And where will you end up if you click on those ads?
Google advertising is transparent, and Facebook advertising is not. The difference is a single line of text: AdWords creates transparency by including a "Display URL." Within ad AdWords, advertisers can set different Destination and Display URLs, but the two must be within the same domain so that (in the word of Google's AdWords form), "users know what to expect when they click your ad." (The reason there is a difference between the Destination and Display URLs is so that advertisers can direct people to a specific page in their domain while displaying the much shorter root domain in the ad ).
I'm always surprised when there's a great deal of news buzz over something everyone knew was going to happen. When I lived in Milwaukee, we'd joke about the first snowfall of the year and the sorry assignment given the lowliest reporter to stand on a giant pile of municipal salt to report on the efforts to clean the streets. We all know it snowed, we can see the snowplows--what's newsworthy about this, exactly?
That's the way I felt reading all the headlines about comScore's report that time spent with Facebook exceeded Google in August. Any informed person knew the trends and expected this to happen, so whether Google or Facebook is No. 1 is less interesting to me than what the trend really means. This week's news is not as immediately dire for Google nor as immediately beneficial for Facebook as the headlines would imply. That said, the trends do highlight the fact that Facebook has succeeded where Google has not in creating a single, cohesive experience that gives today's consumers what they want.
When people hear the Google name, the first thing that comes to mind is the search engine which, of course, is not a place where people spend a lot of time--users search and leave quickly. But Google has many popular "sticky" sites, such as YouTube and Gmail, and despite the news, these sites are not losing attention. In fact, Google isn't shrinking while Facebook is growing, it's just that Google isn't growing as fast as Facebook.
Working in Europe, I'm constantly hearing about social media programs designed for one country accidentally reaching users in other countries -- especially when they're done in English. Toyota's excellent social media-focused iQ car launch in the UK attracted attention from the US, where the car isn't available. Yesterday a client told me that their Australian marketing team launched a Facebook page that they thought was just for their market -- but when they looked at the analytics, they found that only about 5% of the page's fans were Australian, with the rest coming from other big English-speaking markets.
As I see it, there are two big challenges when global companies use social media:
How do you best leverage social media resources from one country (be they staff, technologies, partnerships, or content) across other countries to improve your efficiency and effectiveness?
How do you keep social media messages that are appropriate for just one market (because product availability, or specifications, or pricing, or marketing message can vary from place to place) from "bleeding out" to reach users in other markets?
Google has said nothing about its rumored social networking offering, but it may be that the company has just revealed its secret weapon to take on Facebook. The new Priority Inbox feature in Gmail hints at social media’s next great battleground: Relevance!
Facebook itself inadvertently demonstrated the value of relevance and what is most wrong with the current Facebook user experience. The Facebook Places announcement event two weeks ago was the geeky event you’d expect, but there was an unexpected moment of clarity and beauty in the midst of the typical discussion of APIs, partners and functionality. Facebook VP Chris Cox told a story set in the future that defines the true promise that social networking has yet to fulfill:
“In 20 years our children will go to Ocean Beach and their phone will tell them this is the place their parents had their first kiss, and here’s the picture they took afterward, and here’s what their friends had to say.”
It’s a great story, isn’t it? But today’s Facebook experience offers no chance this experience could actually occur. Instead, here’s what would happen based on the current Facebook functionality: Those kids will visit that beach and their parents’ precious story will be nowhere to be found on the Ocean Beach Places page. That wonderful 20-year-old status update and picture will be buried under 500 pages of less meaningful messages such as “Don’t buy a hot dog from the snack bar,” “Here’s a picture of some hot babes I took here,” and “Beach kegger party this Saturday night, dudes!”