Google Vs. Facebook And How Marketers Win (Or Lose) In 2011

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!” 

The noise in social media is getting deafening.  In addition to the hundreds of friends we follow in Facebook, brands are putting the full-court press to capture user attention and “likes” in Facebook.  Not only can you “Like” JCPenney on Facebook, but you can also “like” their stores, JCPenney-sponsored concerts, a weekly store ad application, and a pair of Faux Leopard Fur Socks (plus every other item in their online catalog). 

It used to be that only social media professionals complained about the “drinking from social media firehouse”;  today, I am hearing more and more “Facebook fatigue” from average users.  Of course, few are turning away from social media; no behavior within Forrester’s Social Technographics ladder has grown as substantially in the past two years as that of “Joiners” — people who maintain a profile on a social network. 

More people, more apps, more Facebook-enabled sites, more places, more status updates — it all adds up to a cacophony of voices vying for our attention.  I recently missed a friend’s announcement of the birth of his child on Facebook — that important news was lost in an ocean of viral videos, places check-ins and summer vacation photo albums.

This is why the new Gmail feature may provide a hint at what is up Google’s social sleeve.  According to Google’s blog post, it launched Priority Inbox because people are “getting more and more mail and often feel overwhelmed by it.” (Sound familiar?)  Google adds, “Our inboxes are slammed with hundreds, sometimes thousands of messages a day…. It’s time-consuming to figure out what needs to be read and what needs a reply.”  (This isn’t a problem you have on Facebook and Twitter, is it?)

Gmail’s Priority Inbox doesn’t require users to set complex rules.  Instead, Gmail intuits what is important to users.  It can predict what you care about by observing the people you email the most, which messages you open, and to whom you reply. You can also click buttons to mark a conversation as important or not important. The new Gmail feature is meeting with great interest and approval — “Priority Inbox” became a Twitter trending topic within a day of Google’s announcement. 

Will Google tackle the problem (and opportunity) of relevance in social media?  If Google can make our inboxes more relevant, why not our Facebook and Twitter feeds? (Back in February, I predicted that Google Buzz would be a Relevance Filtering tool;  perhaps I wasn’t so much incorrect as I was premature.)  And make no mistake — Facebook understands that social tools need relevance to attract and retain users.  I expect 2011 to be the year of relevance in social media, and the winners will be the social applications that make our lives richer, not noisier.

What does this mean to marketers who are seeding millions of messages into social media every time someone uses a loyalty program, enters a Twitter hashtag sweepstakes, makes a purchase or “likes” a pair of JCPenney socks?  If a status update reaches a social network but no one sees it, does it exist?  My friend and associate Nate Elliot is working on a report about how marketers can overcome social media clutter. I’m anxious to see his recommendations, but this much is clear: In a future where being relevant will be vital, marketers must get people to have authentic conversations about products and services and not merely to click “Like” buttons or tweet hashtags. 


It is more than relevance

Quality, Context, Relevance -- Need all three.

Why its more than relevance: "What is Wrong With Enterprise Social Networking"

My take on Google and Angstro

Great post, and great

Great post, and great insights, Augie. Identifying relevant content would be hugely helpful from a user's perspective. This puts even more pressure on brands to develop relevant content, and to engage with consumers in a way that isn't just more noise. . .

More Real than Social

Thanks Taulbee,

It seems we've all gotten so busy trying to link our brands in Facebook we forget that true advocacy and influence cannot come from "Like" buttons but from people. We definitely will see tools that filter out noise and increase relevance in the future, and there's no doubt in my mind that all those branded hashtag contests and product "Likes" will be the sort of messages that will fail to make it past the filters. That presents both a challenge and an opportunity for marketers!

Thanks for the dialog.

I agree wholeheartedly.

I agree wholeheartedly. Relevance will become a new 'currency' of social media. Along with location, this will be the new trend and the future. I can't wait to see how it's integrated into our lives. The clutter is just a little annoying, haha.

Relevance is in demand

Given the way this blog post is resonating with people, it's obvious you aren't alone! Lots of people are looking for ways to make social media less noisy and more relevant.

Thanks for the comment, Tim.

Trust and your Inbox

I am not so I want to trust Google with my Inbox and thus them knowing my contacts, relevance and interests etc.

I do agree with the need for context, quality and relevance in any message paradigm but I do not think asking 3rd parties whose goal is to commercialize the process to do it for us is a good first step.

This opens up the market for non SN's like Xobni to add useful features to Outlook- I like their approach so far.

Social media and commercialization


Your concern isn't misplaced--lots of people are worried about the amount of data possessed by Google and Facebook. I suspect we'll see some challenges in the future--at an event I attended just this week, Steve Rubel suggested we'll face a "Privacy 9/11" event in the coming few years. Still, commercializing our data in return for free services (not to mention better, more customized ads) doesn't need to be "evil." Time will tell whether open approaches or paid approaches succeed, but I'll bet Facebook and Google continue to thrive based on their business models.

Thanks for the dialog!

I understand, but I already

I understand, but I already use Gmail, so it doesn't bother me. I haven't tried anything else for awhile. & honestly, Google already knows a LOT. People complain about facebook and google and privacy, but they continue to use their services and have shown that they will give up their privacy for something in return. It doesn't matter where you run, google will be there. unfortunetly.

And wether or not Google is the one to make this next crtical step into context, quality, and revelance does remain to be seen. I hope it's someone else, personally. ;)

Google or someone else

If Facebook doesn't improve relevance soon, the big competitive issue they'll face in 2011 won't be around privacy but relevance. I believe Google will jump into this game, but the answer could come from somewhere else. It could be a small company that hits it big--sfter all, how many of us knew about Twitter or FourSquare two years ago?

Relevance is key to the

Relevance is key to the continued use and propagation of social media. I think it's time for service providers to offer services that are unique to specific categories of folks. is one such service. It is a microblog that focuses on word-of-mouth for businesses and the members receive coupons for the businesses they are providing kudos about.

Relevence ... is it enough or is it a starting point?

The article/blog hits the nail pretty close on the head. But is relevance all that matters ... there may be 1,000's of relevant posts/links/comments etc. associated with a "location" you happen to be at (continuing the example in the article). It may be that key events in the life of your friends and family will be more "relevant" to you than those of real friends, never-met facebook friends, associates, etc. but that doesn't mean they didn't post things that are "irrelevant" to you that happend to be associated in some way with the location you happen to be at. If you think about there are a number of facets or metadata each piece content vying for your attention should have to have, weighted properly and combined by some algorithm/methodology to get a passing grade to even make it to the first page of items to be considered by you. Examples might be "reputation" ... what do other people "like you" think about it, "trust" ... how far from you or other people you "trust" is this person in your network, "quality" ... how good is this content, "context" ... based upon what you are doing at this location ... your activity, your purpose for being there, etc., all contribute to how "relevant" any particular content is. So, if the article's definition of "relevance" is this weight index that drives any piece of content to the top of the list for your attention, then I am in full agreement ... otherwise, I think it is just a starting point.

See this post ....

Relevance is relative

Your point is a good once--relevance isn't an on/off switch but is relative to many things. I expect our smartphones (or whatever we're calling them in the future) will recognize our context (not just location but time of day, who we're with, what our goal for the moment is, what our mood is, etc.) and use this when evaluating what is most relevant to us in a given moment. What is relevant in a given place at one moment could change the next.

Thanks for the discussion!

Email marketers take note!

Big consequences for all of us vying for space in inboxes - now more than ever we need to ensure marketing emails tantilise subscribers to click-through. There's no room for emails that say it all in the preview pane!

Really interesting ready. I'm

Really interesting ready. I'm already a fan of the Priority feature in gmail. I agree with your comment that relevance is much more important than a "like." Facebook can be a great marketing tool when done correctly. I found this article to be very informative on how to combat a good marketing strategy on facebook.

"Using Facebook as a Strategic Marketing Channel"