Can Google Plus take on Facebook’s installed base of 750 million users?

July 6, 2011
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For me, it’s already solved one of Facebook’s most vexing problems

It’s gonna get good. The Google/Facebook war. With the beta release of Google Plus, the online giant is coming after Facebook in a way it never succeeded with Wave. What’s hinted at is a fully integrated product that will allow users — both businesses and consumers — to effortlessly hang out with customers and friends alike, video chat and conference through Gmail and Google Docs.

Facebook still wields the bigger and badder social club with some 750 million users worldwide. But Google is the ultimate brand, the first verb-ified company, a market cap of over $177 billion, and the nation’s 12th largest corporation. And Google has already solved the #1 problem with Facebook — the ability to know your audience.

That’s the first rule of communications, and the first sentence I start with when addressing new interns at Gregory FCA. To communicate effectively, you first have to know your audience. Yet Facebook doesn’t make it easy.

That’s because Zuckerberg’s assumption has always been that all your friends claim the same status in life. And you should be able to talk to all of them in the same voice, share the same edgy viral videos with callous disregard to whether it might offend, entertain, or set off an old high school friend who’s now part of a survival clan in Utah. Makes sense, if you subscribe to the Asperger’s portrayal of Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.”

But for the rest of us, social nuance is important, and one reason why our brains are so big and childhoods are so long. We need time and effort to understand the difference between colleagues and acquaintances, friends and foes. Through Circles, Google makes it easy to categorize such diverse roles, and talk specifically to each. To know your audience, so to speak.

In my own life, that’s been a limitation that has throttled my use of Facebook. While a power user of LinkedIn for its ability to group and categorize contacts, blindly posting to Facebook could easily tip off devious minds to the week I am away from home on vacation, or a competitor to the prospect I am meeting on the West Coast.

But why would you ever friend a competitor or deviant? By its very nature, isn’t Facebook selective to those people you trust and hold near? It might have started like that, but more and more it’s being used as a broadcast channel by those who want to share their worldview with … well, the world.

So a professor posts a blatantly un-American post on Facebook thinking that it’s only going to her students — all of whom share the same liberal opinions. She then discovers that diversity rests within any audience by insulting the new student GI who just returned from Afghanistan.

Dislodging a leader, especially one that has taken down dictators and launched new superstars, is a tall order. But with a basic flaw that undermines the first rule of communications, Facebook might just be ripe for the taking.

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Frank Freudberg
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5 years 9 months ago

Greg: Great analysis and insight on what may be a confusing topic to a lot of people. I now understand what's at stake for Facebook (and by extension, the rest of us) in the Google Plus roll-out. And I now have a better feel for the advantages that Google Plus will deliver to everyday users as well as power users. Thanks for, as always, keeping your readers informed and ahead of the curve. Best regards. — Frank

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