Is Google Plus a Minus for Direct Marketing?

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GRAPHICMAIL – Search-champion Google stirred much fanfare and frenzy last week when the company popped the cork on its new “Plus” suite of social tools. Over seven days of sheer media coverage-dominance later, the verbal dust has settled and opinions about Google’s new social initiative seem to be slowing down steadily.

The overall consensus is that Google has done some good work in avoiding where they have dropped the ball in previous social efforts and the initial public announcement by Google was delivered almost dispassionately, downplaying the extent to which they have encroached on traditional social turf. But with Facebook’s own new mailing client dubbed the “Gmail killer”, there is no shortage of hostilities or vindications on either side of the great rift.

The social search game is on and direct marketers are scampering to integrate new Google-esque social share widgets and “+1” buttons on their email newsletter templates, examining how Google+ will alter social share and how +1 analytics plugged into domains present on the search database will augment social data models for conceptualising promotional campaigns.

Arguably the biggest news story of all however, which overshadowed the post-release PR euphoria of the Google+ activation, came about when Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined Google+ himself. Though Google has not yet confirmed it and said that they do not authenticate user names, Mark Zuckerberg is, somewhat embarrassingly, already the most followed user according to its statistics counter.

And while Zuckerberg is probably just having a good look at what the competition has to offer, the Facebook CEO is already feeling the love with 21,213 followers; compared to Google CEO Larry Page at 14,798, Google social caesar Vic Gundotra at 13,783, Google co-founder Sergey Brin at 11,629, Google spam avenger Matt Cutts at 9,153, TWIT founder Leo Laporte at 7,566, Google’s Bradley Horowitz at 7,187 and TechCrunch’s MG Siegler at 6,579. Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, it seems, is at the order of the day.

Since search and social are on the bumpy road to integration, at GraphicMail we briefly entertained the idea of just how much mankind would benefit if the digital archrivals were to join their considerable technological forces. During our recent musings we were reminded of a line in the famous Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which goes; “You know it’s gonna make it that much better, when we can say goodnight and stay together.”

But while it might bring about an unfathomable e-commerce renaissance if everyone could sing Kumbayah around the same campfire, the long-term drawback is that a lack of competition in any industry equals product stagnation and a regression of services.

The real strength of giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook is their ability to pick up new developments and innovations right off the street, incorporate them into their existing offerings, and then monetize immediately. A competitive sport in itself, the advantage for consumers and marketers is that the evolution of everyday technologies and the channels used to push promotions are being catalysed at a more rapid rate.

Without pointing any fingers, heroes and villains are mutually dependent in playing a vital role in upping each other’s performance. No company can win all the digital territory, but the occasional warning shot over the bow of the competition does tend to get the next ‘big thing’ rattled down the development line that much faster.

Google may be excelling into social turf, but let’s not forget that they are fighting on several fronts at once, including forays into the mobile environment and shoring up their defenses against the advance of the emerging application movement.

As time goes on, Google and Facebook will slowly become more homogenous as the one imitates the other to get a share of the same pie and the lines start blurring. Email and mobile marketers are as reliant on making use of improvements in technology and changes in digital trends to boost their own services as they are responsible for keeping their own house in order and nurturing better deliveries from within.

As the platforms we integrate into our own offerings improve, so do we — which means it is never a bad thing. There is no end-of-the-world scenario for direct marketing, just a constant slew of new worlds to explore and utilize.

For now though, the main questions that remain are: will Google go where no social network has gone before and add a “-1” button to ensure real content quality control moderation, and will “the Zuckerberg” be your friend on Google +?

Republished with permission from the GraphicMail blog.

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