Banks’ Social Media Challenges

I had the chance to participate on a SMB Boston panel last week on Driving Business Value Through Social within Financial and Regulated Environments, which I think was just a fancy way of saying “social media in financial services.”

The main message of my presentation:

Financial institutions should integrate social media approaches into their marketing and customer service processes.

As I see it, banks (and credit unions) are wrestling with — or perhaps, simply failing to address — challenges regarding social media. And you don’t even need to be a journalist to know where these challenges came from:

  1. What: Banks don’t know what to say in social media.
  2. When: Banks don’t know when to say it.
  3. How: Banks don’t know how to say it.

There are, of course, a couple of other potential challenges, but I think that “Who to say it to” is less of a challenge, and that “Why they’re saying it” is better understood. Regarding “why”, the research that Aite Group has done on social media in banking, bears this out: Most FIs are fairly clear that engaging customers, building brand awareness, and building brand affinity are why they’re involved with social media.

Engagement may be the objective, but I’m not sure, based on what I’ve seen FIs tweet and post, that they know how to achieve that objective.

I saw one FI recently tweet:

Have a new business that needs to grow quickly? Add credit card processing to increase revenues and cash flow. #smallbiz

Here’s another from a credit union:

We are listening. We are not like the BIG Banks. Check us out!

Do people really turn to Twitter or Facebook to see shameless marketing messages, re-purposed from other marketing channels? Are these tweets effectively engaging customers/members/prospects? I don’t know. But I bet the FIs that tweeted those messages don’t know either.

Another thing that struck me reading those tweets, was thinking about why the FIs chose to tweet those messages when they did. Was some marketing person sitting around with nothing to do, and suddenly realize that ts was 30 minutes since the last tweet, so s/he might as well tweet something else? Did something trigger the need for a credit card processing tweet at that particular time? I can tell you this: The credit union’s tweet came 11 days after Bank Transfer Day, so I doubt there was some pressing need to send out that tweet when it was sent.

The tone of these tweets doesn’t sit well with me, either. How many times have you heard the phrase “join the conversation?” Look again at those tweets above — do you know anybody who talks like that in the course of a normal conversation? (If you do, I bet you don’t engage in too many conversations with that person).

This gets at a big issue that marketers (not just in financial services) have to face: They don’t know how to have (or start) a conversation with consumers. Here’s the problem:

Marketing has, to date, been driven by the need and desire to persuade consumers.

But “engagement” isn’t accomplished through persuasion. (Well, persuasion can be a part of it, but it can’t be the only part of it).

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So what should FIs do to address these challenges? There’s a tactical response and a strategic response.

The tactical response: Categorize and test.

A couple of months ago, Michael Pace from Constant Contact wrote an interesting blog post, advocating that Twitter users should periodically do a self-analysis of their tweets. Honestly, I thought that was a pretty self-indulgent thing for an individual to do. But at the company level, the idea has a lot of merit.   

A high-level analysis of your company’s Twitter stream can help you understand how well you’re balancing various types of tweets. And the same could be done with Facebook posts. The challenge, of course, is understanding what impact those messages are having, and if shaking up the mix would improve the impact (i.e., engagement).

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But even if you do this, I doubt that you’ll make more than just a minor impact on your firm’s bottom line. To have a more meaningful impact, you need the strategic response:  Integrate social media approaches into marketing and customer service processes.

In my presentation at the breakfast, I highlighted three ways to do this:

1. Influence preferences. I like what America First Credit Union does on its site (as does @itsjustbrent,  since he either borrowed this example from me, or I stole it from him). The CU incorporates members’ product reviews on the product pages. By doing this, the CU accomplishes:

  • Customer advocacy. Not just in the net promoter sense of the word — but in the more important sense of the word: Doing what’s right for the customer and not just your own bottom line. Helping consumers make better choices — that are right for them — by enabling them to access other customers’ opinions is a demonstration of customer advocacy.
  • Active engagement. I guess that, if a customer follows you on Twitter and reads your tweets, or likes you on Facebook in order to enter a contest to win a prize, you could call that engagement. But I would call it passive engagement. Customers who take the time to post a review are more actively engaged, in my book.
  • Continuous market research. I doubt many firms could capture the richness of information America First is capturing through satisfaction or net promoter surveys. And I know that they can’t capture it in as timely a basis as America First does.

2. Provide collaborative support. I’ve been holding up Mint.com as an example of a firm with collaborative support, but it recently discontinued its Mint Answers page. No worries, Summit Credit Union is doing the same thing, and hopefully, they can become my poster child for this. Collaborative support is giving customers the opportunity to answer other customers’ questions. Dell has been doing it for years. Why provide collaborative support?

  • Reduced call volume. I’m not going to say that you’re going to see a huge volume of deflected calls, but over time, if you market the collaborative capability, it can help.
  • Expanded knowledge base. This is where the bigger value comes in. Customer service reps leverage internal knowledge bases to answer customer questions. Collaborative support helps grow that knowledge base, and helps figure out which answers and responses are more valuable than others. This expanded knowledge base will also prove valuable in training new employees.
  • Active engagement. Similar to the product reviews, customers who participate in collaborative support sites are demonstrating active engagement.

3. Instill financial discipline. This is about using social concepts to get people to change the way they manage their financial lives. Take a look at the research that Peter Tufano has done regarding what motivates people to save.  There are some good examples of this in practice — see Members Credit Union’s What Are You Saving For?. I recently chatted with the CEO of Bobber Interactive, and like what they’re doing about bringing social gamification to how people manage their finances.

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Bottom line: Your firm can putz around with Facebook and Twitter until you’re blue in the face. For financial institutions, this is probably not going to have much of an immediate impact on the bottom line. It will likely take years of experimentation to figure out what to say, when to say it, and how to say it on social media channels.

If you want to engage customers, you have to give them a reason to engage. Mindless, idle chatter on Twitter and Facebook isn’t sustainable. 

The path to making social media an important contributor to bottom line improvement — and sooner rather than later — will come from integration social media concepts and approaches into everyday marketing and customer service processes.

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Social Media’s Chicken And Egg Problem

An article titled Research: Most social media marketing initiatives fail on New Media and Marketing states:

From the book The Social Organization the author states “One of our more striking discoveries is that most social media initiatives fail. Either they don’t attract any interest or they never create business value.” Why ? Because social media is not a tactic social media starts with a social organization focused on consumers and its customers.

[I think there’s a grammatical problem with the last sentence. I think there should be a period after the word tactic, and that the rest of the sentence is a new sentence]

My take: Hold on a second here. For the past two+ years, I’ve been reading left and right that: 1) The ROI of social media far exceeds the ROI of every thing else on this planet, or 2) The ROI of social media can’t be measured in just dollars and cents.

The explanation for why so many firms allegedly fail with social media is intriguing: That firms fail at social media because they’re not a “social organization” which the author defines as:

One that strategically applies mass collaboration to address significant business challenges and opportunities. Its leaders recognize that becoming a social enterprise is not about incremental improvement. They know it demands a new way of thinking, and so they’re moving beyond tactical, one-time grassroots efforts and pushing for greater business impact through a thoughtful, planned approach to applying social media. As a result, a social organization is able to be more agile, produce better outcomes, and even develop entirely new ways of operating that are only achievable through mobilizing the collective talent, energy, ideas, and efforts of communities.

When I first read this, I had a deja vu moment. Ah yes — substitute “knowledge-based organization” from the late 90s or “digital business” from the early 200s, and you realize that we’ve heard all this before.

My deja vu aside, I’ve also read — countless times over the past few years — that firms that don’t get into social media “will be left behind.” (Don’t make me find links, you know they’re out there).

So what should we conclude from all this?

  • That social media does indeed have a higher ROI, but only in a small number of instances, specifically those where the organization deploying social media has already become a social organization?
  • That a company that deploys social media will most likely fail in its social media attempts until it becomes a “social organization”?
  • That somehow a company should become a “social organization” BEFORE deploying social media in order to improve its odds of social media success?

If you’re a senior business executive feeling a bit confused by all this, join the club.

What this means is that — since social media is an imperative in today’s business environment (according to social media proponents), and that a firm must first become a social organization before achieving social media success (according to the author of the book) — business executives should take a leap of faith and radically change and transform their organizations before knowing if it’s the right thing for their organization.

And that is not going to happen in any well-managed, reasonably successful firm.

Social media gurus: It’s back to the drawing boards for you. And when you come back, please get your logic, rationale, and arguments straight.

The Hidden Costs Of Social Media

I’m really tired of hearing social media gurus preach about how social media will transform marketing. They usually can’t explain why this will be the case. And when asked for examples, they often cite people in the Middle East tweeting during a revolution. Which is great, but has nothing to do with marketing. 

If there’s a transformative potential for social media, it lies in this: The incremental cost of communicating with customers and prospects is, for all intents and purposes, zero. 

This has, until very recently, never been the case. 

Prior to the advent of email, the cost of communicating was high. Marketers either used mass media avenues (TV, radio, print) or direct mail. The cost per message was high. 

As a result, the return on investment per message was important. Each message had to pay its way. And that’s why obsessed over response and conversion rates.

Social media brings the cost of messaging way down. As a result, marketers don’t have to obsess over the ROI of each message, allowing them to shift the nature of communication from persuasion to engagement. In a world where every message doesn’t have to have an ROI, we can actually carry on a conversation with customers and prospects. 

But most marketers are missing something important as the economics of marketing change:

Costs shift from message distribution (dissemination) to message creation.

In the old world, marketers did spend a lot of money in crafting their message (witness the size of the advertising agency business). Despite this cost, more was spent on disseminating the message than creating it. After all, the message was created ONCE. Then tested, revised, and launched. And then the bulk of the marketing cost was in getting the message OUT.

Marketers in the new world have new mechanisms for getting the message out thanks to social media tools and channels. Tools and channels that radically slash the cost of dissemination.

But what too many marketers don’t realize is that there’s a new cost in town: The cost of message creation. 

Too many marketers don’t have a clue how to have a conversation with a customer or prospect through social media. Either they tweet or post their tired old marketing messages, or they deal with customer service requests. But marketing messages designed for mass media channels are inappropriate for social media channels.

I guess I can only speak to the financial services industry here, but there’s not a single financial institution that I’ve talked to — and I talk to a lot — that consciously think about the mix of messages they disseminate through social media (i.e., the mix between marketing messages, educational content, news alerts, and other types of messages), nor do they test and refine the messages they disseminate. 

Thanks to social media, the cost of marketing is shifting from message dissemination to message creation. And that’s not a grammatically correct sentence, since it’s about messages — in the plural — today, not the message. 

Seth Godin wrote that “marketing is the story marketers tell consumers.” That’s simply not accurate. It’s “stories” in the plural (and if you want to be even more correct, it’s not about the stories marketers tell, but the stories that marketers get consumers to tell). 

It’s hard to equate a tweet or Facebook posting to a story, but this is mincing words. It’s about the message. More frequent — and more meaningful — engagement with consumers, means having more frequent and meaningful messages and things to say. 

The cost of creating those messages, and understanding which ones are most effective, is the hidden cost of social media.

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Check out Snarketing 2.0: A Humorous Look at the World of Marketing in the Age of Social Media (print or Kindle format):

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Why Proponents Of Klout Are Missing the Big Picture

Jay Baer wrote a blog post titled Why Critics of Klout Are Missing the Big Picture in which he argues that  “influence measures help business create order from chaos.” Baer goes on to write:

“What’s important is to recognize that more and more and more and more of our behaviors occur online and often with the social media realm. And if companies are going to succeed in a chaotic, real-time environment, they need some mechanism – even a flawed one – to triage promotion and reaction. So yeah, Klout isn’t perfect. But instead of rehashing the same old “look how screwed up their formula is” argument, let’s focus instead on how advanced metrics will enable companies to deliver highly specific interactions with customers based on perceived influence.”

My take: Baer makes a good and valid point. But I think Baer and I might disagree on what the “big picture” is.

Baer’s definition of big picture  seems to be “making sense of chaos.” My notion of the big picture is “making the right decisions.”

And, using my definition, what I see are marketers making questionable business decisions based on people’s Klout score.

The best example I can give you to demonstrate this is the bank that’s reserving the best spots in its parking lots for its customers with a high Klout score.

Let me state this is no uncertain terms, and aim it directly at the bank with which I do business:

If you reserve the best spots in your parking lot for some pimply-faced 25 year old (who spends too much time on Facebook and Twitter and has somehow managed to get himself a high Klout score) instead of for me, then I’m pulling my millions out of your bank.

If you think I’m kidding, try me. And I’ll also pull my kids’ accounts (they’re Gen Yers, btw — not little kids), too.  THEN you’ll learn who has INFLUENCE. And when dear-old Mom and Dad (who turns 80 this year!), ask me to take over the day-to-day management of their finances, their money is getting pulled out of your bank, as well. THEN AGAIN you’ll learn who has INFLUENCE.

All because you made the bad decision to reward one group of customers over another.

Bottom line: The purpose of a business metric isn’t just making sense out of chaos — it’s taking action. And unless your customer base is made up of just heavy social media users, then making decisions on what to do based on Klout scores may lead to sub-optimal decisions. 

Stop The Banking SMadness

The “logic” behind the justification of social media as some new emerging “power” channel in banking is so twisted and misguided, that it just HAS TO STOP.

In an article titled Mobile and social to emerge as power channels for banking, Finextra recently wrote:

“Social networking is becoming more popular, with 57% of adult Internet users [in the UK] using online social networks in 2011, up from 43% in 2010. The UK data is in line with international trends. A just-published survey of 12,000+ Canadian consumers issued by JD Power & Associates finds social media emerging as an increasingly important alternative to traditional retail banking channels. More than 60% of retail banking customers responding to the poll say they use social media. Among customers who use social media for banking purposes, 24% indicate they use it to discuss their banking experience or inform their bank of a customer service issue.”

First off, the last sentence is completely misleading. Sixty percent may be using social media, but that doesn’t mean that all use if for banking purposes. So when the last sentence says that “among those who use SM for banking purposes,” we have no idea how many that actually is.

If it’s 10% of the 60%, then 24% of that means that only 1.5% of Canadians use social media to discuss their banking experiences or for service issues. Ooooh….1.5%!

More importantly, however, is the false logic behind the claims. Just because a large percentage of people use a technology doesn’t make that technology relevant to all applications. 

Using the logic from Finextra (yes, I’m singling them out, but let’s get real — they’re hardly the only ones singing this tune), the following would be true:

McDonald’s to become “power” channel for banking!

Everyday, 27 million Americans — nearly 10% of the total population — visit a McDonald’s location. And that number is growing by 1 million every year. Over the course of the year, on average, Americans visit McDonald’s 33 times! Among Americans who visit McDonald’s, 99.9% make a payment (some just use the restroom) while they’re there. 

But wait, you say, the two examples aren’t analogous. After all, banks can’t take a customer service question at a McDonald’s.

True enough, but they can leverage McDonald’s to influence consumers’ choice of payment mechanisms (and you better believe that, as a result of the recent interchange regulations, this is going to happen a lot more frequently).  And with 27 million Americans visiting McDonald’s every day (and making a payment there every day) which channel — social media or McDonald’s — is more likely to emerge as “an increasingly important alternative to traditional [marketing] channels”?

I’m not arguing that social media isn’t important. Just trying to bring a little perspective to the situation. And trying — probably in vain — to turn down the volume a notch or two on the social media hype.

Quantipulation: ROI Versus Success

[This is a follow-up post to Quantipulation. I thought I could get away with just floating a few ideas out there, but some comments I’ve seen suggest that there’s a lot more to quantipulation than I wrote about, and those comments are correct.]

Quantipulation — the art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true — is commonplace in the marketing world, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the social media environment. Especially when it comes to everyone’s favorite topic: Social media ROI.

Whenever I use the term ROI in my reports, the editor where I work asks me to spell it out. As she rightly says, there may be people who aren’t familiar with the term. I don’t tell her this, but if you don’t know what ROI is, I don’t want you reading my reports.

There’s another reason why she’s right: There may be people who define ROI differently than I do. I won’t tell her this, either, but those people don’t deserve to read my reports.

ROI = return on investment. It doesn’t mean return on influence or any other “I” word you can dream up. And despite what some quantipulators would have us believe there’s only one formula for ROI: Financial return divided by financial investment. The only “variable” piece to the formula is the timeframe you use to quantify these variables.

That won’t stop some people from trying to redefine the formula, however.

The most egregious example comes from a firm called Digital Royalty. I won’t besmirch my blog by linking to the offending post. Instead, I’ll point you to Anna O’Brien’s brilliant (and very funny) critique of it.

Here’s another example of ROI quantipulation:

My bet is that tthe firm that put this chart together wanted to include other ROI components, but since it would have messed up their inverted hour glass figure, they decided to leave them out.

Then there’s attempt at redefining social media ROI:

This guy has decided that the ROI unit of measure should be “conversation”. He goes on to tell us that we can measure the “value” of conversation by looking at participation, engagement, influence, imagination, energy, and stickiness. But not increased revenue or decreased cost. Sweet.

There are (at least) two things going on with these attempts to redefine ROI. One is bad, the other is good. 

The bad: An annoying attempt to demonstrate thought leadership. Ugh. Not the way to do it. Anna O’Brien said it best in her blog post: “Random metric names and symbols is not an equation.” (Maybe she didn’t say it best, because it should be “are not an equation”).

There is a good aspect to what the ROI quantipulators are doing, however. They’re raising the very valid point that there are other measures of success beyond ROI. 

There’s a formula for that, too. The one I like is from Pat LaPointe who writes a blog called Marketing NPV. Pat’s formula says that success can be measured by dividing the value added by the resources used. And as this formula implies, “value” can take on the form of many of those measures that those other people wanted to use to calculate ROI.

But this isn’t the whole formula.

Pat added something on to this formula that, as far as I’m concerned, qualifies Pat as a marketing genius. Pat’s formula for calculating success is:

(Value Added/Resources Used) * Perception

What Pat recognized was that what you might consider to be “value” might not be viewed as valuable by other people. Other people like, say, your CEO or CFO.

We’re living in an ROI culture. Suggest that your company do something, and somebody will ask “what’s the ROI on that?” If you want to get up in front of your management team and suggest that your company do something because you “feel” it’s the best thing for the company to do, go for it. Just don’t send me your resume when you’re on the street. 

That doesn’t make your feeling wrong. But being right doesn’t make you successful. Persuading others to do the right thing does. 

This is why quantipulation is so important:  Quantipulation is an attempt to influence perception. To be a successful leader, innovator, or change agent, you have to shape, change, and confirm people’s perceptions.

There’s a reason I call quantipulation an art. Successful quantipulators know that it’s about more than just the data – it’s about logic and emotion. And there’s no formula or recipe for figuring out how much logic and emotion to mix in with the data.

The examples of ROI quantipulation shown above fail not because they’re wrong, but because they fail to influence perception. Those formulas simply confirm for the social media believers what they already believe. That’s easy. Converting the heathen is hard.

Had those social media ROI formulas made any attempt to link social media results to the conventional definition of ROI — financial return — they might have been more persuasive.

Last thought: Quantipulation is not inherently bad or evil. Yes, it’s a play on the word manipulative, which doesn’t have positive connotations. But I prefer to take a more realistic view: It is what it is. And it’s a necessary skill for today’s business world.

Quantipulation

A guy named John Wanamaker is famous for something he said 100 years ago. He said:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Unfortunately, he’s wrong. I mean, if he didn’t know which half was wasted, how did he know it was half and not three-quarters or one-quarter of it?

He’s also wrong because it’s conceivable that 100% of his advertising dollars were wasted.

A century ago there were no ad ratings or measurement services. So how he could possibly know if ANY of his advertising spend was effective? It’s quite possible that any increase he saw in sales was due to exogenous factors like the weather, the economy, the competition raising prices or going out of business, or word of mouth among customers.

Ah, but hold on here a second. I guess it’s possible that 100% of his advertising spend was effective – or at least, not wasted – depending on what measure of success you use. If you don’t believe me, ask DeBeers.

Is it likely that the advertising he did had absolutely NO effect at all? Probably not. Just because someone didn’t make a bee line for the department store after seeing an ad, doesn’t mean the ad had no effect and should be considered wasted dollars. Some might have seen the ad and learned about the store, or the ad might have left others with a positive impression of the store.

Wanamaker thought half his advertising spend was wasted because he had no way to measure its effectiveness and didn’t even know what to measure.

Today’s advertisers have some measurement tools and services available to them, but none can claim to be totally accurate. And marketers are dreaming up new metrics every day, so you can be sure that no one measure is perfect, nor can we safely assume that even a group of commonly used metrics can truly give us a reliable picture of the effectiveness of advertising.

Bottom line: Any claim on what percentage of your advertising is wasted and what isn’t is just a random guess. We simply don’t know – and can’t know.

Here’s another claim to consider: Have you heard that its costs five times more to acquire a customer than to keep or retain one? How did they figure that? You could double the number of insurance, credit card, or mortgage customers you have by simply tweaking your underwriting guidelines, risk guidelines, or interest rates. No big cost associated with that.

But to retain those customers, you have to incur some big costs to keep branches open, provide call center support, and deliver service in an ever-growing number of channels. Many of the costs you incur to keep the business running are costs that help keep your customers  satisfied – and, hence, keeping them as customers. There’s simply no way the cost of acquisition is five times greater than the cost of retention.

But, wait, that’s not right either. Because all those costs you incur to retain your customers help to make your company the great company that it is. It’s what you’ve built your reputation upon. And without that reputation you couldn’t retain OR attract customers.

Bottom line: There’s simply no way to accurately calculate the cost of acquisition or retention. It involves making too many judgments and decisions on which activities contribute to acquisition and retention. It can’t be done.

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These claims – that half of advertising is wasted, or that acquisition costs are five times greater than retention costs – are examples of what I call Quantipulation:

The art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true.

The examples I just gave are just two examples of this widespread practice. In fact, the incidence of quantipulation has grown by 1273% compounded annually since 2003. And I have the math to prove it:

What’s driving this growth in quantipulative activity?

The false legitimacy that quantipulation provides gives quantipulators confirmation that the things they WANT to believe are really true.

In addition, there are many people who want to lay claim to having the secret sauce for marketing success, and sadly, many people who want that special sauce. Quantipulation provides the “scientific” proof that their sauce tastes best.

There are at a lot different flavors of this special sauce that people quantipulate about, especially about customer loyalty, influence, performance metrics and ROI.

I’ll be discussing those things in more detail during the conference. Hope you’ll be there.

Oh, and in the mean time, if I catch you doing anything quantipulative, I’ll be sure to call you out on it. 

Facebook Versus Google

No, this is not a review of Google+, and how it’s features are better or worse than Facebook’s. Nor is it a post on what Google+ means to marketers, etc.

Instead, it’s a rebuttal to a blog post published on the Customer Collective. According to the author of a blog post on that site, the author concludes that “This boxing match is over before it gets started: Facebook wins.” 

Here are reasons the Customer Collective (CC) gives for calling a TKO, with my take on the points.

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CC: Facebook is about staying connected with friends. Google is about making the world’s data searchable. Google is therefore not on solid ground.

My take: Facebook is about “staying connected with friends”? You must be joking. For thousands (if not millions) of companies, Facebook is about finding new customers, and connecting (or at least trying to connect) with existing customers. For Facebook, Facebook is about figuring how to monetize the vast traffic and engagement it has.

Google is about “making the world’s data searchable”? Ha. Google is about connecting advertisers to prospects. The common thread between FB and Google? Advertising. Both are on very solid ground when it comes to generating advertising revenue.

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CC: Google is already pervasive in our lives due to its dominance in search, email, collaboration, smartphone integration, and more. People are going to resent or ignore the company’s attempt to elbow out Facebook just like we resent it when one close friend tries to eliminate another one from our lives.

My take: A misinterpretation here. Facebook users’ connections are with other FB users — not with Facebook. Yes, Google is looking to elbow out Facebook. But the rest of the world doesn’t care about that.

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CC: Face it, Google: Social networking is not your thing.

My take: Oh, come on. PCs weren’t IBM’s thing, but (after some fumbling) it became very successful in the personal computing world. The web wasn’t Microsoft’s thing, but they adjusted. Writing off Google from social networking because of Wave and Buzz failures is a bit short-sighted.

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CC: Facebook stays focused on its core business for a reason – they really know what they’re doing.

My take: You’ve got to be kidding me. Facebook knows what it’s doing? It’s taken so many missteps (especially regarding data usage and privacy) that it’s to back up an argument that there’s a grand plan (other than “world dominance”) at Facebook. Forays into Facebook Credits (which is a damn good idea) is hardly about their “core” business of advertising, which accounts for, what, 95% of their revenue? And even if it were true that FB is “focused” on it core, and “knows what its’ doing” is hardly an argument for why the “boxing match is over before it begins.”

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CC: Last but not least, Google doesn’t seem to get that people actually care about privacy and worry about being tracked online, especially when it comes to their personal email.

My take: If the implication here is that Facebook does get that people care about privacy, then there is little that I’ve seen from Facebook that supports that contention.

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Bottom line: The boxing match is far from over. But it does seem that Google has a big task in front of it, if it wants to avoid getting Pownced.

I wonder if people even remember Pownce. Not long after I started using Twitter in 2007, Pownce was launched. It was a Twitter- like tool, with some additional features. While many of the people I followed (and who followed me back) registered with Pownce, it quickly became a game of Alphonse and Gaston: “Who’s ready to give up Twitter? You go first, Alphonse.  No, no, no — after you, Gaston. 

Nobody left, and and Pownce got bounced. 

The social media gurus have already jumped on Google + and conferred upon us their wisdom regarding the new networks’ features and implications for marketers and businesses. 

But the acid test is whether or not the masses change their behavior. And changing behavior is not easy, nor does it usually happen very fast. And it doesn’t matter if Google+ is better or not. We’re lazy. We don’t like to change. Unless we get paid to, or if the convenience we gain by changing is very noticeable.

A sample size of two isn’t very representative, I admit, but when I asked a 16 year-old and a 21-year old that I happen to know (for 16 years and 21 years, respectively) if they would switch to Google+, their response was identical: “Not unless all my friends do.”

The wildcard here is what businesses will do. If Google can entice businesses to launch brand pages, and if businesses can lure customers and prospects, then maybe the balance of power can be tipped. But it would seem to me that Google needs data to lure businesses, and without 100s of millions of users, won’t have the data. Chicken-and-egg problem. 

So, it’ll be a tough road for Google, but it’s way too early to call the winner.