Google +1 and Facebook Like – two sides of the same coin?

Yesterday, Google launched its +1 button, an attempt to make search more social by using your friend’s recommendations to influence and enhance search results. At a basic level, the +1 button allows you to ‘+1′ information available on the web, indicating that you have found it useful in some way and that you recommend it to others.

How much this will affect search results remains to be seen. I must admit to being vaguely sceptical about its effectiveness. After all, there are billions of pages on the web and the chances of your friends +1’ing the same information you then discover via a search seems a little small. Of course, this is a slight simplification, +1 results will be also be used to give context to the popularity of a page – a more human Google PageRank. But then this is no longer your friend’s recommendation, but the wisdom of the crowds. Will it have the same effect? Possibly not.

Google +1 might be likened to the Facebook ‘Like’button; on the surface it seems to perform the same function. But, no, it’s not the same. And the reasons why provide illumination on the challenges that Google faces.

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘go where the fishes are’. On the whole, our friends don’t exist in Google, they exist in Facebook. Where as Facebook is a destination, Google is the map. Clicking a Facebook ‘Like’ button shares your preferences with a captive audience in a central place, encouraging comments, and building conversations and engagement.  +1’ing a page puts your preferences out in the ether, waiting to be discovered. Oh, and only if you have a ‘standard’ Google account; Google Apps users, you’ll just have to wait until Google Profiles works with Google Apps. For all the traffic and advertising revenue Google generates, it doesn’t have the close relationship with its audience that Facebook does, and in the end it may cost them dear.

Google’s ex-CEO, Eric Schmidt, admitted on stage at All Things Digital’s conference that Google had failed on social:

[Schmidt] repeatedly fell on his sword about missing the social/ identity revolution. He said four years ago he wrote memos about it, but did nothing about the memos he wrote. “I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” he said. When asked why he responeded he was “busy, but the CEO should take responsibility and I screwed up.”

+1 is part of the long journey back towards social for Google, but the question has to be: ‘Is too little too late?’

[...] would like to use your current location

If you have an iPhone, you’ll have seen this message plenty of times. If not, well, you have probably answered without even knowing.

Location-based services are set to be the next ‘Big Thing’. FourSquare is setting pulses racing, Twitter knows where you are tweeting from, and Facebook is set to launch ‘Places’. But why the big fuss, and what does it mean for marketers?

In a way, we should have foreseen this, the world can only become so globalised; at some point it would have to bounce back the other way. We’re now seeing that bounce, and it’s in the form of localised information. Having pushed information to the biggest audience possible, service providers are now trying to increase the relevance of the information they provide by understanding you and the people that surround you.

Let’s look at the three players:

FourSquare – Takes a much more relaxed and game-like approach to using location, users are awarded ‘achievements’ as they use the service. You can earn everything from the ‘Newbie’ badge to the title of ‘Mayor’. Already they are seeing success with advertisers, with Starbucks offering discounts on coffee to the ‘Mayors’ of their stores.

Twitter – I think we all know Twitter very well. But did you know Twitter stores the location from which each of your Tweets emanates? At the moment it’s used to create local trend information (see Trendsmap for a great example), but as Twitter seeks to monetize itself effectively, location-based advertising will follow.

Places – Facebook has been talking about location-based services since 2007, but has put off until now. Why? Well, apart from the fact that there is now competition from the likes of Foursquare – their patchy record over privacy has led them to be cautious. Facebook has now reached a point where its hand has been forced; if it wants to keep up the pressure on Google, Facebook have to stay current. Places will open a host of opportunities for them to generate revenue from location-based advertising, with communities growing around specific places. A spokesperson for Facebook said: “There are currently no plans to add marketing partners to this product. We may consider working with marketers to enhance the experience in the future, but have no plans to do so at launch,” At launch… expect this to be available to marketers very soon.

And what of Google? Covered by Techcrunch’s Eric Schonfeld on the 16th April, Google has made updates to its ‘Google Suggest’ feature that tailors search results to your location – not just your country, but your city. In collaboration with a December update to personalised search we’re now in a situation where we can’t take search results for granted, and with it our efforts at SEO and targeted marketing (unless of course we use Google Adwords!)

So, what does this mean for marketers?

These services come with a fair share of concerns, the top of which is privacy. Why should you share your location with these service providers? But the value proposition attached to them is powerful and may hold sway over users in the long run.

The world is moving towards a more mobile-based digital experience where location-based services will become the norm, and the ability to leverage these to create a better or more intimate user experience will pay dividends; whether that is through timelier message delivery, the creation of local communities, or something as simple as customised promotions for individual retail stores.

Preparing now for these changes will stand Marketers in good stead, because as the big guns of the information world come on board everything will start to accelerate. With the ability now here to provide highly targeted advertising and promotions, we must be aware of these possibilities.

Next time… the rise of the robot…