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Why does Google get social content but not social networks?

It’s a running joke in the digital media space that Google+ is a ghost town. Not entirely accurate as companies such as Ford believe in the space and prominent bloggers still actively participate there, but it certainly didn’t meet the promise that many hoped for – to finally bring a direct competitor (with deep pockets) to Facebook. 50mm active users and 90mm registered users is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not where the Internet giant was hoping to be. This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to venture into social networks, there were the other Internet services, Buzz and Wave, which became fodder for Internet jokes before being shut down.

On the flip side, Google’s content creation engine consistently churns out compelling content that is shared far and wide and highly praised: think Google Doodles; April Fools jokes; and random Easter Eggs in products (e.g. Map Directions). They excel at it and appear to have a lot of fun doing it. So it should be only natural that if they are that good at creating content that people want to share they should understand how to build products that facilitate that sharing. Right?

Well, understanding the psychology of human sharing and interaction is different from creating cool things that people like to geek out to. Google, at its core, is full of incredibly smart engineers who look at problems logically and have a deep understanding of how the Internet works, how to create workflows, and how their own products can all be tied in together. These are the folks who brought us Gmail that revolutionized email, search which is the backbone of how people find information online, etc. etc.

But these products are all fundamentally purpose built, not discovery and interaction built.

I go to Gmail to read and respond to email. I use the search engine to find things I’m looking for, not to browse the web. I use Maps to get directions and find things. You get the picture. YouTube is different, but it wasn’t built in house, it was acquired after it was already successful and hasn’t really expanded much past it’s original purpose – to watch videos online.

The sticky social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. are all about frictionless creation and sharing which is where the content that Google creates naturally spreads. Google+ is amazingly built. It has so many features that the other networks lack it should be a natural place to migrate our social interactions to. Except, all those features that make sense logically probably confuse the average user. Geeks get it, but geeks already have channels where their buddies are to share on. Circles are actually a really great idea, but the average person looks at that and says, whoa, way too much work! I’d hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 people on Facebook and Twitter haven’t set up lists either (the simplest versions of Circles). Ripples? What are those? Hangouts, which should have been the killer feature weren’t promoted properly (think about how Apple promoted Facetime for how it should have been done), and YouTube integration was an after-thought instead of a must have from day one. I could go on and on but you get the picture. When Google builds social networks they build them through their own incredibly logical lens instead of an average consumer lens.

So, what can they do? I’d suggest taking a look at why their content is so successful and how it spreads (psst, they have Google Analytics that recently added social networks tracking they could take a peek at for some insights). I’d also do a deep analysis of what their competitors are doing from a marketing lens, not a development one. Make it easy to import friends from other networks, make setting up a profile a snap, make it cool (and easy) to be there. Then, in the immortal words of start-ups: pivot…. Hell, even Zuckerberg pivoted by opening The Facebook to non-college kids.

In the meantime, keep the content coming, it’s really good!

Image credit: [Jennifer Horn @ Google]

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Experience Is Everything: Joining Teehan+Lax as Partner- Strategic Consulting

It’s a been a wonderful road watching technology, marketing and social communications evolve on the web over the last 15 years, and it’s been fantastic & exciting being in the thick of it and running my own consultancy for the last 4 years. The last 24 months in particular have been a great journey as social networking tools have come of age rapidly. Seeing companies take the first steps in marketing and DWC (direct-with-consumer)/ social communications in this new hyper-connected reality has been a thrill to watch and participate in. Communications is changing, but at the same time the need for sound strategies, counsel and ideas remains as important as ever to navigate the waters and integrate properly. Social communications is not just outreach and PR; it is part of a larger digital experience with many touchpoints and needs based on standard business objectives.

I have of course focused on the strategy-side of the equation, and in analyzing changes in communications in the digital space. Another part of the digital coming-of-age is having brands move forward in usability and interaction in the online arena to take static, brochure-ware sites to robust, intuitive, user-centric places that continue to evolve and deliver results. Delivering rich creative experiences and personalized programs has started come into its own as clients are willing to invest more of their budget in new media as the value continues to be shown, and not being present becomes a competitive disadvantage. It’s been wonderful to see happen.

I truly believe that Experience touches *everything*: Interfaces, Interaction, Collaboration, Connection, Technology, Relationships, Creative, Information, Service, Engagement, Accessibility, Community…

Currently social media is on the cusp of becoming standard in anything digital, and incorporating digital and social communications with user experience design and solid, engaging creative/ content from the ground up is something I am truly excited about.

One of the best Experience Design agencies out there is Toronto-based Teehan+Lax, with a stellar and incredibly talented team of Associates and amazingly smart Partners (and I don’t just say so myself ;)): Geoff Teehan, Jon Lax, Jeremy Bell & my old partner-in-crime from my MacLaren McCann Interactive days on GM Canada, Dave Stubbs.

In my view, a combination of strategic planning, digital marketing, social communications and user-experience/ interaction design results in a truly robust, meaningful experience that is people-centric and grounded in *business reality*, including insights and analysis that will continue to drive innovation. It’s a natural extension of the way digital and social is moving: doing what’s best for business *and* the public, and doing it as a cohesive unit from ground zero.

Joining Teehan+Lax as Partner – Strategic Consulting makes perfect sense to me. Building this Group to aid clients in strategic business planning, including tapping into social media and mobile marketing & applications, is an exciting challenge, and my vision is to enable Teehan+Lax to provide sound business intelligence and planning capabilities, as a stand-alone offering, or fully integrated with their best-in-class user experience platform and program capabilities to drive business and communications results for clients.

I’m looking forward to the experience and the journey.

[the official press release will go out tomorrow & I'll update this post with the link... but we decided we'd let the social sphere get the scoop first :)]

—-

Some housekeeping:

- Wildfire SM will not be accepting new clients or projects, although I am happy to discuss new relationships with Teehan+Lax. Any existing relationships will be bound by the same terms as initially agreed to in the contract. If you have any questions give me a shout, I’m happy to talk.

- As of today the www.wildfirestrategy.com domain will re-direct to this blog. The blog will still remain (3i) innovate. integrate. ignite. Because that’s my philosophy towards marketing and it applies fully in this new context.

- This blog will change look and feel over the next couple of months, but everything feed related etc. will remain the same.

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Raising twins is like user experience design

Blending personal with marketing is something I have done for years, some would say it’s a character flaw as I’m constantly looking at how marketing impacts and influences my life, but I can’t help it, it’s in my blood I guess. I recently had twin girls, Isabelle & Olivia, and although I had planned extensively for them, cribs, stroller, dresser, rockers, play yard, etc. etc. it wasn’t until recently that I started getting into buying them clothes or decorating their room (note “room” not “nursery” – a slight distinction, but an important one). When I was thinking about how to dress them, what colours to use, theme of room, etc. I kept vacillating and realized that I had no idea who they were or what they might like as individuals. They aren’t carbon copies, they are distinct and unique human beings – how could I design something for them or try and force-fit a ’style’ onto them without having met them? What if I was wrong? (and it’s not cheap being wrong…)

Now some may say I over-analysed and what’s wrong with picking out a nursery theme for them in advance and letting them deal with it? You don’t get choices when you are a baby. Well… because 4-months in I see their distinct personalities coming out and they are quite different. Olivia lights up when she sees girly dresses and Isabelle goes nuts for the colour red for example. I’m getting to know them now & have a good sense of who they are and how I can incorporate their differing personalities into their wardrobe, room, and toys. 

I started from a simple premise: they needed to feel comfortable and secure. Everything else is just window dressing. So I knew I wanted them to feel at peace in their room instead of being overwhelmed with bright colours, they needed a place to sleep & a place to put their clothes, but that was as far as I got. We knew we needed to paint regardless of the choice, it was a very dark colour initially, and Kevin suggested (and painted) two colours – sky blue & light yellow sunshine for trim. Very uplifting and calming colours and a warm space for them to spend time in. That worked. 

So that’s where we ended up – a painted room we wanted to spend time in. Pretty good starting point – in marketing terms, I was in the door & willing to spend some time browsing around. The foundation was set experientially. Of course it’s not *my* room, it’s theirs so all I did was added two dark wood 3-in-1 cribs that could be painted if the girls wanted to individualize their beds down the road, an antique white dresser that can also be painted if they want, a neutral rug, a funky lamp, and some wall stickers. That was it. No other “stuff”. No wall art, no “princess” or “jungle” pre-packaged theme, no elaborate crib bedding sets, just a relatively plain room that felt good for wee ones. Now that I see who they are I’m starting to refine, change, or add to their space to make it their own.

Why did I feel like I needed to rush and get all this done & design the perfect ‘experience’ for them without any context outside of what *I* (Brand “Mommy”) thought they’d like? Of course I built the foundation, but I left the door open (and mandatory) for iterations, changes, and growth. I let them show me who they were. I design for them, not for me. I facilitate and enable their personalities & mediate the differences, not dictate my taste. 

I’m designing their “user” experience in the world — and funny enough, the same principles about getting to know them apply if you are a brand too.

[photo credit: shashchatter via Flickr]

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