Web Strategy Matrix: Google Buzz vs Facebook vs MySpace vs Twitter (Feb 2010)

Lack Of Signal In A Sea of Noise
There’s an incredible amount of media and blogger noise about social networks, yet most focus on “killer app” hype without an objective point of view.   My career mission?  To cut out the hype and help companies make sense of what to do. For those fraught with information overload, this definitive matrix distills what matters.

Situation:  New Contender Shakes Up Industry
Google has entered the social networking play with “Buzz”, and by the look of it, this time it’s for real.  There’s a lot of market confusion on how they could stack up, so here’s my take.  Let’s cut the noise and get to the heart of it with a comparison matrix based upon my insights talking to these companies in formal briefings, observations, as a user, my former research and dealing with the brands trying to reach them.

Executive Summary:  Brands Must Stay Focused On Where Customers Already Are
Google’s entrance causes media havoc but web strategists should stay focused.  Find out where customers already are through developing data around consumer behavior called socialgraphics.  Facebook continues to demonstrate a sophisticated marketplace for consumers and brands to mix about, however don’t discount MySpace’s active consumer base –but only if your customers are already there.  Continue to monitor Twitter and respond if customers are tweeting –but they’ve yet to indicate sophistication to help marketers, instead rely on third party tools and agencies to respond.  The feature set of newly spawned Google Buzz isn’t important, what matters is their ability to aggregate social content which will impact search strategy for businesses trying to reach consumers, read my first take analysis.

This scorecard has a limited shelf life, so I’ll likely create a new scorecard after future announcements from these players.

Web Strategy Matrix: Google Buzz vs Facebook vs MySpace vs Twitter (Feb 2010)

Google Buzz Facebook MySpace Twitter
One-Liner A dark horse that has big backing and access to existing platforms. A mainstay platform that needs to grow out of its shell. The MTV of this generation is at risk during an ugly transformation. Has opportunity to become utility-like infrastructure, but not a destination.
Vitals (see more stats) Estimated to sit on a user based of over 100mm active gmail users, they have access to the most popular webpage in the world, google.com.  Has access to mainstream users on Google.com and advanced email users on Gmail. Boasting over 400mm users in just a few short years, they’ve saturated Gen Y in US, and show global expansion at record rates. Recently reported at 57mm US unique users most of which are heavily engaged with site.  Has saturation of coveted youth, working class and small businesses within US. Although difficult to track, estimates indicate 75mm active users, but doubts are emerging about reduced rate of growth.  Usage by tech savvy, media, and celebs.
Strengths A large talent pool of engineers to pull from, Buzz stands on top of existing Gmail, mobile devices, and dominant search portal.  As Buzz grows, they can integrate with all Google apps –and aggregate the entire internet. Rapid US and international growth over last few years bodes well as quickly evolved feature set of platform and and FB Connect gain traction.  Attracts top talent from Google –which are quickly defecting. Big backing by a media giant, a super engaged audience, and rich history of reaching media starved young consumers. Has clinched adoption over media elite, celebrities, and tech influencers. Incredible media buzz, and easy-to-use features.
Weaknesses Late to the party, Google has had a series of social networking misfires from Wave, Dodgeball, Orkut their culture shows signs of becoming corporate –like Microsoft. Struggles with the conundrum of having promised users a ‘closed’ experience where to be successful requires them to be ‘open’. Historically poor track record in meeting privacy expectations of customers, and overall complex interface. Complacent: they really let themselves go. In the eyes of the tech world, they are becoming irrelevant or even worse, a niched media play –not even a lifestyle network.  This leaderless ship without a captain is undergoing radical internal turmoil and innovation has stalled. Although features are dead simple, they are now a commodity –status update features are ubiquitous. Mainstream users confused by how to get started. Overhyped, the infrastructure has shown strain.  Brands generally confused on how to interact.
Opportunity The more information users share, tag, or create, the more data is created on Google’s platform to organize, giving them opportunity to monetize. By integrating Facebook Connect everywhere, the service becomes ubiquitous, and therefore the default identity and default address book for consumer behavior. A few hours ago, the CEO Van Natta was let go. Now a new chief can step up, and lead the recently formed executive team, fostering innovation and solidarity. Must develop more features to increase the overall value of this utility of the this simple status messaging tool.
Threats Mainstay email companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL have already shown social features ‘bolted’ onto their email systems, and could pose threat, although success hasn’t been proven by any. Secondly, Facebook has made notions to develop an email web client “Project Titan” that will threaten tech savvy users competing for Gmail’s attention. Facebook is a conundrum as they must make experience open –yet this provides Google the opportunity to monetize as an intermediary. Social networks come and go, before MySpace was Friendster, they run the risk of becoming complacent, losing talent to Twitter and failing to innovate over the next few years. Self-implosion from internal instability causes stalls, forcing media brands to develop their own social networking on their own sites, rendering MySpace a duplicate. Worse yet? Cool kids jump ship, and establish a colony elsewhere, leaving MySpace a wasteland of clueless advertisers. Overhype from media leaves Twitter at risk for burn-out-syndrome like a Hollywood child star turned skid row.  Secondly, the more successful they are, the more strain it put on the already questionable infrastructure.
Marketing Platform Although not fully developed, expect advertising options to appear for brands who want to promote relevant ads wherever Buzz is located, especially on SERP pages Confusing and overly complicated, there are too many marketing options perplexing brands.  It’s not clear if brands should advertise, interact in pages, create widgets or do a combination of all. Strong and straight forward. Established team has cut deals with many media companies and has legacy culture of understanding media. Nascent. Although promises have been made for branded experiences, analytics, and other premium features, for most marketers it’s being treated like a chat room –not a marketing platform.
Future State Buzz will aggregate the voices of their users –and those of other social networks, aggregate and serve up monetization options. A communications platform for consumers and brands.  Expect Facebook experience to be in many public experiences and mobile devices. There are two paths: Integrate MySpace into TV and mobile devices or fade into pit of irrelevance like Friendster. Like gas, water, or power, Twitter is likely to fade into the background and become a utility that’s integrated into everything –someday, even your fridge will Tweet.
What They Don’t Want You To Know The collective already owns you –you just don’t know it yet. They’re trying so hard to shift from closed to open, and like a nasty divorce, it’s tearing them apart from users. Like an internal disease, the insiders are hurting, morale sunk, teams in disarray, yet they don’t want the public to know. Not sure what they want to be when they grow up.
What They Should Do Demonstrate success with Buzz, then quickly integrate into other tools like Search and Chrome. Kill off the confusing Wave, and consolidate teams and efforts.  Aggregate public content from Twitter and Facebook, intermediate them and monetize their own content. Get open now. Build a browser to quickly go transcend the web. Reward users to share more information in public like restaurant or media reviews in exchange for other values. Double down efforts on Project Titan email feature. Quickly establish a chain of command and execute based upon a single vision. Have regular talent turnover to avoid complacency. Develop a white label product that can compete with Cisco EOS, Kyte, Pluck, or Kickapps (Altimeter client). Develop a vision to become the dominant protocol over SMS, where teens and international cultures are already heavily texting. Continue to build out platform for developers to build on top of, becoming a data play, like a utility.

Everyone has a morning ritual, for me, I invest up to two hours reading, thinking, and blogging each morning. I hope this helps you cut through the noise –if it was helpful, please pass it on, email to colleagues, tweet it, and blog about it.