For Exhibit A, I present Google+.
Right after Google+ launched, I wrote an FAQ covering what Google+ is and why it's worthy of our attention. Any service that attracts more than 10 million users within a couple weeks (it took Foursquare several years to reach this milestone) merits a closer look.
A week later, I crowdsourced a column, enlisting about 20 people to share thoughtful reasons on why Google+ matters. Responses included that "it's a sharing network," "it can make Google search better," it can "better allow us to connect to the people and interests we want to follow," and "the merging of mobile, local, search, and social has never been this close."
The third week, I went rogue, noting why Google+ doesn't matter. The majority of people I heard from were relieved that they could use it to express their own frustrations, while many others vehemently disagreed -- and in turn rallied their own followers to pile on their critiques.
What none of these columns address is whether Google+ matters for you - namely, your brands or clients. Perhaps that was a mistake. Shouldn't that be the entire focus?
The goal of the previous three columns was to provide enough information about an emerging technology and media channel so that you can apply it to your job. In retrospect, I'm not sure that happened. The broader discussion on Google+ seems to have jumped right from "What is it?" to "How fast can we get involved?" with little interest in "Why should I be there?" and "Why does this matter for me?"
Google delivered a perfect hype trifecta: (1) a major brand (2) released a buzz-worthy product that attracted massive media attention (3) and reached a user milestone that fueled the buzz further. It doesn't always take that much to fuel hype. Also, sometimes the buzz is around a nebulous technology like widgets or augmented reality rather than a product like Google+ or Foursquare or Tumblr or Instagram. Today, though, it's Google that has everyone wanting to join first and ask questions later.
So how do you step back? I'm biased of course, but my agency, 360i, offered a simple four-step guide in its Social Marketing Playbook that remains relevant. I'd love to hear your methods too, but for me, this is one guide I've used often, because it concisely covers the most important considerations when developing a social strategy. The exercise involves answering four questions about the new opportunity you're considering, whether it's a specific app or a bigger idea:
1) What are your goals? Don't just think of goals for social media -- think about overarching marketing objectives.
2) What's in your arsenal that you can use? The arsenal can be digital and physical, tangible and intangible. It can include websites, social media profiles, ads and sponsorships running online and offline, spokespeople, internal experts, products, physical locations, print or e-mail newsletters, and much more.
3) Does it follow the rules of the road? Are you respecting how consumers use these technologies and media? In which ways are brands welcome into the experience?
4) What's the value exchange between brands and consumers? In other words, how can you best align your goals with consumers' goals? Forms of value can include insider access, exclusive information, entertaining content, deals, product samples, utilities, access to a community, and customer service, along with other approaches.Consider how this works for Google+. Are your goals to get traffic, generate buzz by being a first mover, explore search engine optimization considerations, or build a community?
Great article, David. I love that while you know that it's impossible, you do your best to remain unbiased. That's a wonderful quality in a writer.
Are the "10 million users" actual users of Google+, or are they counting folks who have had their emails imported as part of that number? I'm guessing the latter...