Will Wall Street “Like” Facebook In The Long Haul?

As a social media brand strategist, it’s often hard for me to leave Facebook out of the equation entirely in recommendations. Oh, it happens. But not as much as other social media channels that could be completely left out of the media mix.

That part of “buying in” to Facebook is relatively easy, whether that means creating a Facebook Page, choosing Facebook Ads, etc. Practically everyone I know is on it and some of those people don’t hop from social network to social network with ease. So I don’t see Facebook disappearing anytime soon. I think it’s going to be around for a while, which is more than I can say for other social media channels that come and go.

Yet, the new part of “buying in,” literally buying Facebook stock, may give some people a degree of pause. Here’s why. The question becomes whether or not we believe it can continue to evolve and give us new, exciting experiences vs. having reached its peak.

This is going to be a huge challenge for Mark Zuckerberg because on one hand, he has to not only bring those new developments to the table to appease a new audience of investors but he also has to appease an audience of users who can be extremely sensitive to change (Timeline or Beacon, anyone?). Granted, people have to deal with that change and unless it’s a colossal miscalculation on Facebook’s part, I don’t see those users switching away with each evolution.

But when you think of Apple, for example, is it easy for you to imagine their next evolution without enraging a core group of fans? Sure, I can see that. Not everybody may buy, say, an iPad mini version, but it’s probably not going to be met with a backlash by those who don’t buy it.

When you think of Google, there are different products that are put forth from the company – some make it, some don’t – but we still by and large turn to Google for what we need, whether that means search, Google+, AdWords, etc.

It’s potentially harder for people with Facebook because so many changes they have affect the whole of the product. We can’t easily select what we want and don’t want from Facebook. They just do it and it’s our option to put up with it or leave entirely. They tell us these changes are good and we, sometimes reluctantly, have to go along with it because it’s not worth leaving behind the connections we have.

The other hard question to ask is this – do we want a social media department store? Because if Facebook evolves, it may have to keep adding on and buying companies like Instagram. But what if we don’t want all of our social media in only one place? Maybe we like having Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. in many different channels rather than One Channel To Rule Them All. If we look at physical department stores like Borders and Circuit City, we can see that the strategy of having many media under one roof doesn’t play with the public as well all the time as you’d expect.

Can a social media network actually reach a point where it becomes too big, too clunky, too fast? This concept has happened with other industries. Whether you buy Facebook may depend on whether or not you buy into the belief that each evolution they make will be fluid, intuitive and elegant or like turning around an aircraft carrier.

Why I do buy about Facebook is this much – there will be change, a portion of the audience won’t like that change (inevitable with an audience this massive), the size of that portion will depend on how great the change is and there will continue to be new players in the social media universe – not to take down Facebook entirely, but to outdo certain features.

I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of Zuckerberg. But he’s got quite the challenge at the opening bell.

The Google Gap: Useful? Yes. Emotional Pull? Well…

A rather stunning irony occurred to me as I was thinking about the latest tool Google is introducing, Google Plus.

For all the tools I use from Google, I don’t believe I ever got extraordinarily excited about using them before or during the time I’ve actually used them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of certain tools and highly recommend them. In particular, I regularly use Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader and Google Alerts. I’d even describe them to others as “great.”

So what’s the problem? The problem is despite the fact that Google delivers a highly efficient, highly productive group of tools for me, none of these tools have stirred the senses with a “got to have it now” factor. And this wouldn’t be such a big deal if Google weren’t aiming to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Facebook to be our all-everything place for connections, searching and relationships.

Say what you want about privacy issues, but Facebook owns a great deal of emotional investment from people. It’s the place where their family and friends commonly are when it comes to online community interaction, if not their business associates too. The technology to keep and enhance those connections is important, but technology is almost secondary to why people are there and stay there. This emotion is not to be underestimated.

Take another company, like Apple. Apple has the “got to have it now” factor in spades. It’s safe to say that for a large number of people like you, there’s been at least one Apple product released in the last 10 years that you really, really wanted….NOW. It’s why people¬†had to have the iPod, stood in line for the iPhone and they’re salivating over the iCloud. And if you didn’t have it, you felt left behind. Even with the one product that met a bit more skepticism at first, the iPad, there’s little question now that people who bought into it love what it can do on a personal or business level.

And there it is – the “L” word. Love. There are many companies that produce useful, efficient, productive products that people buy and even keep buying…but don’t love them. This is coveted territory that not everybody can own. Dare I say that Google has never produced anything that’s, well, FUN. It’s never ENTERTAINED. Absolutely, it’s helped me get the job done, find what I’m looking for and keep me organized. But it’s never brought a lasting smile to my face.

Love isn’t always attained by adding more to an existing solution but actually stripping away what isn’t needed. One of my favorite examples here is 37 Signals with their Basecamp product for project management. There’s more emotional pull here not because it’s complicated but because it’s more simple than other tools with just enough to give me everything I need, nothing that I don’t. It doesn’t hurt that 37 Signals is great at customer service and exceedingly quick to inform its customers of enhancements or technical difficulties they’re working on.

And by the way, I didn’t have to wait for an invite to use their software.

Therefore, the Google Gap has nothing to do with technology but an emotional pull. A legion of fans that are passionate about spreading the word to others unsolicited because that product enhances their life just SO MUCH that they want the people they care about to experience that feeling too.

Never had that situation with Google. Never had a “Oh wow, you’ve got to try Gmail” moment. Instead, the exchange goes like this:

Them: “What’s your favorite calendar program?”
Me: “Google Calendar. It’s great.”

That’s not love – it may sound like it at first glance, but it’s not. That’s a positive recommendation that wouldn’t have come unless it was initiated by someone else. To close the Google Gap and be seen in a different light, Google Plus and future products from Google need to be more than just useful and efficient. We also don’t need versions that seem better in appearance but in practicality are more complicated to use. ¬†They have to bring remarkable new categories of technology we haven’t used yet or dramatically strip away the complications of technology we’re using to the point of where it almost feels like a brand new category.

By virtue of his product line, Steve Jobs enjoys this emotional capital. By virtue of the relationships he has ownership over, so does Mark Zuckerberg. If Larry Page wants to stand on the platform with these gentlemen, this is the challenge before him to shape a new chapter of the Google era.