What’s the Plus Side, Google?

The concept of the phrase, “Facebook competitor,” almost makes you giggle at this point. Kind of like staring into the Grand Canyon and imagining then and there what could be better. Oh sure, there are other picturesque places. But it’s pretty hard to imagine them being more beautiful than what you’re looking at right now.

Facebook isn’t always beautiful. Far from it. But what it does have are a boatload of relationships between existing friends and family members. And that’s going to be pretty darn tough to break.

Yet, Google is out to try anyway with their new Google+ product. To cut to the chase, Google+ sounds a lot like Facebook with its profile pictures, feeds, etc. The big difference appears to be that you can better organize groups of people – and share what you like with those people specifically rather than your 690 friends on Facebook, 10 of which are real friends. But I digress.

Great idea, Google. And yes, Facebook has had major challenges concerning privacy controls. No doubt about it.

But here’s the challenge – you don’t have to just jab at Facebook with nicer tweeks to the model. In order to dance with the undisputed heavyweight of the social networking realm, you’ve got to full-on throttle Facebook with features that kick its ass. And even if you do, you’ve got to consider just how difficult it is to motivate people to uproot themselves from Facebook and the myriad of relationships they have in place.

It’s not impossible (Exhibit A: MySpace). It’s just that where MySpace was geared to a younger audience in general, the average age of a Facebook user is 38 years old. So there are more categories of demographics that have to get in the moving truck over to Google+.

Of course, maybe Google just wants a piece of the social networking pie. But if I may put on my more demanding customer hat, we don’t just want better technology. We want tools that are easy to use and fun. Google Buzz sounded kind of interesting, but did it enhance our lives over what was already in place? Not really. Same with Google Wave – kind of cool, but also kind of hard to understand.

Probably one of the most frequently mentioned books on business is “Blue Ocean Strategy,” the concept of getting out of the same pond as many competitors and fighting within that pond like sharks. Which essentially Google is not utilizing here. It’s fishing in the same pond and saying to people, “Hey, look at this cool new pole we’ve got for you to try!” We’re looking at that pole, agreeing that, yes, it probably is nice and even better than what we have, but still not enough to make us put down the pole that we’re already using. I think we can agree at least that’s this has been the experience with Google’s most recent efforts.

Google’s had just a little bit of success with that ol’ search engine of theirs. And Gmail. And Google Reader. And Google Alerts. But if you’ll notice, several of these are in the search, research and online storage realm. Not in the “connecting with others” interactivity realm. Anything outside of this set just feels like tinkering to me.

I will say Google has this much going for it: 1) It’s a giant in its own right and 2) If you read the comment streams of articles speaking about Google+, there is a LOT of pent-up frustration about the privacy issues of Facebook. These people want Google+ to succeed and they can’t wait to try it. That raw emotion, acted upon, is going to be honestly more important to the success of this endeavor than the bells and whistles of Google+ alone.

But with all due respect to those folks, Google didn’t work on this project as long as they did just to nab some Early Adopters. To avoid being mentioned in the same breath as “Google Wave” and “Google Buzz,” Google+ has to feel a whole lot of love from the mainstream too.

I don’t think we’ll have to search too long before we know the answer.

25 days to go: Chicago Mayoral candidates still have online work to do.

Now that the Rahm Emanuel Question has been officially answered – in case you’re unclear, he’s officially on the ballot to stay – we can take a look at how our selection of candidates are faring in terms of educating voters in the online world. Sure, shaking hands at an El stop is great PR, but if there’s one thing that the Obama era has taught us, it’s that you can’t underestimate the power of social media in terms of spreading the word about your position on the issues. So I decided to judge our primary candidates – Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle – on how well they are leveraging the online universe to accomplish this goal.

Now let’s check out the results.

Easiest to find in a Search Engine: Miguel Del Valle and Gery Chico.
There’s no reason their campaign site shouldn’t be the first result when a search is done for “(name) for Mayor.” Del Valle and Chico passed the test. Moseley Braun and Emanuel did not.

Blog Champion: Rahm Emanuel
This is the most glaring difference I see between Emanuel and his competitors — some will say Emanuel has more resources and a “Machine” behind him but this is a weak excuse. Blogging consistency can be achieved by just one person if motivated enough and you can’t tell me that Del Valle, Moseley Braun and Chico can’t identify one individual to blog on their behalf. Emanuel (OK, his staff) pumps out posts on a daily basis, often multiple times per day. When given the opportunity to educate or take a position in real time on an issue, Emanuel has succeeded by far.

In contrast, take a look at the other candidates on blogging frequency –Del Valle’s last blog post was 12 days ago. Carol Moseley Braun’s last post was wishing Chicago a Happy New Year on January 4th. The worst offender here is Gery Chico – if he has a blog at all, I missed it and a lot of other people certainly have too. If anything, this group should be keeping pace with Emanuel’s blog frequency. Instead, they’re not even close.

The I-Want-To-Be-Like-Obama Award: I can’t resist. From the color scheme to the font selection to the style of video on his home page, everything on Emanuel’s site feels like an homage to his former boss, President Obama. Regardless of your opinion of the President, I downgrade Emanuel on this point for not looking like his own brand. I understand the direction he takes from a positioning angle – where else could he visually get away with playing up his ties to Obama so closely than Chicago – but I think his site goes overboard in this regard.

Catering to the International Community: Gery Chico
All candidates have Spanish versions of their websites, but give Chico credit for remembering the second largest community outside of Warsaw by enabling his site to be read in Polish. Carol Moseley Braun does the same, but I give Chico the international tie-breaker by having his website able to be read in Chinese as well.

LinkedIn: Nobody.
This makes little sense to me. If the President of the United States could make his LinkedIn address available when he was running for office, why can’t any of these candidates? If all are for improving local businesses, large and small, a LinkedIn badge to the candidate’s page would not only be of benefit, but it would also provide credibility from one business owner to another as they were connected to the candidate — endorsements mean a lot, but I think the candidates have forgotten that it’s not just the ones that get coverage on the 10:00 news that matter.

Mayor of Social Media: Rahm Emanuel
Most have the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube trinity covered but his prolific blogging, Flickr channel and RSS Feeds make Emanuel the best choice for providing his prospective voters multiple ways to stay connected to him after visiting his website. If we’re realistic, most people won’t return repeatedly to a site for information but may agree to receive that information on their terms. Emanuel caters well to all avenues in this manner.

We still have 25 days before Election Day — I have Gery Chico’s countdown clock on his website to thank for reminding me. That means there’s still time for the candidates to make the necessary tweeks online as they press the flesh and kiss babies (really, does anybody still do that?). Emanuel is ahead, but everybody has room for improvement. While some of the channels of social media are in place, the fuel for continuous content is not being supplied as consistently as it should. Or the sites are not being found as easily as they should. It’s incumbent on these candidates, particularly those trailing in the polls, to make sure these areas are tightened up as soon as possible if they want to get comfortable at City Hall.