During a recent morning audit of my Twitter feed, I noted a particular tweet from a respected journalist: "FB making big announcement next Wednesday." "Hmm" I thought, "It can't be a coincidence that this big announcement comes during Google Plus ' new found glow in the media spotlight."
I pondered the topic of Facebook's announcement, which the punditry seems to believe revolves around Facebook's impending deal with Skype. I wondered how Facebook's continued alliance with Microsoft is intended to hit Google where it hurts -- in its search business. But mostly in my uninformed speculation, I imagined an alternate reality where Facebook's big announcement is simply an admission that it is very, very scared of the Google+ initiative (functional merits notwithstanding). In my thought experiment, this announcement becomes the pivotal breakthrough moment that endears it to millions, giving it a much needed boost to its flailing consumer goodwill. In this version of reality, Facebook realizes its ultimate triumph through humility.
But in the real world, the Facebook we know seems tone-deaf to the range of negative public sentiment that any high-profile company should be able to read expertly (especially one preparing for a $100 billion IPO). One cannot help but recognize that today's seeds of discontent portend a possible groundswell shift as soon as a viable option appears -- "big announcement" notwithstanding. The pathetic $35 million sale of MySpace should serve as a dire warning to Facebook. As should the decade-before-its-time moonshot of TheGlobe.com.
"Nah," you say, "Facebook is too big, too entrenched." It does seem inconceivable but a broader perspective gives us a different take.
It has become startlingly clear that Google and Facebook are entering the next major phase of their epic battle to dominate the marketing world. This clash of the titans pits mature Google, the marketing platform of the Internet Age, against the relatively young Facebook, the communications platform of the Social Age. Each combatant is stretching itself to encompass the capabilities of the other with the near simultaneous emergence of Google+ and Facebook's self-serve marketing platform. The corporate generals are lining up their battalions in what will be an assault of targeting code launched against Judy Consumer in the arms race to marketing domination. In this battle, Judy Consumer is little more than a powerless fleck of data, with her privacy, identity and social information just collateral damage -- regrettably expendable.
Quite a sobering vision and one that gives pause (at least I can hope). But this is exactly why Google+ could be the best thing to happen to Facebook, because in preparing to compete, Facebook will need to confront a critical choice in its young life about how it hopes to supplant savvy, mature Google.
Facebook's current course and speed points to a marketing domination strategy through social-based targeting muscle to knock out Google's info-based targeting tech array. Google seems focused on delivering feats of social targeting layered upon their already impressive search based targeting capabilities. And yet with both companies so focused on each other, they seem to vastly underestimate Judy Consumer's growing muscle to resist the incoming marketing onslaught across the board.
This is where youthful, nimble Facebook has an option not possible for the more measured, staid Google. Facebook can choose the path that is sensitive to Judy Consumer's increasing digital confidence as she creates a Trust Web of her own making through social networking. They can acknowledge her expanding competence at digital management significantly buoyed by her rapid adoption of smart phones, iPads and such (Nielson just reported, Smart Phones Outsell Feature Phones for First Time ). Judy Consumer is getting very smart -- very fast!
Facebook can choose to be Judy Consumer's champion by giving her the tools and technologies to really let her be in the digital driver's seat. To my way of thinking, this alternate path can be the making of Facebook.
As it is , the battle lines are drawn along targeting technology lines. I won't take bets on either company since it's not inconceivable that the company to win will be neither Facebook nor Google, but an outlier company that understands how social, connectivity and content work in unison to give more autonomy to Judy Consumer than ever before.
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