The Google Brand Will Never be Social

All the talk about how Google ‘must’ buy Twitter just does not make sense to me, at least not for the reasons that are being discussed. Twitter is a fine business and may mint money some day, and that alone may be a reason to buy it.  However, Twitter will not solve Google’s so called ‘social problem’.

(1) Google’s ‘social problem’ was created by Facebook, but Twitter does not help Google compete with Facebook.  The social graph created by Facebook is completely different than the social graph created by Twitter.  The reasons people use these two applications are completely different and the types and amount of information shared is not comparable

(2) Google cannot be a social brand.  I entered a relationship with Google long ago with an expectation that they would provide me with search results and  email.  The relationship I entered into with Facebook was based on me sharing information with others.   These are two very different relationships and I don’t want Google changing the nature of our relationship, especially when they use the data I shared when I was operating under our ‘search and email only’ relationship.   This is the fundamental challenge for Google.  Our relationship with them is not a social one

(3) User’s do not want to mix search and social.  Many of the searches we do are private in nature.  We ask Google the most private and embarrassing questions we have.  A social aspect to Google removes the (real or perceived) privacy users feel when they share this information with Google.  Based on this, you could also argue that Facebook will never be the primary search destination for users

In my opinion, if Google wants to be successful in social they need to make a clean break with their existing services (specifically search and email).  Create a new brand that uses all the powerful Google technology and brains, but is not based on an integration with existing Google tools and data…which are based on my current Google relationship.  Establish a new relationship with me and then let me decide if and how I want to bring my old Google relationship into the mix.

The Murky Waters of Online Reviews

The internet has always struggled with authenticity.  It is a medium that accepts anonymous interaction, so you never know if the voice at the other end is really who it says it is.  This provides for both an overwhelming opportunity (think sites like glassdoor.com) and a saddening view on humanity (think the comments on any political article).

This struggle has always existed in the world of online reviews.  Fake reviews and fake comments are just part of what you get online.  Astroturfing has always existed, but it is just plain easier and more prevalent online.  In the world of local business reviews, we have seen massive growth in the number of online reviews over the last 2 years.  This growth, for the most part, has been lead by product and marketplace innovations at Yelp.  One of their claimed technological innovations is ability to detect fake reviews in a large-scale way.  This removes some of the astroturfing that is going on and provide their customers with a more authentic experience.  But now Yelp is in the news (again) for supposedly requiring businesses to purchase advertising from them in order to remove negative reviews or maintain positive reviews.  This approach would certainly destroy any authenticity Yelp has created through their fake review removal technology.  I can’t imagine this extortionist approach being either implicitly or explicitly supported by anyone that matters in Yelp.  However, I can see a few rogue sales people looking to close deals by hanging this over a customer’s head.  If that is the case, Yelp needs to clean its house and clean it quick if it wants to retain the authenticity it has started to build.

So what does this all mean to the small business owner?  First and foremost, you need know what reviews exist for your business online.  Secondly, you need to be responsible for maintaining your digital reputation.  See a review bashing your business that your competitor down the street wrote?  You need to flag that review.  All major review sites offer a mechanism for contesting these type of reviews.  See a review bashing your business that a real customer wrote?  You have an opportunity to respond to that review in many cases.  Maybe that waiter was really a problem and has been fired or maybe that customer was just being unreasonable.  Your response, at the very least, will show your potential customers that you care.  Now with all the reviews and review sites out there, this process can be overwhelming…but we are busy building tools to help.

The Digitization of Local Information

Good article on all the other types of local content, beyond traditional local business listings,  that are infiltrating search results.

The main theme is see here is the movement towards the ‘digitization’ of local content, and more specifically, the products and markets which make that digitization possible.  The primary challenge with local information has always been that ‘digital’ is not its native format.  Local information exists in small newspapers, on a new sign over a previously vacant storefront and in people’s accumulated experience.  These aren’t things that any search engine can take advantage of.  What you see today are more products that allow, and more markets that encourage, people to create digital representations of this local information.  As the digitization of local information increases, it only makes sense that its prominence in search results will increase.  We all live locally after all.

Real Life Fiction About Running a Small Business

CNN Small Business has a short piece on a the Buddenbrooks chronicles by German author Thomas Mann.   Despite the fact that the books were written over 100 years ago, their lessons around running a small business still ring true — especially when it comes to businesses that span multiple generations.  With all the advances in the last 100 years, it is both refreshing and concerning that things really haven’t changed that much.