23 Dec 2013

Facebook Is Replacing Google & The Dramatic Shift This Heralds For Marketers (Part 1)

Facebook is eating Google’s lunch, which has far-reaching implications for the tactics marketers use, and more broadly has implications for marketing strategy and the relationship between marketing and product teams. Let’s look at this more closely.

When Google ranks sites, it can’t really rank them based on product quality since it has no reliable signals for product quality. Put differently…

  • Google is an information retrieval service… not a recommendation service.
  • Facebook is a social network, part of whose function is for people to get recommendations from their friends for products and services.

I don’t just mean showing that friends “like” products – Google is actively copying that, recently introducing +1 buttons to its Adsense ad units.

I mean plain old status updates like the one my friend posted asking for wedding photographer recommendations. Or the friend who asked for a wedding band, or a makeup artist for the bride. Or people wondering about things to do in the city, what new music to explore etc.

These genuine 1-to-1 recommendations are quite literally word of mouth, and Facebook is the platform people are using for that. Facebook is a source for finding quality products and services… and dates, as friends introduce each other as well as recommending certain dating sites over others.

Similarly, LinkedIn is being used for B2B recommendations, whether that’s recommendations on staff to hire inhouse or contractors to do business with. These are mostly connections who know each other leaving genuine recommendations. (There are, though, lots of people ‘connected’ on LinkedIn who are strangers to each other so that their recommendations to one another will carry less weight. Google+ is duplicating this in some industries.

Obviously, recommendations matter more in some industries than in others. And it’s true that personal recommendations can be substituted by people searching for impersonal recommendations aka product reviews, and that ecommerce merchants are increasingly integrating reviews onto their sites. This adds up to meaning that Google’s utility will endure in many categories. Yet even in ecommerce, Pinterest’s public and graphic wishlists / I love my {product X} boards are rapidly turning into recommendation engines that may trump Google as a starting point in a search.


The Practical Impact For Marketers

The above has at least two effects on tactics, and a bigger one on strategy. I’ll save the best for last and perhaps you’ll be able to guess what about strategy needs to change, based on the new tactics you’ll need.


Tactical Impact

1. In those fields where recommendations matter, internet marketers should be thinking about how they can get recommendations to happen on Facebook or LinkedIn.

The B2B field is easier, because affiliate marketing there is more natural than in B2C. In B2B, a good first step therefore is to hire an affiliate program manager (you can try these two  companies) and then create an affiliate program.

With B2C, potential affiliates don’t want to get a commission for recommending particular products/services to friends, because using affiliate links with friends may get you called out and your friends will think you used them. The B2B world comes with some expectations of marketing/advertising that are different in this regard.
So in B2C, you should ask for – but not incentivize – recommendations. Another way to make them likelier is to offer a deal for the people seeking the recommendation. E.g. Get people to refer their friends to you by saying “Tell John that you’re my friend and he’ll give you 20 off your first driving lesson.”

2. Another impact is in metrics, monitoring and analytics: you will need to measure how often you’re being recommended. How do you do that?

One simple step is to do satisfaction surveys for all your clients once the service is done. People recommend (i) good services, where the staff are (ii) friendly and (iii) kind.


What good are these customer satisfaction surveys?

You can combine them with your web analytics data on Facebook traffic and conversions, as well as with data from offline responses to the question “How did you hear about us?” The result is that you’ll see an estimate on the correlation between satisfaction numbers and recommendation numbers.

You’ll be able to project how many customers served, at what satisfaction rate, gets you the most recommendations.

And most importantly, you’ll be able to optimize your satisfaction rate and generate more recommendations.


Strategic Impact

3. Product Team = Marketing Team = Product Team = Marketing Team…
To get recommendations, you need a good product/service in the first place. This is driven by marketplace demand and problems, the discovery of which is essentially the first step of the marketing cycle, regardless of what channel you’re using. I’ve only been working with IMN for a few months, and already I’ve recommended specific product developments as part of the client’s SEO strategy many, many times.

You can rank a second rate business #1, but a competitor delighting customers will leapfrog you via Facebook. Your product and marketing teams need to integrate into one, if you want to get found in tomorrow’s recommendation engines.

Next time, we’ll discuss other sites and tools that are replacing Google, and what they mean for marketers. Amongst these “new” contestants: Amazon, eBay, Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist, forums with/ classifieds, Apple, Kobo, Wikipedia, Meetup, and more.