Google+: A New Channel

Social networking sites are a hot topic. For us marketing students, it is inevitable to think about the consequences social networking sites have for companies and consumers. In class we discussed some issues arising from the existence of these sites, like building brand communities, and also on this blog people wrote about it. Despite the popularity of this subject, there is one relatively new social networking site that is only mentioned incidentally, both in class and in the blog. Google+. When it was launched in July 2011, there were many speculations about how the new social platform would perform. Would it stand a chance to grow big next to market leader Facebook? How would the public react on another social networking site; will the users of these switch from Facebook to Google+ or have an account on both? Or should the first question posed here be: Will people actually start using Google+? These and many more questions were the subject of numerous blogs, articles and conversations.

Half a year later, not all the question marks have disappeared yet. However, what can be answered now, is how Google+ performed in the first half year of its existence. Last week, Larry Page announced the 2011 annual results for Google, including figures regarding Google+. With 90 million users, Google+ has already exceeded expectations. Compared to Facebook, with more than 800 million users, this number may not seem really impressive, but if you take in consideration that Facebook exists since 2004 and Google+ only for 6 months… The strong brand of Google and people already being familiar with social networking sites are obviously factors that play a role in the fast growing number of users of Google+, but nevertheless, Google+ had a great start.

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How can giving power to your consumers turn you down?

Giving the stage to your consumers to raise their voices can be beneficial for everyone. Everyone seems happy within such a system. Companies get a lot of insight about their preferences and needs (in a rather cheap way), you get bonded to them, you get them committed. Consumers are willing to participate because they feel they belong to a community of look-a-likes and they love the freedom to raise their thoughts, feelings, concerns. Well, let me stick to that last word…concerns!

Yesterday I read in the news the failure of McDonald’s Twitter strategy. They wanted to create an interface where consumers would share their positive experiences regarding the McDonald’s restaurants. Therefore they created the account @McDStories (currently deleted). However, they neglected the fact that word-of-mouth can be also negative. Given the past reputation of the restaurant chain, I doubt that giving the freedom to all consumers to speak up was the rightest choice! It started as a few tweets from the brand (“Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day #McDStories”). But soon it ended full of tweets such as :


Result: Not only the bad publicity and the need to switch down the account, but also consumers bonded even more against McDonald’s and made the story viral. Not only they failed to create brand value from their customers but rather they lost control of the negative brand associations promoted by their “customers” (if we can call them customers).

Empowering your consumers is a good strategy. A very good and promising strategy. But it is not a panacea. It is not a strategy to put all your other worries aside. It needs control, it requires that companies set the boundaries of the communities within which the brand stories would prevail.

Lesson learned? Time will tell…

Dimitris T.