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Is It Really Facebook vs. Google?

  |  October 26, 2010   |  Comments

Marketers who think Facebook threatens Google are missing the big picture.

During speaking engagements, the same question always pops up: "Is Facebook a big threat to Google?" When that happens, I ask the crowd: "Everyone who goes to Facebook when they want to buy something or research something they want to buy - raise your hand." Of course, nobody typically raises their hand. Then I ask, "Everyone who goes to Google when they want to buy something or research something they want to buy - raise your hand." Of course, everyone raises their hand.

Then I flip the question and ask, "Everyone who goes to Google to see what your friends are doing - raise your hand." And no one raises their hand. Then I ask, "Everyone who goes to Facebook to see what their friends are doing - raise your hand." Once again, I get what you would expect, everyone raises their hand.

Core Products

So the point of this little survey is to show that the unique purposes and utilitarian values of Facebook and Google are very different. Google is about search – finding things you need from the entirety of the Web – right now. Facebook is about socializing - seeing what your friends are up to and letting them know what you are doing – right now.

Sure, there are elements where they overlap or have tried to step on each other's toes. Google keeps trying to go social and has yet to be successful and Facebook does have a self-serve PPC product and is shoring up Bing a bit with some inside information to enhance its search algorithm. They also both have photo sharing (Picasa and Facebook's photo tab), they do e-mail, and have a countless list of overlaps that all big sites and portals have. But does this make them mortal enemies in a race to obsolescence and death? Absolutely not. For the most part, they both take in huge amounts of money from very different buckets doing what each of them does best – socializing and search.

Washing Your Hair With Toothpaste

From a consumer point of view, people are generally oblivious to Facebook and Google's battle for ad dollars and don't care. What they care about is the value, utility, and experiences both sites provide. The two sites, and the services they provide, live quite harmoniously together in the online lives of consumers. Consumers have become very dedicated to both brands and their core products. So to the average consumer there is no battle, nor do I think they want one to occur. They like to search on Google (or other engines of choice) and they like to socialize on Facebook (or other platforms of choice).

So when average people ask "Is Facebook a threat to Google?" what they really mean is "Does Facebook pose a future threat to Google's dominance in search?" To this, with a disclaimer that says surprising things always happen, I say no – not anytime in the future as I see it.

Despite what many think, either site changing their primary focus from their core products and what they do best would be unwise. Transforming Facebook into an actual search engine that lets you quickly and comprehensively scour the entire Web for everything from "Lady Gaga photos" to "Data Sheets on Open Source CMS Systems" would just not be in line with Facebook's core business. Again, it would be a distraction from continuing to do what it does best.

So right now I see asking people to use Facebook for search or Google for socializing is similar to asking consumers to wash their hair with toothpaste. Sure, shampoo and toothpaste live in the same bathroom, but no consumers are asking anyone to put them in the same bottle!

The Real Competition: Silicon Valley vs. the World

Now, where Google and Facebook do compete is for display ad dollars. Google has the AdSense network and Facebook sells display on its site and I believe will eventually launch a killer ad network of its own. However, this simply puts them into the same race all media properties and companies are in – chasing media dollars. But again, consumers are primarily oblivious and unconcerned with this.

So while every week there is news fanning the flames and buzz around the feud between Facebook and Google, the reality is they will both continue to grow, thrive, and make huge amounts of money. The real deal is not Facebook vs. Google; it's the Facebook/Google juggernaut vs. all other forms of media and media companies – especially when it comes to television branding dollars where the bulk of media dollars are spent.

So rather than squabble over the ad dollars that companies already spend online and search, which is growing on its own, looking closely at what both organizations are doing reveals a strategy that:

  • Solidifies their hold on their core products
  • Develops advertising products that target massive branding budgets

In effect, they are targeting the big branding budgets and the huge amounts of media dollars that get spent via Madison Avenue on television.

So again, it's not Facebook vs. Google – it's Silicon Valley media (Facebook/Google) vs. everyone else!


Harry Gold

As founder and CEO of Overdrive, Harry Gold is the architect and conductor behind the company's ROI-driven programs. His primary mission is to create innovative marketing programs based on real-world success and to ensure the marketing and technology practices that drive those successes are continually institutionalized into the culture and methods of the agency. What excites him is the knowledge that Overdrive's collaborative environment has created a company of online media, SEM, and online behavioral experts who drive success for the clients and companies they serve. Overdrive serves a diverse base of B2B and B2C clients that demand a high level of accountability and ROI from their online programs and campaigns.

Harry started his career in 1995 when he founded online marketing firm Interactive Promotions, serving such clients as Microsoft, "The Financial Times," the Hard Rock Cafe, and the City of Boston. Since then, he has been at the forefront of online branding and channel creation, developing successful Web and search engine-based marketing programs for various agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Harry is a frequent lecturer on SEM and online media for The New England Direct Marketing Association; Ad Club; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Harvard University; and Boston University.

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