In a transactional world where companies sold stand-alone products, it was possible to wrap an ugly duckling in a stylish ad campaign and slick packaging to sucker a consumer into an impulse purchase. RONCO, for example, made a killing off of this strategy. Today, with social media and other digital word-of-mouth channels, it’s much more difficult to pull-off that strategy successfully.
When you’re in the business of social media, exploiting consumers’ lack of knowledge and technical abilities is bad business. Facebook has been in the business of “pushing the limits” of its users’ comfort around sharing. How many times has Facebook ‘apologized’ to us? Privacy controls are placed just out of consciousness for the majority of consumers. Worst of all is a corporate culture that advocates the position that copyright is dead – that people ostensibly “don’t care” about copyright.
Yes, it’s true, most people don’t understand copyright. In fact, only about 25% of the US Internet population does in a meaningful way (see our research study with Creative Commons). But, that doesn’t give a company the right to exploit that ignorance for its own gain.
Today’s consumer market is no longer built on transactions; it is built on relationships instead – or at least relationships matter a whole lot more than they used to. In a relational world, it’s not about how much you can sucker the consumer into buying, but how well you express your value, support the consumer, protect them from harsh realities and educate them. It matters more now because if you do that job right your consumer will understand why your product is better and tell their friends.
It’s great to see Google+ take a stand around privacy and offer an alternative to a monopoly that exploited its position as ‘the social network’. Whether G+ is a me-too product, or offers better features is less important right now than offering consumers a choice about where they can go to communicate and share with others. Google+ clearly has a long way to go to break out of the me-too ‘stream’ design. The company faces other hurdles as well, like the painful multiple account management issues that plague their services (Fix Now Please).
But just being on G+ and having a different way to manage friends, family, business friends, and other meaningful social circles gives me hope. The market needs an alternative that, based on what I’ve seen so far, benefits the user in significant ways. Maybe Facebook will start to work with and listen to its users rather than exploit them to build their market cap. There’s a lot of pent up anger being expressed by many right now at being taken advantage of by Facebook. Google+ shows Facebook users that they have a choice and choice is freedom.
Update: Facebook, and Facebook employees, react quickly and enhance Friends Lists and Circlehack. Goes to show that competition improves the playing field in general.