I read an article in Fortune magazine this morning that chastises Google for not trying to catch
up to Facebook in Google's social media attempts. While I don't disagree that Google's attempts
at social media have been, well, rather less than successful, I disagree with much of the
discussion that puts Facebook and Google as head-to-head rivals.
Let's talk about that a bit.
In a previous post, I made the argument that advertising your business on Facebook may not be
required, particularly if you're looking for direct conversions. This is true for both buying ads on
Facebook as well as interacting with customers on Facebook. Whether or not that will pay off for
you largely depends on the kind of business you're running.
Google really wants to compete with Facebook in the social media arena. The reasons for this are
obvious: Facebook commands a huge number of page views, with hundreds of millions of active
users. More than 25% of daily page views in the United States occur at Facebook. That means
advertising revenue, which is Google's bread and butter.
Facebook, on the other hand, while clearly having a spirit of rivalry against Google, does not at
the present seem interested in stepping into the search business.
That's why I say that Facebook and Google aren't really head-to-head competitors. Google does
search. Facebook does social. People who visit Google are far more likely to have a buyer's
mindset than the people going to Facebook to network. The two behemoths are major players in
It's true that Google's services and Facebook's sometimes overlap, but it's more like the way Best
Buy overlaps with Wal-Mart. Yes, there are some things you can get at Wal-Mart that you can
also find at Best Buy (and vice versa), but their markets are not the same, and people who shop
at Wal-Mart will quite likely also sometimes go to Best Buy (and again, vice versa).
When people want to buy something, or do research before buying something, Google is where
they go. Few people go to Facebook to try and get reviews on the latest electronic gadget. Does
that mean they never ask their friends at Facebook what they think about those things? No, but
it's not their primary source of information. That's Google's department.
But when people want to hang out, see what their friends are up to, send baby pictures to their
family, or even plan a dinner date or a party -- Facebook is their destination. If they want to find
old friends, acquaintances and colleagues, Google isn't nearly as effective in most cases either.
Yes, those two situations overlap each other somewhat, but they are not in direct competition
with each other. I really wish people would stop writing about the two companies as if they were.
They want to be (or, at least, Google clearly wants to compete with Facebook), but they don't,
not really, not yet.
People who go to Google also use Facebook, and Facebook users still search the web with
Google. This is evidenced by the fact that both are still growing. Google for the first time had
one billion visitors in one month (May), an 8%+ increase. Facebook's page views and ad revenue
continues to grow as well. They two don't appear to be cannibalizing each other -- at least not in
the way the media likes to say they are. I think that stems more from a lack of understanding than
Now, if Facebook ever decides to get into the search business, Google has more to fear. But so
far, at least, Facebook hasn't shown that to be one of their intentions. Given the difficulty in
building a search engine that rivals Google, and the number of large-scale failures to do so in the
past, it doesn't surprise me that Facebook has so far stuck to what they do best -- and that ain't
Google is continuously hounded by investors to expand and increase their profit margins. While
still growing, it's not the double-digit growth of times past, and investors want expansion.
Facebook is younger, still showing a lot of growth in users, page views and revenue. Will
Facebook reach the leveling off point where they, too, must try to expand? It's inevitable that
they will, and especially once they become a publicly traded company there will be much more
pressure for them to find new markets.
I'm not sure that would be a good thing for anybody, though. Google is a great search engine,
and Facebook is by far the most accomplished social networking site in the world. Google's
current attempts at social media have been embarrassing failures. Any attempt by Facebook to
rival Google in search has a great risk of being an equally embarrassing failure.
As a marketer I'm very interested in this, and you should be, too. It's important to know when it
makes sense to expand into other markets for traffic, leads and sales. When Bing only
commanded single-digit search percentages, I ignored it. Now that Bing generates 30% of
searches in the US, I make sure my sites are optimized for Bing as well.
So I'm watching the Facebook / Google rivalry closely, but so far the two don't seem to me to be
nearly as competitive with each other as most news reports would have you believe.