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There has been much written and discussed in the last few weeks about Google+, Facebook and a desire (often more than a reality) for a rivalry between the two.

The truth is that they are very different: one is an intelligent, network-based sharing-and-discussing tool and the other is collection of different tools that users pick and choose from to curate their own experience. These tools become important to the success and survival of Facebook as does every brand that creates a reason for people to use Facebook.

Facebook is a true network – a network of people and a network of tools and applications that people then pick and choose from. Some (a minority) are provided by Facebook themselves: a photo sharing tool, an event planning tool, a link sharing-and-discussing tool. But most of these tools are built by brands and other providers – from dog profile tools to online shopping tools or holiday planning tools. People create their own Facebook experience by the people they friend and the tools they use. And both of these create lock-in for them, a reason to stay on Facebook.

In this respect there are two reasons people would stay on Facebook – because their friends are there, and because they are getting benefit from the range of tools and applications they use there. Both would have to be available elsewhere for people to switch. And so Google+ will be a suitable Facebook replacement for some, but certainly not all, people. For most I imagine that both will grow and develop together, fulfilling different purposes.

What this does mean, however, is that the tools and applications that lock people into using Facebook become increasingly important. Even more so as the share-and-discuss tool is the one that is likely to be threatened by Google+. As it develops, Facebook will look to depend more on locking people into using it because of the tools that they use. And for this reasons it is the brands that are developing these tools who are of critical importance for its success.

When looked at through this lens, Facebook becomes an interesting model – it is dependent on the brands that bring and lock-in their audience just as those brands are dependent on Facebook to provide the platform for them to do this. A relationship that could be thought of as being brands dependent on Facebook is actually much more symbiotic. For every new shopping tool, planning tool or other than a brand creates that gives real value to users there are yet more reasons for them to stay with Facebook. Cultivating and growing these relationships is therefore critical for them.

Many people question the relationship between Facebook and brands, and wonder when Facebook will start charging. In an increasingly competitive online space this is even less likely that it was before. Facebook needs the brands, especially high-quality ones that produce real value for the people who 'Like' them. Why? Because brands help lock people in to using Facebook more often, while locking out competitiors in the process.

Matt Rhodes

Published 2 August, 2011 by Matt Rhodes

Matt Rhodes is Client Services Director at FreshNetworks and contributor to Econsultancy. 

9 more posts from this author

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Tony Long

Great observations (as usual) Matt.

The one thing that strikes me, though, is that Facebook doesn't seem to be interested in nurturing or partnering with brands. Facebook has what brands need: real estate and direct access to customers. Facebook seems to understand that the trust their users place in the platform is their ultimate strength, and a brand's presence might dilute that.

I do agree that brands are key to Facebook's success...but I don't think Facebook thinks that way.

about 5 years ago

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Jonny Rosemont, Managing Director at Rosemont Communications Limited

Fascinating. What Facebook had done well is create a proposition for brands that is encourages customer engagement, is not that obtrusive and provides a degree of flexibility to allow each brand to have its own voice. That's why it is working. Google+ certainly has the potential to replicate this, but it will have to do a lot to encourage people to move off the Facebook platform. As you say, people use it because their friends are on it and this is the most important point. Brands will go where their customers are.

about 5 years ago

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Pete Austin @MarketingXD

Agreed. In effect, Facebook subcontracts its marketing to brands.

Brands provide "sticky content", as you say. They also provide free advertising in the form of billions of links and buttons.

about 5 years ago

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anon

This is interesting, but why is no one comparing it to Twitter in terms of the competitive positioning.

Obviously G+ has a much richer experience than Twitter and based on the essays I am seeing in the status updates on G+ there are some learnings to be taken..

However, I personally see G+ as a potential replacement to twitter. Facebook is much more about my personal network whereas G+ is better suited to manage all of those you don't know - just like on Twitter.

I was a very late adopter to Twitter despite the fact that I run very large e-comm operations because of the public nature of it - G+ resolves this. I can interact with new people, not just my friends, but choose what goes 'out there'...

about 5 years ago

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Donal Langan

While its true that G+ isn't offering a direct alternative to Facebook, it does offer the communication between friends (circles) and the ability to share photo's etc. So already offers the main features FB is used for.

With the fast uptake of G+ I would bet that people may well start to use if over Facebook, since all it takes for something to be used is if it reaches critical mass which I can see G+ achieving soon after they open it up to general sign-up.

about 5 years ago

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William King

Big Brands already have too many visitors for their site and even the numbers of their fans could be greater than this. As not every person who is your fan would be coming to your site. But at the same time Brands who feature live customer support on Facebook give a boost to Facebook, because every person who is using their product would like to know more and more from others experiences or reviews by coming to their page. While it is rather impossible on Google + to launch live customer support now may be it would be fruitful in the future when Google will allow the basic sign up for every one. That is why Brands are so necessary for Facebook.

about 5 years ago

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Cyber Pundit, Principal at YWM Consulting

Don't kid yourself. The rivalry is very much a reality. It's the same pool of advertising budgets both Google+ and FB will be vying for.

Unless FB releases, very quickly, a feature that allows me to "group" my connections, instead of one big lump of people who either see my stuff or don't (based on my settings for them), it'll fade. This is something Google+ has got right.

about 5 years ago

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Andy Hopkinson

Really? I can't understand this. Do people really think that people use a social media site because of 3rd party applications and what brand are active on the site?

I use social media to connect with my friends. I don't know anyone who would move on because a particular brand isn't on Facebook anymore, or because Farmville is on G+ instead of Facebook.

I might be wrong, but I think a lot of people are finding G+ so attractive because of the lack of commercialisation. I'd be interested to see if anyone agrees?

Brands don't make a social media site. People are kidding themselves if they think this is the case. If it was, how on earth did Facebook become so big without launching in partnership with a multi-national brand?

about 5 years ago

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