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.