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Facebook Or Google: Who Will Win the Customer Engagement Battle?

Fatemeh Khatibloo
Principal Analyst
February 2, 2012

Plenty’s been written already about Facebook’s IPO filing yesterday. I won’t rehash the many excellent analyses that you’ve surely already seen.

Instead, I want to take this blog post into thought-experiment territory. I want to think about a world in which Google and Facebook are primary competitors in a mano-a-mano battle—not just for our eyeballs, but for our data, too. For the right, as it were, to be our “digital identity.”

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Over the holidays, my mother—67 year old tech-accepter, Kindle-owner, smartphone-avoider—called me into the office to show me her Facebook newsfeed. “How,” she asked, “do they know that I’m interested in Persian classical music and that I live in Los Angeles?” As I was explaining behavioral targeting and computational advertising, I glanced over at the computer, only to see her click through and order tickets from that Facebook ad.

So I asked, “Do you trust Facebook?” To which she replied, “Of course not!” as she entered her credit card number, home address, and email address for a very spendy concert ticket.

“Do you trust Google?” I asked. “More than Facebook, I suppose,” she answered. “But Facebook shows me stuff I like more often than Google does.” 

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That experience, plus a brainstorm with my colleagues on the Customer Intelligence team here at Forrester got me thinking: What if, as a consumer, you had to choose between Facebook and Google? Which service is more valuable to you? Which will BE more valuable in the future? I decided to compare the competitors (and let there be no mistake—Facebook’s S-1 filing very clearly identifies Google as Enemy No. 1) across the dimensions of Forrester’s customer engagement cycle:

 

 

Facebook

Google

Discover

Discovery in Facebook is largely organic—friends who’ve liked or @-tagged brands make it easy to discover businesses users might otherwise never encounter. When ads ARE served, they’re increasingly temporally and geographically relevant, and based on the user and her friends’ profile data.

Google still depends on the “right” search string to deliver discovery. Theoretically, the new “single view” policy could help hone these algorithms to bring trusted friends and resources to the top of search results. Still, the process is less organic than on FB, and is largely pull opposed to push.

Explore

Today’s Facebook doesn’t offer much in the way of exploration—you’re pretty limited to what your friends say about a brand, and what the brand says about itself. Page owners can delete negative comments, or block commenting entirely. And, it’s rare to get to product-level exploration on the ‘Book.

The world is your oyster, as the saying goes. If a user knows what she’s looking for, and Google knows anything about her, search results will make it easy to hone in on the best sources (for each user) to survey, validate, and compare the product or service they’re exploring.

Buy

Social commerce isn’t there yet. But there are plenty of us {raises hand} looking forward to the day when we won’t have to bounce from site to site to complete an order for an item or service that we found on Facebook. Seriously—if I have all the information I need, why can’t I complete the transaction safely, verifiably, and via a single sign-on account I use ALL THE TIME?? Facebook’s main differentiator here? Its third-party developer relationships. Someone will figure out so-called “F-Commerce” but it doesn’t need to be Facebook.

Google’s made an awful lot of plays at commerce, but when you rely on impartial search as the platform for ad revenue, your hands are a little tied. I still have hope for Google Wallet, which will help. And I do think that the recent privacy policy mods—if handled correctly—could help Google become a de facto transactional data locker, which is massively valuable in its own right. Unlike the ‘Book, though, Google is depending on its own devs to build a system users and advertisers like.

Engage

Increasingly, marketers are thinking about Facebook as an engagement mechanism. It’s a way for them to respond to question, create excitement and advocacy, and appear transparent when they address consumer concerns. And, consumers feel empowered by the ability—often for the first time—to engage with the brands they love (and love to hate).

Academically, I suppose, Google helps brands engage with consumers by delivering them to the right sites, and by indexing all those ratings & reviews pages. But practically speaking, Google doesn’t own the platform for these conversations, which means that it loses relevance the moment a user is looking for a dialogue. Ten years ago, this wasn’t a problem; but in the Age of the Customer, being a mechanism for engagement is critical.

I think this is a legitimate way to think about these two organizations that are battling so hard for my time. And, despite wishing I could say that I'd be a Google consumer, I realize I'm more likely a Facebook consumer: I click on Facebook ads an awful lot more than I do Google ads, and I depend on my network to turn me on to new things. 

So, tell me, what kind of consumer are you? What kind of consumer will you be in three years? And does Facebook's valuation make sense, in light of this?

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