What is a social network, anyway?
To a consumer, a social network might be a place to share memes, cat photos and selfies.
But to a business, a social network is a place to bolster and defend branding, share product information, interact with customers and participate in relevant conversations with the world.
Businesses have websites. So why do they need to be on social? Because social is where the customers are, and where customers go to praise or complain about companies to each other — or to find out information about products and services.
Which raises the question: Which social networks should businesses and enterprises invest their time and money in?
The trouble with Twitter and Facebook
Twitter isn’t an ideal place for businesses to engage with customers and others.
Journalists and celebrities will tell you Twitter is the only social network that matters. But that’s because the site is mainly used heavily only by journalists and celebrities. (And haters, spammers, propagandists and bots.)
In fact, Twitter reported the loss of some 9 million users during the third quarter. (Which isn’t really true; they weren’t “users,” but mostly fake and bot accounts.)
Twitter now has 326 million active users worldwide.
It’s also something of a bad neighborhood for business.
Unlike Facebook, porn and other unsavory content is allowed on Twitter. And the site is a notorious magnet for haters, racists, misogynists, terrorists, trolls and spammers.
Worst of all, and unlike Facebook and other social sites, you can’t delete the comments that appear under your own posts. If you post something, and the conversation is hijacked by malicious users seeking to ruin your reputation, there’s nothing you can do about it.
As a business on Twitter, you’re just a target.
Facebook is even less appealing for businesses.
In recent days and, it seems, increasingly over time, Facebook just keeps getting horrible press, with the company blamed for manipulation, tracking, abuse, dishonesty and incompetence.
The most recent PR black eye came in the form of a scathing New York Times investigative piece alleging that Facebook officers first ignored, then concealed, the truth about Russia’s disinformation campaign on Facebook before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg this week disputed the report and defended her actions in a Facebook post.
The article also alleged that Facebook hired a PR firm called Definers Public Affairs to spread misinformation on behalf of Facebook. A company blog post this week denied Facebook tasked Definers to write fake articles and said Facebook fired the firm this week.
That blog post also references an anti-Facebook organization called Freedom from Facebook, which is pushing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a recent breach of 30 million user accounts and also for the breakup of the company, arguing that “the FTC should spin off Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger into competing networks.”
Summarizing the broad complaint of Facebook critics generally, the organization’s web page says:
“Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have amassed a scary amount of power. Facebook unilaterally decides the news that billions of people around the world see every day. It buys up or bankrupts potential competitors to protect its monopoly, killing innovation and choice. It tracks us almost everywhere we go on the web and, through our smartphones, even where we go in the real world. It uses this intimate data hoard to figure out how to addict us and our children to its services. And then Facebook serves up everything about us to its true customers — virtually anyone willing to pay for the ability to convince us to buy, do, or believe something.”
As a result of its declining public esteem, advertisers are starting to openly question whether Facebook has lost its “compass,” according to a piece published this week by The New York Times.
So if Twitter and Facebook are bad for business, what’s the alternative?
Here comes the ‘good’ social network for business
Businesses need social networks to bolster and defend branding, share product information, interact with customers and participate in relevant conversations with the world. But which one?
Increasingly, the answer is: Google Maps.
Google Maps reaches a huge number of customers — more than is possible with the social networks.
Google Maps has more than a billion users. And while Facebook has more active users, that company will never let you reach them all because of its algorithmic control of who sees what. In fact, an update earlier this year had a devastating effect on organic reach on Facebook, and this was combined with a huge fee increase for advertising.
Facebook organic reach is now down to 1.2%. That means only 1.2% of your followers see the posts they signed up to see.
Google Maps is becoming an invaluable tool for marketing — and, increasingly, a better tool than social networks.
Whenever consumers want to find a storefront business, they increasingly do so using Google Search or Google Maps. Maps content is now automatically appearing in search engine results, so a strong showing on Google Maps gives you both Maps and Search. And Maps results are favored in results when the user is physically near.
Google Maps is not supposed to be a social network. But after recent changes, Google Maps now does most of the things businesses need from social networks.
Google this week announced a new feature that enables the public to message businesses directly through the Maps app. The feature will appear as a new “messages” button, which will be rolled out gradually to iOS and Android app users.
Customers can use the messaging feature to order products, ask questions about whether something is in stock or ask other customer service-related questions.
When users have a complaint, it can be handled directly and privately. Because the interaction isn’t public, spammers and haters won’t benefit from trolling.
Google is adding another social feature to Google Maps: the ability for customers and fans to “follow” business locations, which enables companies to update customers and prospective customers with offers, deals, events and other information. The feature is appearing as a new “Follow” button on businesses’ listings in Maps.
Unlike Facebook, which delivers your updates to only a tiny fraction of your followers — and a slightly larger fraction if you pay — Google Maps will deliver all updates to all followers front and center of the “For You” tab whenever they use Google Maps.
Imagine that! A “social network” that delivers all your content to all the consumers who follow you!
Businesses wishing to participate in either of these social features need to use Google’s “My Business” verification system and the app that goes with it, and of course also provide the back-end staffing and resource allocation to keep the listing responsive and up to date.
Google Maps even now facilitates social sharing — but only the sharing of information about businesses. A new group-planning feature enables users to create lists of businesses they’d like to visit, then share those lists with friends. They can then talk through the Maps app to decide which businesses they’d like to visit together.
Google Maps also offers opportunities no other social network does. For example, businesses can have the interior of their locations featured via the StreetView “Indoor Maps” program.
This feature will become increasingly valuable as StreetView becomes a virtual reality experience.
Google Maps is not a social network. But with recent updates, Google Maps now gives businesses most of the beautiful benefits of social networks — without any of the ugly downsides.
Get the latest on digital transformation: Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, career tips, views and events. Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.