Social media 2013 – battle of the titans

The other day, while rummaging in the inner recesses of one of my drawers, I came across my old crystal ball. It hadn’t been used in a long while and was showing signs of neglect so I decided to give it another go. Rather than checking for lottery numbers I decided to see what social media changes we will experience in 2013; I am, after all, a bit of a geek. The ball was a little dusty, so I had to spend some time cleaning it, but I was quite pleased with the end results.

In short, I predict that in 2013 we shall see a monumental battle between Google and Facebook for total world domination, more or less. Do you remember the old Titans? They were the many children of the ruler of the universe who then decided to rebel against their father (castrating him, if you want to know) and who were subsequently defeated by one of their own sons, led by Zeus. (Zeus – Zuckerberg maybe? Or am I stretching the point too far?)

I digress of course, but let’s look at some hard facts. According to thisuseful social media stats site Facebook rules the world already with over half of all global users being subscribed to it. This is a staggering figure, equivalent to over one billion people. The USA and the UK are in the lead with the highest global penetration, over 50% fbgoogleplus2of the population in fact. This doesn’t leave it much room to manoeuvre, if you exclude the very young, infirm, very old and secluded monastic orders. And this is precisely where problems begin for Facebook – not much room for expansion. Users aside, the key element of any social media network is engagement. In the countries just mentioned there are now worrying signs that people are beginning to disengage from Facebook. This comes as no surprise for most avid Facebook users, as the network has managed to alienate quite a number of them thanks to recent privacy and format changes. Of course, I knew something was seriously wrong with it even before news were released to the press. When my wife announced a month before Christmas that she had had enough of FB and was planning to leave the network I suspected things weren’t that rosey in Atlanta. Now, my wife is no social media guru, the opposite in fact, but I was beginning to see that some of FB’s shine was wearing off especially among their less engaged users.

Perhaps as a result of these trends – and let’s face it while we can only rely on information from places like Socialbakers for our disquisitions these networks have access to highly sophisticated data – Facebook has recently announced a number of changes. For example,Graphsearch will shortly be launched by them. This is merely a tool devised to encourage you to find out shared interests among your friends, which of course relies on them being honest and not being sloppy, as well as on their willingness to share as much information as possible. Such seemingly simple device is just the start of a larger battle, one in which Facebook would aim to supplant Google as the first port of call when surfing the web (do you still ‘surf’ the web or are we now ‘scuba diving’ it instead?).

While Facebook is going on the offensive, Google, with its soporific Google+ network is making good progress. Unfortunately, while Facebook publishes some pretty detailed stats, Google+ declines to part with figures on number of users, although some estimates (optimistically in my opinion) state that around 600,000 people join Google+ every day. The key problem with Google+ is that you need to have a Google account to use it, so it’s really an extension of an existing Google ‘personality’ rather than an open social media network like Twitter or Facebook. But I won’t spend much time on detailing the shortcomings of Google+ as I have written about it before, beside there is a massive amount of information out there already.

The fact is that where Google+ excels is in brand building, which is something that is of potentially great appeal to business users, ergo where the real money is. While Facebook has made some lame attempts at wooing the business community with adverts and pages, it has had nothing like the success of Google and its Adwords system in particular. Moreover, recent data shows that Google+ has the highest number of wealthy users than any other social media network, which must be a big cause of concern for Facebook.

So we are back to users’ engagement. For Facebook to lead over Google, it would have to defeat it as the entry point of choice, ensuring that its 1.2 billion users stayed with it from the moment they switched their PC on to when they were finally exhausted and turned their bedside lights off. In that scenario Facebook could start generating some very attractive revenue, eroding Google’s primacy.

But let’s not be mistaken, Google isn’t going to sit back and allow Facebook to steal some of its market share; my take is that the company will aim to retain and expand its presence by developing more apps and solutions that more closely knit and integrate their followers, bringing them into the fold of Google+ by default, rather than by choice. See for example the dominance of Chrome as a browser, now neck and neck with Firefox and having even been morphed into an operating system (well, if you like to call it thus, but that’s another story….).

So, to recap this long peroration, I see 2013 as the year of a titanic battle between Facebook and Google. But I don’t think we should worry too much. As users we probably stand a good chance of selecting more and better services, though already confused business leaders may struggle even more to understand which of the two networks could generate more potential revenue. In the meantime, for commentators like me there will be plenty to write about and lots of fun to be had.

Now, if you liked this piece I am happy to continue using my crystal ball, provided you clicked on the Paypal button below for your extended and customised version, also linked to your astrological and numerological forecast, maybe.

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