As anyone with an internet connection knows, Google and Facebook are giants amongst social networking and information services. With the Facebook IPO now looming, investors and businesses are focussing on the possibilities offered by social networking and how they are eclipsing the traditional web-based services that have their roots in the so-called Web 1.0. Throw Google+ into the fray, and the search-engine giant’s role in the future of online business gets a whole lot more complicated. Thus begs the question – where is the world on online marketing heading, and if there’s a giant worth climbing, who’s it going to be?
Key to all this is ‘disposable time’, a concept that will quickly come to define the way marketers think about social networks, media and web based information services. The best way to describe it is by analogy with disposable income; after paying debts, taxes and living expenses, the money left over is considered ‘disposable’, free to be spent on hobbies, leisure or conspicuous consumption. Disposable time is thus free time spent online, after completing work. Where this time is spent online is of key interest to marketers, and it’s clear that social networks are the dominant player in the field.
Consider a typical scenario – a high school or university student finishes up their study for the day (likely using a service such as Google or Wikipedia) and then spends the rest of their night surfing Facebook to catch up with friends. This is where most are likely to click advertisements and follow up ‘viral’ advertising leads. Another scenario, this time after work – a sales director comes home and settles into her armchair, flicks on her iPad and pulls up some gardening or DIY tutorials through Google and YouTube (possibly clicking an ad for power drills in the process).
All of this is done in disposable time – psychological studies suggest that the mind tends to wander in these leisure periods, causing people to follow up ads and review products and services. The marketing potential attained via disposable time is obvious. We now need to consider what online services capitalise on this concept to the greatest degree. Without doubt, Facebook is the greatest contender. Many web surfers, especially teenagers, spend countless hours socialising. Coupled with online games, music, fan pages and integrated chat, Facebook offers the entertainment factor that drives expenditure of disposable time leading to lesss time spent on Google. In comparison, Google lacks obvious ‘hooks’ and is commonly seen as a useful tool rather than a source of immediate entertainment. Google+ is an attempt to shift the balance, but has seen limited acceptance when compared to Facebook’s overwhelming market share. YouTube, owned by Google, is a very popular sink for disposable time, but acts as a standalone from Google’s search engine hub. It would seem that in terms of sheer attention paid, Facebook is the clear winner.
All is not lost for Google, however. Google, unlike Facebook, sees ubiquitous use in business and education. Most business conducted on Facebook is marketing-based, who ironically target those with the most disposable time. It’s this ‘non-disposable’ time that Google can capitalise on, a very important thought seeing as it’s far more valuable than the equivalent.
In the end, it depends on your market – serious businesses and service providers should stick with Google for its versatility and ability to sell your products where they’re wanted (you can’t imagine selling professional grade forklifts on Facebook, can you?) The hospitality, consumables and entertainment industries will, however, continue to use the awesome memetic power of Facebook and make the most of its users’ disposable time – after all, that’s when their products find the most use!
By Michael Arendt for MyConsulting – Digital Marketing Agency Melbourne Australia