So everybody has been writing about Google +
for the last week and it certainly has lots of buzz and the techie crowd are all using it. It might not be a tide yet but it is certainly a strong ripple on the edge of Facebook's shores. So where does this leave Facebook and what are they feeling at the moment? Well this is certainly the biggest threat they have ever faced from a competitor who has put a years work in to a project and who has very deep pockets and considerable marketing reach. Facebook on the other hand have 7 years advantage, 750 million users and have shown in the past how adaptive they can be when faced with a considerable challenge. It really is too early to say how much traction Google + is going to get among the general public but the next 3 months are going to be crucial and if Facebook are to keep plotting their course towards a huge IPO in the spring of 2012 then they'll need to move quickly in the following areas...
Introduce New Features
When news of a social effort from Google first broke last year Facebook went straight in to "lockdown" mode and came up with a bunch of new features including places, deals, groups and many others to try and increase their lead and make their position unasailable. They need to get back in to that sort of mode now immediately and start getting new features out the door that will keep users engaged and get the buzz going. Nobody is better at innovating that Facebook and if they can start doing that and releasing a feature a week like they were at the end of last year they can steal the buzz back from Google +.
For me the one stand out feature of Google + is circles. It allows you to group people in a simple way that nobody could have imagined until you saw it live. Facebook have tried groups in the past but they just don't work. Facebook already showed (a couple of their engineers hacked this together in one night) with this tool that it can be done and this is the one area that Facebook needs to act on immediately. Google have identified a weakness and Facebook will need to plug it as quickly as possible. You might wonder how Facebook could just copy something that is so unique but you only have to look at Google+ to see just how much they have copied from Facebook in the first place.
Improve Their App Quickly
The mobile experience on Facebook is really not good. Sure lots of people use it but it hasn't been updated in a year and the new apps for Google + on the Android show what is possible. Facebook apparently have something pretty major on the way with their project spartan but with the Google + app currently in the app store awaiting approval Facebook will need to move pretty quickly. Mobile will be the key going forward and the ease with which you can share content will be key and at the moment Facebook are a mile behind in that race. They need to throw engineers at the problem and get as many people working on those apps as possible. Mobile will decide the future.
Get Music Streaming Live
The Facebook music deals have been talked about for some time and it looks like they could be nearly there as Facebook tries to establish themselves as an entertainment platform. It could be with a service like Spotify or it could be directly with the music labels but whatever it is Facebook needs to do it quickly and get it live for users. Google will be too focused on winning new users and keeping them on the platform to be worried about things like music and if Facebook get it right and get it done quickly enough it will be yet another way of locking their users in to the platform to a service that they love too much to leave.
Start Playing Ball With Apple
Facebook and Apple have never really had the best of relationship but they may be forced in to bed together by the rise of Android and Google +. Apple announced that they were going to bake Twitter in to iOS 5 which was a major coup for Twitter but Facebook might also need to partner up with Apple. It's mobile that is driving the huge amount of content sharing and Apple can offer access to 10s of millions of users while Facebook could offer access to the social graph should Apple decide that is something they want. The big sticking points are things like music and apps with both Apple and Facebook after the same revenues.
Win The PR War
The biggest worry for Facebook is that some of the most influential people on the web including all the tech bloggers and press are all gushing over Google + non stop. This happens sometimes with cool new products but those press can easily be distracted and move on to the next bigger and better thing. What Facebook really needs right now is a new iPhone launch but that is out of their control as they don't own that product! What they can do (and Zuckerberg already started that last week by saying something awesome was coming) is start making a lot of noise about their own products and pumping new launches out the door. Produce some new videos about the site, get some new stats out the door about the number of users and how much time they spend on the site. Play the Zuckerberg card and get him infront of a bunch of tech bloggers talking about the future plans for Facebook. Basically Facebook need to start making some noise and not the sort of noise that they tried with their failed PR attempt to paint Google in a negative light last time.
Back Long Shots Like Rockmelt
The big advantage that Google are going to have is that there is going to be a toolbar across the likes of Youtube, Google Search and all the other Google properties that will draw users in to Google + on a regular basis. At the moment that is not a huge problem because people are spending more and more time on Facebook but that could start to change. Facebook need to find ways to get their service baked in to the browser and although it's only tiny at the moment something like a social browser from Rockmelt could be the answer. Facebook recently started helping them out with a strategic partnership and with Andreeson Horowitz pumping $30 million in the prospect of a social browser could be a step closer. In reality it's going to be a while before this hits the mainstream but it is the only way that Facebook can get baked in to a browser and compete with the real estate that Google have across their properties.