“The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.” – W. E. B. Du Bois
Today Google announced its +1 button for websites. Rather than providing an exhaustive analysis, I wanted to frame a more focused discussion on why Google is making this move, and the opportunity it presents for e-commerce.
Today’s announcement marks the inevitable collision of the biggest trend of the last 10 years—Search—with the most important development for the next 10 – Social. If my math is right, the year is 1999 for Social. And we better get ready to adapt, or get out of the way.
Google certainly isn’t standing idle. It is placing perhaps the gutsiest bet in company history. It is wagering, for the first time, against the machines and for the humans. Less dramatically, it is subtly shifting its emphasis away from armies of robots—crunching mountains of data, from millions of anonymous users—to a simpler focus on what your friends might prefer.
This is a courageous move because it has the potential to risk the very thing that has made the company great. Until now—outside of a few ancillary adventures—Google has focused on getting the math right with Search. It left the socializing to mere humans.
Now, Google is entering a completely different world in Social – one of constant envelope-pushing where online norms of social interaction are being reinvented everyday. One where Google has to potentially give up part of its identity for an uncertain gain.
It’s (still) all about the traffic.
So what does this mean for you? The good news is that the fundamentals of commerce haven’t changed. Online retailers thrive when they’re able to capture more traffic for their web sites. This traffic converts to profits when it lands on the product page.
Since Google drives the lion’s share of this traffic, it captures a healthy share of online advertising dollars. But surprisingly, late in 2010, something changed. For the first time in 10 years, we saw a significant, net new source of traffic to e-commerce sites. That source, of course, was Facebook.
This trend is inescapable: consumers are increasingly clicking on links posted by their friends, rather than searching on Google. That’s why Google had to adapt.
Experiment to Drive Traffic and Engagement
So what should you actually do in the face of these trends? Ironically, today’s announcement reminds us that you cannot afford to ignore Facebook. A half-billion strong horde of humanity cannot be entirely wrong.
But we’re also reminded that Social is in its infancy. Google is a formidable new entrant, and we fully expect its +1 to give Facebook’s Like button a run for its money.
If there’s anything we’ve learned in our last 24 months innovating on the Open Graph, it’s this: consumers trust the wisdom of others, especially when that wisdom is coming from their own friends and people like them. When the barriers for participation are lowered—through +1, Like, or Facebook Connect—the level of engagement increases.
What’s arguably most exciting is where this engagement is happening – it’s not only on your site. A single, non-intrusive click from within your e-commerce experience sets your content free on outside networks, creating a ripple effect of interactions.
With reviews in the Facebook newsfeed, for example, we’ve found that 70% of reviews shared receive Likes or Comments from friends. The difference with +1 is that while Facebook users are trained to react on Facebook, Google users expect to leave Google, clicking-through to the most relevant site.
You, the retailer, have a chance to benefit from both these innovations. They can drive greater engagement, and ultimately, greater traffic to your website, through social recommendations.
So we counsel you to take a close look at what Google is doing, and consider experimenting with +1 on your website. Though it is as yet unproven, we think +1 is a great development for e-commerce, and has the potential to drive ever greater user engagement.
And this greater engagement can only be good for your brand—whether it takes place on Facebook, Google, your website, or all three simultaneously. So here’s to you Google. We warmly welcome you (and your +1) to the Social party.
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