It seems like it took forever, but social media is finally catching up with something that database and direct marketers have known for years: consumers aren’t all alike.
As social networks continue their march toward world domination, a big part of their appeal is that they allow people to share their thoughts and opinions with an ever-increasing number of friends (think Facebook) as well as strangers (think Twitter). And while social media may have brought simplicity to sharing, the truth is, it hasn’t really brought the best marketing smarts to the equation. Facebook and Twitter both default to a scatter-gun approach when it comes to messaging. This doesn’t work incredibly well for engagement on a personal level, and from a marketing perspective, the leading social nets intrinsically ignore some of the strongest components marketers hold dear — like timely, relevant messaging.
Though Google+ is still technically in beta, we at Pluris Marketing (an agency focused on offer optimization and cross-channel marketing) are encouraged by its strong start because we believe adoption will send a strong signal that the social-media game has changed. Using circles, brands and individuals can now segment audiences in a way that wasn’t easy to do before (you can do it on Facebook, but it isn’t intuitive). By breaking contacts and customers into circles, Google+ is helping people immediately become more relevant with their messaging.
On a personal level, obviously not everyone wants to know what you’re making for dinner, or how your kid did in their latest soccer game—but you might be a member of a dinner club that likes to share recipes, while Grandma and your close friends might want to know whether Austin scored a goal today. Google+ Circles lets you share that information with the right parties without boring and/or annoying everyone else.
If you’re a marketer, the implications of Google+ are even more profound. Because if you’re currently boring and/or annoying people on Facebook and Twitter with one-update-fits-all (or one-tweet-fits-all) messaging, what you’re actually doing is training people to ignore you. People might not go through the trouble of unfriending your brand page on Facebook or unfollowing your brand’s official Twitter stream, but if they’ve all but tuned you out, you’ve effectively already lost them as potential customers.
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How much should you segment?
You can add unlimited Google+ circles—and you can label them any way you choose—so you can get more and more targeted with your messages. (You may not want to get too granular, though, as there is already a product known as email that supports that!)
Your Google+ contacts won’t know what segment they’re in—Google+ Circle labels are for your eyes only—so you’re not going to offend anyone by putting them in “acquaintance” versus “friend” in your personal life or “prospect” versus “VIP customer” in a marketing context. This allows you to connect with different groups in different ways. (Note: Your contacts can see up to 21 people in the group they’re in.)
As with any good segmentation system, you can manage Google+ Circles on a life-cycle basis, moving people from circle to circle as things change—without notifying them that they’ve been reclassified.
From Segmentation to Offer Optimization
Google+ might just give us an easy way to rein in social media from Google+ its current state of over-social media. But for marketers, the addition of another layer of discernment to the service (with the permission of users, of course) could make things really interesting.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were tools that made certain segmentation decisions for you? I’m talking about automated protocols that “know” what to send people based on the other interactions they’re having, how busy they are and their likelihood to respond.
Well, that tool already exists in database marketing!
Consider a personal example of the potential of what you might call “Smart Circles”. Let’s say I have a couple coveted concert tickets that I can’t use. I could send out a Facebook update or tweet to see who wants them, hitting contacts all over the world with a wide variety of music tastes. On Google+, I could create a circle of local friends who I think might be interested in the concert, but what if I miss someone because I didn’t know they were going to be in town that weekend? And what if it turns out no one in my local-friends circle can use the tickets? The tickets were expensive, but do I really want to go through the trouble of listing them on Craigslist or eBay?
Now imagine if Google+ had systems that allowed it to automatically contact only the appropriate people across all of your circles. Consider a scenario in which, for instance:
- Google+ could look at the name of the band and find people who are interested in that band or similar bands.
- Google+ could factor in geographical proximity to the concert venue.
- Google+ could consult the Google Calendars of people across your various circles and see who’s free the night of the concert.
It’s not that far-fetched, and if everything works as it should, there’d be a happy ending to the story. Your tickets wouldn’t go to waste and the lucky recipients (or even buyers) of the tickets would get to go to a concert they were dying to attend.
Of course, the particulars of how people could opt in or opt out of such “offer optimization” would be a make-it-or-break-it proposition for Google+, particularly when the theoretical example moves from the personal realm to the marketing realm.
In a way, though, Google+ is already built on the principles of database marketing. If you think of social-network information—posts, pictures and other content you share—as something you’re “offering” to friends and other acquaintances, then the Google+ Circles you set up are letting you do a form of offer optimization right now.