Over the past several months, social media observers, myself included, have documented how the once-upstart Facebook has taken on search-and-everything-interactive giant Google, and basically whipped their butts in those categories that seem to matter most to Facebook.

For instance, Facebook has become a major factor in “search” based on the premise that the recommendations by your friends are deemed more valuable in certain instances (“recommend a plumber” or “ideas for a summer vacation”) than Google’s algorithmic based search. Google hasn’t helped themselves  with “counter attacks” such as Google Buzz that haven’t even provided a speed hump in Facebook’s drive to control all social aspects of the web.

Now Facebook has set its sights (there’s a pun in here somewhere) on the location-based services led by Foursquare, Gowalla and BrightKite. It’s certainly the right cyber real estate, as the combination of location-based apps and mobile are predicted to be one of the very hottest marketing topics over the next 18 months.

Mashable’s Jolie O’Dell, commenting on an Advertising Age report, correctly surmises that Facebook’s “…userbase and mainstream adoption to bring location-sharing tools to a huge audience, excluding these newer competitors from the market.”

According to Ad Age, Facebook will roll out location status updates in late May. Marketers will join the party shortly thereafter. McDonald’s is reported to be one of the early players.

This is not about Facebook attempting to put Foursquare, Gowalla and BrightKite out of business, although it may have those consequences. This is really about advertising revenue and Facebook once again trumping Google.


If you’ve read earlier posts on this blog, you know that I’m not a huge fan of Google Buzz. I really, really like Google, and their search engine is fantastic, but I never “got” Google Buzz. I think it’s because I’m not a big GMail user. Since Buzz is based off the GMail platform, your Buzz contacts are in your GMail address book.

I have six email accounts. GMail is the least used – and I have a whopping 17 contacts in my GMail address book. So, I’m not a great targeted user for Buzz.

Regardless of my personal thoughts about Buzz, I’ve noticed that the crescendo of applause that accompanied the launch of Google Buzz, lead by the guys at Mashable, seems to have become a whisper. This is exacerbated by the negative press that Buzz seems to attract, er, like a bee to honey.

Wendy Davis, writing in the Daily Online Examiner, reported today that regulators from 10 countries have complained that Google “betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms” with the launch of Buzz. This was stated in a letter sent to Google by authorities from Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.

As quoted in the Daily Online Examiner, the letter states: “The privacy problems associated with your initial global rollout of Google Buzz on February 9, 2010 were serious and ought to have been readily apparent to you. In essence, you took Google Mail (Gmail), a private, one-to-one web-based email service, and converted it into a social networking service, raising concern among users that their personal information was being disclosed.”

You may recall that at launch, Buzz’s default settings disclosed the names of any Buzz user’s email contacts. Google soon changed the default settings to correct this and issued an apology.

As long as they have Google’s attention, the privacy police from the 10 countries also expressed their displeasure with Google’s Street View, claiming that it also violates the privacy threshold. Freedom of speech issues in the US negate most of this argument regarding Street View.

Oh, and Facebook. looks like you’re next up on the regulators’ agenda.

Beside the legal whoop-de-doo, Google should be more concerned that Buzz seems to have lost its own buzz. Am I wrong, or has it just not gained traction as a major social media app?

I promised myself that I’d wait a week after the launch of Google Buzz before I chimed in with my 2¢ worth of comments. I find it interesting that, in those few days, comments in the Twitterverse and on Facebook and the top social networking blogs have gone from “it’s the second coming of sliced bread” to “how do I turn it off?”

Let me interject that I’m a huge fan of Google. I was an early adapter to the now ubiquitous Google search engine. In late 2008, when Randall Stross’ Planet Google came out, I eagerly devoured it and marveled at Google’s corporate philosophy and their unique business mantra. From that book, I discovered areas that Google was participating in that I didn’t know about. Part of my business model is providing search engine optimization, and if you play that game, you play by Google’s rules.

Yet, I looked askance when Google launched Buzz. For those of us who use and teach social media as a marketing tool, we realized that this was inevitable. Basically, as Facebook and Twitter begin to act more and more like search engines, Google will counter by once again venturing into the social space (anyone remember Orkut?- a great app if you happen to live in India or Brazil). Facebook and Twitter become de facto search engines based on the premise of “who are you gonna trust? A mathematical algorithm or the advice of a trusted real-world friend?”  If you are looking for a dentist, do you call the one that tops Google’s SERP (search engine results page), or the one that your best friend recommends. If you said the latter, you buy into Facebook and Twitter’s search philosophy.

So, if Facebook and Twitter are going to compete with Google in the search arena, Google will invade their “social territory” by re-launching a social effort – Voila!  – Buzz! Google was smart to base Buzz on their latest social effort on their almost ubiquitous Gmail platform – or were they? That’s where I take issue with Google Buzz.

Google assumed that I wanted to include everyone on my Gmail list in my Buzz social network. This is like including everyone that you’ve every emailed in your Facebook “Friend” list or personal Twitterverse. Wrongo Bongo! When I looked at all the names that Google assumed that I’d want to follow via Buzz, my first reaction was “Who the hell are all of these people?” Do I really want to include the customer service rep who helped me with a problem with my HP printer in my Buzz universe? I don’t think so. Just because I emailed him three years ago, we are not exactly buds. Sure, I can manually go through my Gmail list and unclick those who I don’t want to Buzz with, but shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I choose who I want to Buzz with rather than Google doing it for me?

Secondly, Google touts (or at least someone does) about 150 million Gmail accounts. I’m one of them. But, my Gmail account is one of eight email accounts that I have. And, Gmail is not my primary email account. How does this impact Buzz? Google has selected that HP customer service rep who I emailed once three years ago to be in my Buzz group, but doesn’t know about one of my best friends that I email only from a non Gmail account. So, Google’s arbitrary building of my Buzz list is disingenuous. If I truly want to engage via Buzz, I need to delete a bunch of folks and then add a bunch of folks. Do I really have time for this? Facebook and Twitter based their platforms on my taking the initiative to select who I wanted to Friend or Follow, and I can do it on my own schedule. Oh, and did I mention that there is no interface with Facebook or Twitter? Google is intent on building their own version of the Berlin Wall around their Buzz community. Facebook and Twitter understood “synergy” early on and it works fro both of them.

As I write this, I’m also reading a blog post on Lifehacker that states that Google’s project manager for Buzz admits that the social app needed wider testing before it launched. As Lifehacker says: “In one week, Google’s Buzz social network has moved through a splashy launch, a quick fix, a major clean-up, and now, an apology.” This is almost a classic case on how not to launch a project. Inside of one week, Buzz has dealt with launch euphoria, a “whoops” on privacy issues, and now a statement that they should have worked on it more before they launched it.

Google says that they tested Buzz internally with 20,000 Google employees., Danger! Will Robinson! Any market researcher will tell you that’s a prime example of the folks at the Kool Aid factory drinking the Kool Aid (I’m more than mixing metaphors here). I’m sure that all Google employees use Gmail as their primary, if not only, email service, and many of their Buzz friends are fellow Google employees who are equally hyped on Buzz. I’m sure the (er, pardon the pun) “buzz” about Buzz was rampant around the Google campus. In other words, Google heard what they wanted to hear from their Beta testers.

Pete Cashmore and Barb Dybwad at Mashable are early evangalists for Google Buzz. They tout something like 9 million “buzzes” in the first few days.  Maybe that’s so in terms of raw numbers, but I would ask how many of those are relevant in terms of going to, and being read by, folks who actually care. Maybe it’s more like a giant plane flying over and dropping a ton of leaflets on a population, but no one cares to read them.

What do you think? Is Google Buzz the vaunted Facebook / Twitter killer? Or, is it another Orkut?

We’ve all been greatly touched and saddened by the news and images coming from Haiti this week concerning the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Americans and the rest of the world have rushed to send aid to the Haitian people through a variety of relief and service organizations.

One of the biggest efforts has been that of the American Red Cross. It wasn’t too long ago (think Hurricane Katrina) that the Red Cross was embroiled in some very bad press regarding the response to the needs of the Katrina victims (I watched this unfold on a personal basis as I had two Katrina refugees who came to live with me for a while). But this Red Cross seems much nimbler and much more savvy, at least when it comes to their fund raising efforts regarding Haitian relief.

Late Wednesday night, I became aware of the Red Cross’s text campaign to raise money for their relief efforts in Haiti. You know, the one that allows you to text “HAITI” to 90999 and a $10 donation is made to the Red Cross and the $10 appears as a charge on your next phone bill. I Tweeted this info, along with tens of thousands of others, and posted it on my Facebook page, as I’m sure  that many of you did. How many times did you see a Tweet of a Facebook status report in the past couple of days mentioning the 90999 text program?

In case you are not aware, the “Text 90999” methodology has been available for well over a year, and has been used in other charitable efforts. For example, last spring a campaign was launched by “Keep A Child Alive” using the 90999 text number. Texting “ALIVE” would generate a $5 donation that was charged to your phone bill. My point is, the Red Cross did not have to create the methodology or the infrastructure. It was already there. What the Red Cross did was get the program in place and got the word out quickly!

This afternoon (Friday, January 15, 2010), as I write this, the “Text 90999” campaign and generated over $9 million in Haitian aid money for the Red Cross!

Speaking this afternoon on CNN, the Red Cross’s social media manager said that the Red Cross is “stunned” by the magnitude of the outpouring of digital fundraising. The amount of money raised by the “Text 90999” campaign is more than douple all the money raised by all charities using the “90999”methodology in 2009.

What the “Text 90999” campaign has done is important to understand. First of all, it has made it easy to donate, using something (texting) that many of us do several times a day. This has really impacted the Gen Y-ers, who, a recent study shows, text an average of 740 times a month. For many of us, texting has replaced email, voice-to-voice conversations and just about any other form of person-to-person communication. Secondly, it’s quick and easy to do. When I made my donation, it took less than 15 seconds.

For those of us who use social media as a marketing tool, we have seen the “Text HAITI to 90999” campagin go viral. $9 million in donations at $10 per donation means that 900,000 people have responded in about 36 hours! This is immediate, simple to do, and the results create additional inertia to the campaign. Each news story that features the “Text 90999” campaign and its results illicits even more participation.

While other fund raising efforts are underway – it is rumored that George Clooney is putting together a telethon to air across several broadcast and cable networks in a week or so, the “Text 90999” campaign offers an immediate way for those of us who have been touched by this tragedy to feel as if we have contributed something NOW!

I would be remiss if I did not include the efforts of musician and Haiti native Wyclef Jean in this post. His similar campaign: “Text YELE to 501501” to donate $5 has raised over $1 million in three days. That’s over 200,000 respondents. It has been somewhat overwhelmed by the publicity generated by the Red Cross’s campaign.

Have you contributed using the “Text 90999” campaign? I would be interested in your thoughts.

Why Ford Gets It

Ford Motor Company continues to separate itself from the other domestic automakers with a double win at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. On Monday, January 11, Ford was selected as the winner of both the prestigious Car of the Year (Ford Fusion Hybrid)) and Truck of the Year (Transit Connect van) awards. This marks the first time in 17 years, and only the third time in history, that a single brand has won both awards in the same year. The Ford Fusion Hybrid was also selected as Motor Trend Magazine’s Car of the Year this past November.

In recent months, Ford has gained consumer notice for not only its innovative design, but has seen unprecedented market share growth, increasing domestic share-of-market 14 out of the last 15 months. Ford’s domestic share stands at 17.3% and category-leader GM’s share, falling to 19.8%, is clearly within Ford’s sights.

The fact that Ford was the only domestic automaker to not solicit government bailout funding as well as the single domestic auto company to avoid bankruptcy has created “atta boy!” status with consumers and the American public at large. Consumers seem to appreciate the fact that the company can continue to be viable without the aid of taxpayer money.

Ford’s ONE Ford plan posits that cars built for the global market rather than different versions and sub brands for specific markets are the process needed in today’s marketplace. This bodes well as China is now seen as the largest potential market for US-made cars.

Like Driving an iPhone

Critically, Ford seem to understand more than most other vehicle manufacturers that the user experience is crucial to branding and sales. Ford’s SYNC in-car communications system melds music, entertainment, information and communications into one unit. Much like the iPod became a category leader because of the user experience and thousands of applications created by users, Jim Farley, Group VP of Marketing at Ford says “The bottom line is, when you enter your car, it should be as cool as your iPhone. My point of view is that we create an open platform like iPhone and let the applications flow based on Sync. This seems odd, since you would think we want dollars, but we want the Sync community to grow and these applications are more creative than we can create.” Ford’s SYNC is an open platform and Fraley hopes that developers will create unique apps for the system, much like the process that fueled the iPhone app phenomena.

Marketing Revamp Rivals Company Re-org

Farley also stated in a live-chat from the Detroit show that Ford is placing 25% of it’s traditional media budget in interactive and that social media will play a critical role.

We need to have enough creative horsepower to come up with unique ideas that viewers will find fun,” he said. “The advantages are credibility and efficiency.”

Ford CEO Allen Mulally was an early adapter to Twitter, and Ford seems to “get” social media better than its rivals. US efforts will be, er, focused on the launch of the Ford Focus, the first global platform car, and the Ford Fiesta. Fiesta’s effort will be the second iteration of “Fiesta Movement,” a successful effort from last year where a group of “influencers” were given Ford Fiestas to drive and then they blogged about it. This year’s version will be more “car” centric than the previous one.

The Ford Focus campaign will see the bulk of activity between April and October with a lot of web and social media programs.

Ford does some innovative things such as a dedicated time when CEO Allen Mulally can interact with consumers via social media. And, while the other makers were using traditional media and PR at the Detroit show, Ford was all over social media (the Farley quotes used above came from that effort). Ford’s Director of Social Media Scott Monty has one of the more perceptive Fortune 500 company social media strategies and he blogs about it.

What do you think of Ford’s strategy? Would you consider a Ford Fusion Hybrid when pruchasing or leasing your next car?

Besides those ubiqutous and irritating pop-ups, Netflix now ratchets up their attempt to get encourage their customers ire. Now, Netflix jumps on the “Privacy Issue” bandwagon with a promotional contest that releases some user privacy informnation and may invite a class action law suit. Wendy Davis writes in the Daily Examiner Online:

” When Netflix released a trove of “anonymized” information about consumers as part of a contest for a better recommendation tool, it only took a few weeks for researchers at the University of Texas at Austin to show how easily the data could be de-anonymized.

“An adversary who knows only a little bit about an individual subscriber can easily identify this subscriber’s record in the dataset,” they wrote.

If Netflix was chagrined by this development, you’d never know it. Not only did the company continue with the contest, but proudly declared it intends to hold a second one — for which it will release even more information than last time. For the new contest, Netflix will make available customers’ gender, ages, ZIP codes and previously rented movies in hopes of gleaning insight into users’ tastes.

Stunned privacy experts wasted no time bashing the plan. University of Colorado law professor Paul Ohm implored Netflix to reverse course. “Researchers have known for more than a decade that gender plus ZIP code plus birthdate uniquely identifies a significant percentage of Americans,” Ohm wrote. Even without birthdates, he said, interested researchers will be able to figure out many people’s identities.

Attorney Jay Edelson predicted that Netflix would face a class-action lawsuit if it went through with its plans.

As it turns out, Edelson’s law firm, KamberEdelson, along with Joseph Malley of Dallas and other lawyers, decided not to wait for Netflix to start the contest. This week, they filed suit on behalf of four Netflix consumers, arguing that releasing the information would violate the federal Video Protection Privacy Act — a 21-year-old law, passed after a newspaper obtained the movie rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork — that bans movie rental stores from revealing personally identifiable information about consumers.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in San Jose, Calif., seeks damages on behalf of people whose information was released by Netflix in the past.

The consumers also seek an order prohibiting Netflix from making any information available about their video records. One of the four, who sued under the pseudonym Jane Doe, alleges that she is a closeted lesbian who would be harmed if people figured out that she had rented a number of “gay-themed” movies from Netflix. “Plaintiff Doe does not want her movie selection or rating transactions to be included in any public disclosure of data for purposes such as the Netflix contest, regardless of any attempts by Netflix to anonymize or perturb the data,” the lawsuit alleges.

A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.”

Update: Wired Magazine is reporting that a closeted lesbian mom is suing Netflix for invasion of privacy after being outed as part of the Netflix promotion.

I used to be deep in the promotion business – both as a senior manager at a major market radio station and later as the founder CEO of an experiential and promotional marketing company. Based on that experience, I am aghast that Netflix’s lawyers signed off on this!

What are your thoughts?  What if you are one of the Netflix customers whose info is published?

Much has been written in the past several days about the changes in Facebook’s privacy policy that have been made over the last few weeks. Most of us who follow these things feel that Facebook is again reacting to the continuing explosive growth of Twitter. A recent agreement with Google to allow Facebook posts to appear in Google’s new real-time search also contributes to Facebook’s attempt to make your Facebook information available to the world.

Currently, much of the personal information of Facebookers that was previously only available to their “friends” is now in the public domain. Facebook urges its users to make more of their information available. This benefits Facebook’s software developers as well as anyone else trolling for information. For example, Facebook’s default setting now makes any photos that you post on your page available to the world. Prior to the changes, these could only be seen by your Facebook “Friends.” The same is true for your Facebook “Friends” list. Now that Facebook is cooperating with Google, your photos and “friends” list could show up in Google searches.

Note: Facebook has modified this feature but you must take direct action by going into your Facebook Account Settings and checking whether you want this information available to only your “friends,” “friends of friends,” or the whole world.

Perhaps Facebook’s senior managers felt that, once again, they could make drastic changes to their policy, and, after the obligatory dust-up, things would return to normal. Not this time.

Ten groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stating that the recent changes in Facebook’s Privacy Policy “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy and contradict Facebook’s own representations.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) as well as the American Library Association, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation for Privacy Rights, Privacy Activism, Privacy Rights Now Coalition, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation. The complaint is posted on EPIC’s site.

Concern has also been raised about how this information could be used in totalitarian countries. Nick O’Neill discusses this on the All Facebook Blog.

Facebook has responded by saying “We’ve had productive discussions with dozens of organizations around the world about the recent changes, and we’re disappointed that EPIC has chosen to share their concerns with the FTC while refusing to talk to us about them.” Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt said that Facebook has had ongoing discussion with the FTC regarding the privacy changes.