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Useful trumps engaging

July 6, 2012

Tim O’Reilly posted an interesting thought piece up in Google+ about the challenges Google faces in its battle against a myriad of competitors, not least Facebook.

O’Reilly believes Google has lost its focus and moved away from its core DNA which was providing access to information in the fastest way possible to a world where engagement is the most important thing.

“With a little time to reflect on the Google I/O announcements, I’m disappointed by how many of them were social time wasters rather than real improvements in utility.

….my advice for competing with Facebook is to constantly focus on how to make social data more useful – which may mean less time on site – rather than more “engaging.”

Of course, both Google and Facebook time on site is dwarfed by the “time on site” of television, that vast wasteland of passive consumption. That ought to tell us something about the folly of time on site as a metric. 

I want services that help me get more benefit from less time online, not services that take me further and further from time in the real world.  

This may be why of all the announcements at Google I/O, I’m most excited about Project Glass.  While the demo for Glass emphasizes how it can be a powerful vector for social sharing of experiences (that skydive was awesome!), Glass will avoid marginalization (I heard several people refer to it as “the Segway of 2012″) only by focusing relentlessly on becoming useful rather than becoming engaging.  It will need to slip into the background rather than being in the foreground, a tool for enhancing our engagement with the real world rather than our engagement online.”

O’Reilly neatly sums up the challenges Google faces with ensuring product success.

Maybe part of this is to do with the desire for the “wow” factor in order to generate breakthrough and press for the brand. There’s probably an emphasis on “sizzle”, in order to make the jaded tech press take note and these days, who in any marketing department doesn’t want to generate some nice social media metrics for launches.

Google’s problem is also the challenge that many brands now face- given the complexity of media fragmentation, brands want to try and create deeper engagement through social media channels with their creative assets, but there’s a big danger here; brands need to be providing things that are ultimately useful to consumers.

Too specific a focus on communication engagement might lead brands to take their eye of the ball and not continue to innovate their product portfolio, falsely believing that engaging communication is a substitute.

In addition, brands need to find a way to make their communication useful- this isn’t about rational factoids littering the purity of the creative message, but thinking of smart ways that digital content can be turned into useful things that help enhance the consumer’s experience with the brand and do something positive for their lives.

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