9 million facebook users in Germany.

The new stats of Facebook in Germany are amazing. Growth during the last few months has been aroung 10% more or less steadily. With 9.1 million users, facebook is now the largest social network in Germany, having surpassed StudiVZ, which used to be the largest.

In terms of sociodemographic, it is still 50/50 between men and women, the largest group being within the age bracket of 18-34 years old. Representative enough for most social media marketing initiatives.

The implications for marketers are quite interesting. When thinking about social media activities, facebook is now the big pond in which to place the lure. It’s the place to go to when thinking about launching any involving apps or quizzes to reach the target audience.

Yet, it is still a place where most users just go to find out about the news from their network. Some (attractive) brands have achieved „likes“ and made into the newsfeed of users. But I bet there are many more brands that have launched facebook activities which never made the news. Which will be the most successful German brands on Facebook at the end of 2010? I’ll keep you posted.

Waving or buzzing – Google’s new Buzz.

So Google has launched „buzz“, which is a social network simulating extension to GMail, if you ask me. You can share photos, videos, status messages – and people can follow your profile, see what you share and comment on it in real time. Apparently. I haven’t found anyone yet to „buzz“ with.

It’s supposed to be an attack on sites like facebook or tools like twitter. I just wonder, if it is strong enough to get people of these two other services. They are quite sticky already, especially facebook, since they’re offering lots of functions, games, content upload options, etc. – and quite many people have established their network on facebook, it will take some persuading luring these network-settled people over to a new network.

Anyway, how does that align with Google Wave? Will they integrate the two at some point? Or will Buzz just be for sharing, chatting and connecting while Wave will be more about real collaboration? We’ll see… And see this video here, it explains the main points in less than 2 minutes:


(UPDATE: here is another good take on the whole launch, including the relation to Wave.)


Is Facebook going down?

Mark Lazen is bold on the idea that facebook might soon be on death watch. One of the main points is that Facebook is trying to be all things to all people. (Sort of like AOL a few years ago.) Which is supposedly the first step of being nothing to nobody, resulting in comparative irrelevance.

I am of a more cynical mindset. I believe that when you’re everything, you are actually nothing.

Right – and not, at the same time. Yes, there will always be more specialized sites for everything FB offers. Flickr is better for photos (in quality, not quantity!), twitter is better for realtime status updates. Many community sites are more topically focused, gaming sites offer better games,… the list can go on and on.

But yet: Spreading your digital acitivities and personas over x-many sites is tedious. Especially if you have different IDs (ok, there will be solutions) and different social networks everywhere. Trying out the top-notch applications everywhere is only fun for the digitally inspired early adopters. For everyone else, a good solution will just do. And believe me: the majority is „everyone else“.

In my own personal circle of friends, facebook is still growing, gaining new fans everyday. (And watching the newsfeed has only become interesting in the last couple of months, as my own network of friends grew.)

I am convinced that the digitally inspired (native or immigrant) underestimate the size and power of the late majority. These people (most of my friends amongst these) will praise those sites, that make a digital whatever easy with a one-stop-shop solution. Of course the quality of the applications and offers can’t be sub-optimal. And for certain topics of interest people might migrate to a specialised competitor. But the rest of their digital activities they might still keep at places like facebook or other sites like it.

The key factor is relevance: as long as facebook offers sufficient relevance, aggregated across all service offers, applications and the individual social network, it will stay top of mind with a large audience. The problem only arises, if facebook becomes second rate at everything they offer. Here I assume: the personal social network is the last resort of stickiness. As soon as your own social network has mostly migrated to other sites, you don’t care to stay either.

What do you think?

Do social networks need advertising?

Mitch Joel pointed me to a business week article about advertising in social networks. In the same post he also links to a blogpost claiming social media sites need advertising.

In short: time spent on social networks is declining, for whatever reason – one could of course be increased advertising on these platforms. So this could be a problem for advertisers in the near future. Secondly: social networks need advertising, the same way media has always been ad supported.

But it’s not only the fact that user numbers are going down, ads on social networks are also less effective than on regular websites:

Many of the people who hang out on MySpace, Facebook, and other sites pay little to no attention to the ads because they’re more interested in kibitzing with their friends. Social networks have some of the lowest response rates on the Web, advertisers and ad placement firms say. Marketers say as few as 4 in 10,000 people who see their ads on social networking sites click on them, compared with 20 in 10,000 across the Web.

The solution to this is new targeting mechanisms, to serve users more relevant messages.

Last fall, both rolled out programs allowing marketers to pitch products to people in hundreds of categories of interest, such as fashion and sports. News Corp. President Peter Chernin said on Feb. 4 that response rates on MySpace improved as much as 300%.

Could be a solution. But at the end of the day, this whole approach still tries to use old answers to new problems. How about taking an approach that looks beyond plain advertising? How about introducing branded widgets, services, or exclusive whatevers to these platforms, so that brands can provide an added value to the interaction between users?

I am thinking of such things as the Red Bull Rosham Bull Challenge in facebook, which is a game that two users can play against each other. Or even just plain and simple things like the fact that you can sponsor digital gifts in facebook. There still is lots of potential for these kind of approaches.

Oh, and from a business model perspective: I don’t think social networks need advertising support. At least not to the extent that their business models are in danger if there is no proper ad solution in place.

Think about the German platform Xing.com. There you have a choice of paying a monthly premium for additional services – one of which is the fact that you don’t get to see any ads.

There could also be other models, like changing the business model slightly and starting e-commerce around certain product groups (i.e. certain information-based, digital products or even real products).

These problems are not really new. But what this whole discussion shows, is simply the fact that social networks have, all of a sudden, exposed the need for new marketing approaches much clearer than any of the previous developments on the web.

Google and the liberation of mobile phones

Clever, very clever indeed. Google announces the Open Hand Set Alliance and liberates the 33 participating mobile phone operators from the claws of proprietary systems. From the Google Blog:

Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications — all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation. We have developed Android in cooperation with the Open Handset Alliance, which consists of more than 30 technology and mobile leaders including Motorola, Qualcomm, HTC and T-Mobile.

It appears to carry very similar objectives as OpenSocial which was announced only last week. Google seems to favour open standards, so that the web as a plattform and mobile phones as the future personal device for everything will stay open and free. This should enable innovation to the benefit of the user, no doubt about that! But it might also serve Google quite well.

Why? I can only guess: Googles revenue models are still mostly built on advertising. So Google needs scalability in customer reach, which they can only keep increasing with ready access to information and users. As social networks are obviously becoming the dominating platforms for users to interact with, and mobile devices probably being the first choice for going „online“, then Google needs to be able to freely play on these grounds.

In the future, I think the key to revenue will most likely not reside in just delivering content, i.e. producing or transporting it, since there will be soooo much of it. And it is very labour intensive to produce it. Instead, it is much more efficient to

  1. intelligently aggregate and sort content (which Google already does)
  2. adequately aligning this content to the needs, preferences – and most importantly: intentions of the users.

Regarding the second point, I think it is fairly obvious that Google should be way ahead of the competition in gathering the necessary user data. Think about Google Toolbar, Google Analytics and Google AdSense, nevermind the main site, the search engine itself. They should have better tracking data than anybody else, which they can put to work for solving the second point above.

One thing that can stop the (nearly) endless scaling of Google’s model into the long tail of every single social media profile and mobile device is „artificial“ restrictions such as walled gardens and operating systems. So: very clever to launch initiatives to at least partially open up social networks and mobile phone operating systems.