Edited by Sarah Mejia
According to Urban Dictionary, “Social Fatigue occurs when a person is overwhelmed by being put into far too many social situations for their comfort, often resulting in boredom or annoyance of those around them…[and] can result from over-use of social networking sites.” That’s the “what,” behind this, but now the “why” is important.
It is highly unlikely that you have not, at some point in time, used or heard mention of a social media platform, and I would wager that it occurs almost on a daily basis. At any point in time, people can take a quick look without ever having spoken to you directly and know what’s going on with you at a minimal level, which drives some of the appeal for social networking sites.
At the onset of the social networking craze, people (especially teens) were going nuts about these sites. As fast as they could type and as frequently as they could check, they were updating or adding to their personal sites on these social networks, and the information pouring out from these individuals was tremendous! It certainly didn’t take long for companies to recognize the vast marketing opportunities to be found here. To make a long story short, we now have Facebook as we know it, riddled with advertisements on the profile page, like a glowing, neon billboard put on your lawn screaming, “HEY! WE KNOW YOU WANT IT! COME AND GET IT!” that continues to pulse every moment you’re home.
Now back to the idea of social fatigue. After having become more-or-less familiarized with social networking, certain groups of people are simply becoming worn out. They look at the screen and have no desire whatsoever to go onto their page anymore, because it’s suddenly all meaningless. Where’s the personal interaction? Who cares what silly tidbit you put as a status? And, why in the world am I giving out all of this personal information about myself? These realizations, coupled with the knowledge that there’s going to be a thousand and one ads, has led to many burnt-out site patrons and forced Facebook to try to redesign its site. Several of these changes have led to serious negative responses from the Facebook community. This negative feedback has created an opening for Google +. Nonetheless, one of the greatest challenges facing both companies will be social fatigue, even if Google + promises something different, preexisting social fatigue may keep potential users from joining.
While Facebook works to enhance its website through video chat communications, a better platform for businesses, and so forth, a new player has entered the field, and it is perhaps the only player that can break into the social networking market with serious headway: Google +.
In marketing, we realize that any product has a natural life cycle, and it appears as if Facebook has hit the end of the maturity stage and may soon enter the decline stage. This directly correlates with the idea of social fatigue. Below is an illustration of the product life cycle graph, which depicts the reality in which Facebook acted as a monopolist in the social networking world. This graph may make more sense if we picture Myspace as the first company to start social networking, but during Myspace’s growth stage, Facebook entered as a competitor and overcame the growing market.
The interesting thing here though, is that we have Google + seemingly entering the market when it normally wouldn’t in accordance with the product life cycle graph. This doesn’t mean such moves don’t happen, but it isn’t the norm. The reason that this is unusual is because when a product reaches the latter stages of its life, the market for the product has generally diminished and people are done with it. What makes Google + an exception is that it actually is a new product. Yes, it is another social networking site, but it offers a more user – friendly, multi-compatible platform with all other Google services. In addition, it already has a working video chat interface that is to be coupled with “Hangouts,” a feature that allows for multi-user video conferences. Google + also has a new system of categorizing individuals based on a “need to know” information basis, which allows you to control specifically who sees what through “circles. Plus, it offers a legitimate possibility to being convenient for business use in the near future due to the functional aspects of other Google services and the ability to work collaboratively in a real time virtual environment while simultaneously being able to hold video conferences.
There has also been lots of positive feedback from the site’s early adopters saying how clean and uncluttered Google + is, since Google doesn’t allow advertising. There are two factors to consider here, one is that Google + is still relatively new, and companies are wary of its ability to survive. Even with all the excitement and positive buzz being generated, the mainstream audience still hasn’t caught on or bought into the new site. Without this body being captured, Google + will not go on and Facebook will at least have lived long enough to warrant a chance to redesign its website to make it even better. From a historical context, the odds for Google + surviving are also very slim due to the previous failures of Buzz and Wave. Even if Google learned from these failures and has collected responses as to the general complaints with Facebook, the failure of Google’s previous attempts still demonstrates the nature of people to be complacent with the status quo, even in the face of other options.
We must also consider the plans for the future business component of Google +. With the introduction of service to that sector, it would be highly likely to see the entrance of some form of open advertising being done on Google + users’ pages. Although, I imagine that the advertising would be much more discrete. If advertising isn’t done on user pages however, it will with absolute certainty be done through some other means. Whether it happens through email, more streamlined television ads to your TV, ads to your phone, or something new altogether, it will happen. The plus to this latter circumstance would be that you wouldn’t experience an overall increase of advertising in your daily life. You would be exposed to the same amount, just with products and ads that are deemed more likely to appeal to you. If you don’t believe me on the idea of Google + working in tandem with its listed business users and a group of TV program providers, let me just ask you: do you have DVR? Trust me, it can and will happen if it isn’t already being done like that. Same with your phone, if it’s a smart phone, you should already be aware of the news about it and why you get GPS as part of the premium data plan. The GPS function serves as a way for companies to market to you based on time of day and your location; it could be even more fine-tuned with information gathered from a social networking site.
Based on what I’ve seen with Google + so far, I’m led to believe that the site may already be showing signs of failure. The biggest sign is the slow-down site visits6. Early adopters are always around for the beginning stages of a new product. They’re driven to try new things and potentially use it to maintain a status of being a trendsetter and to be on the cutting edge. As I mentioned earlier, the mainstream still hasn’t come on yet, and as early as it is to be making concrete judgments about Google +, I find it telling that the apparent growth stage (and trial stage) of Google + is already leveling off. The mainstream doesn’t seem to be interested enough to switch, -or ask for invites in this case- and I don’t think that they will be in the near future. This lack of interest could lead to another failed project to further broaden the scope and power of Google, because one of the biggest complaints thus far by early adopters is that there aren’t many individuals for them to interact with. This forces users to continue using Facebook over the preferred Google + layout.
One of the added drawbacks is the invite-only approach being used in the beta stage. Understandably, the system could be over flooded if Google allowed everyone to join at once. As mentioned above, the problem is that Google + users have to use Facebook to stay in touch with most of their friend base. I expect that the invite-only approach will dissipate in the near future, but if the hype dies down in that time, Google + will not stick in the minds of potential users.
To mention the positive though, Google + is everything that I described at the beginning of the Google + section, and everything works smoothly. It certainly is nice to have tabs at the top that allow you to scroll through the different services Google provides (gmail, Docs, Calendars, etc.). If there were no other preexisting company, Google + would dominate. However this is not the case and pulling away complacent Facebook users is hardly an easy task. The true test for Google + and Facebook will occur in two months’ time when Google + ends its trial stage and goes fully online. This truly is a model situation showing the power of a brand.
My prediction is that Facebook will maintain the majority of social network users, and that Google + will go the way of the prototypes before it. The only way to change this outcome is through heavy and well–planned marketing. My recommendation would be to take current Google + users, and offer them incentives to spread positive word of mouth (WOM) to draw in their friends, because once people join, they won’t want to leave. This could be done through a commission scheme per user added, or by levels, for which after obtaining each level the promoting user would receive something in return. This would make use of social networking WOM and demonstrate its power. A second option, would be to show a commercial of a Google + account being used, showing the benefits offered.
Social Networking in Commercials
Recently, there have been quite a few commercials portraying the use of Facebook. The appeal in doing this is that companies want to connect to the life of the typical customer, and to potentially be in contact with the company on Facebook; companies can also show the functionality of certain products they may carry. Facebook, in turn, receives free advertising. A surreal experience for me was watching a commercial that had a YouTube video on a Facebook page about a company product, and personally I found it unnerving.
The problem with using social network advertising now is that it may have come too late. Assuming that my prediction is accurate and Facebook is at the end of its maturity stage, (although reforming the site could transform it into a new product and give new life to the company,) I believe that people could actually be turned off by the commercial. I brought up the idea of social fatigue at the beginning of this article, and this plays in directly with why people may not like these commercials. Not only is it another commercial, it’s a commercial showing you something that you’ve already seen enough of and are sick of. Also, association with Facebook, which may have been intended to have a positive effect, is now just as likely to be negative. This is both a problem for the company advertising and for Facebook. From Facebook’s point of view, however, at least Facebook is the one currently receiving the advertising instead of Google +.
Had these commercials been used early on in the life of Facebook, the returns could have been tremendous, but at this point in time the results will not come close to what they could have been.
Thoughts Posed by the Author: