My parents have become an informal guidepost for technology adoption. Whenever I come home to visit them, they usually ask me if I have heard about some new technology. It is that point that I know that the tech they mention has reached a certain level of critical mass. My parents are by no means tech neophytes, but conversely, they aren’t cruising tech blogs attending regular tweet-ups.
Facebook is a regular part of my mom’s life. I often get messages and Wall comments from her, and in quite a few instances, our Facebook communication has replaced picking up a telephone. So, this weekend I asked her whether she uses Google+ or has heard about it. She said she had heard some buzz about it, but had no intention to change from Facebook. I started to think about this, and wondered if this trend of one would hold true in other demographics. I also began to wonder whether Google+ might be in for a slog trying to convert my mom and others who share similar usage patterns and demographics. Before I make such a bold blustery claim, we should evaluate why my mom uses Facebook.
The biggest reason? Because everyone else uses Facebook too. Facebook has built a competitive advantage that will make it difficult to overcome, especially in the older demographic. The younger generation has less of an issue trying something new and flipping between multiple services (Google+, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.). One could easily make the argument that Myspace was well ahead of Facebook and they caught up. This is a totally different game due to the three principle ways my mom uses Facebook:
1. Playing Games with friends – Facebook has become an impressive platform for non-immersive pastime games I consider myself a gamer, but still play Facebook games from time to time. For my mom, on the other hand, Facebook’s game offerings are often at the perfect skill level for her and others in her generation. These games also attract users who don’t have the time to commit to an engrossing game and just want a five minute distraction. Facebook Scrabble is one of my mom’s favourite games, and she plays with all of her friends from the comfort of her iPad. Facebook quickly become one of the strongest gaming platforms out there over the past 3 years. The Google game strategy is emerging via the Google App store, but currently is both under-developed and not tightly integrated into Google+.
2. Seeing what we are up to – With a new baby in the family, my mom is quick to check for photos or keep in touch with friends. I haven’t felt the need to really post pictures on both services (Facebook and Google+) because when posting those pictures, I consider my target audience. In this case, I want family to see them, so naturally they get posted to Facebook. This is part of the problem for Google+. If I know that the people who are looking to consume the content are on Facebook, I will naturally upload more material to that site. Content is king, and if a network is drawing more people to post, it is a natural assumption that more users will be drawn to the network with more content from people they care about. The interaction between family and friends is paramount and if that connection point is not there for my mom (not to mention the many users like her), she will not convert.
3. Connecting with people overseas – My family is Italian, and we still have a lot of family back in Italy. My mom has continued to stay in touch with them, and Facebook has been her bridge. Facebook has slowly fought over years to capture regional markets (sometimes against local social networks or other social networks that had, for whatever reason, caught fire in that region). Even if Google+ is to convert my mother, the other issue is to connect my relative at the other end of the equation. It is admirable that Google+ started with so many languages natively, but I still think they will have an adoption problem, especially in regional markets. Consider how hard it was for Facebook to unseat Okurt and other localized networks in certain regional markets.
It is obvious that getting people to convert from one system or another will not be a simple conversion. One of the barriers to entry with any social network will be the level of personalized content and interaction. This is not to say that Google doesn’t have the raw tools to convert people (they have obviously made it easy for the bulk of the population to use their search engine). The 50+ crowd will be slower to convert. Part of this is due to the fact that Google+ doesn’t offer a differentiator (other than the fact that it’s not called Facebook). This isn’t to say that age is the only limiting factor, as immersion to technology and the willingness to try new things. I strongly contend, it is unlikely that people will change just for change’s sake. Social networking seems to be a different game, unlike the email wars in which companies competed to see what service they could convert people to. The interconnectedness of the service plays an obvious and undeniable role to keep users where they are. How do you react when you receive an email from AOL or another old proprietary domain? Many of the people sending those emails belong to older demographics haven’t changed their service. In a week where people have played pile on with Google+, I wanted to take a step back and evaluate things from another perspective. The barriers to convert people to change to Google+ are higher than you may think and my mom just helps underscore that point, especially when targeting an older demographic with fixed usage patterns.