Earlier today I had a conversation about complexity of systems, and how simplicity is worth its weight in gold. Interesting stuff, mostly techie talk. But later when I was thinking about sites that go viral I put two and two together. Those sites that just explode – they have something very simple at their core. No wait:

Sites explode because they are nothing but a simple core.

Take Pinterest, it’s nothing more than a wall of things you pin. I mean, sure it’s gussied up a bit with ‘boards’, or whatever you call them. But really it’s just pictures on a wall.

It’s really just twitter, but you’ve replaced the status messages with interesting images. And wasn’t twitter really just youtube, but you’ve replaced the videos with statuses messages. Which was really just … wait, what did we waste our time on before youtube? I’ve digressed…

Now eventually complexity creeps in – you get rich media, you get links in and out, you get integrations. That’s fine, but if you want adoption you need A Simple Core.

These things originally go viral on because people get the idea in a few seconds. There’s no learning curve, the whole concept is laid bare before you in mere seconds. So what’s my point, it’s simple:

G+ is just too complex

No one is going to switch over for some incremental improvements – even if there are a lot of them. G+ is a very complex product because it is striving to replace several established social media outlets. These are outlets that have long ago gone viral and since then have matured in complexity.

But you can’t disrupt and go viral at the mature state – at least according to my wonderful Simple Core Theory™. You have to do something new, something truly innovative. You know what? For all the innovation that Google likes to talk about, I think they’re actually just really good at making Much Better mousetraps.

That works fine for business apps, which is why adwords wins. It’s why google analytics wins. But people don’t upgrade their social network for incremental efficiencies.

They want something new and exciting, maybe like Pinterest, but where you’ve replaced the interesting images with… well, I’ll tell you in six months when everyone’s ga-ga about the next big viral site.

Is he barfing up a hairball?!

There’s been a recent spate of articles about how Groupon is losing money, how sales are declining in their longest standing markets, or how costly new deals are to come buy. And while this is concerning on its own, I figured it was worth addressing the larger issue of why their product just isn’t that compelling.

Group buying isn’t new

Group buying isn’t a new game. Groupon may have rebranded it with social media savvy, but it’s something people have been doing for years. Here are just a few examples in case the hype has made you a bit myopic:

  • Warehouse Clubs – e.g. Costco, BJs, etc
  • Deal-a-day sites – e.g. Woot.com, Tanga.com
  • Life insurance programs

Get it? Yea, the model makes sense, it’s a good position for consumers. It’s like unionizing consumer goods purchasing.

But Groupon took a model that worked, and broke it.

The wrong offer at the wrong time

So why is that? Well, it’s got a lot to do with the fact that frankly, their model stinks. Let me break it down like a fraction:

(People like deals * People need stuff) / Groupon has deals on stuff = Sales!

But this is how the real world works:

(People need certain things * deals motivate a % of people) / Groupon has deals on one thing at a time = Coincidental Sales

Deals come along when groupon happens to get them, but there is no relation to when I might actually want or need them. Many of these deals aren’t actually limited by time, you can use them whenever you want. But that does little to actually motivate users to buy.

So if you apply this to a huge marketing list then you’ll get huge sales at first, but the novelty wares off. People get sick of checking a site that is hardly ever useful.

Yet another Groupon photobook deal

The other side of the coin is that they are trying to win over everyone, not just a few key verticals. And it’s tough to make everyone happy with one deal.

The running joke at our office is that Groupon would be great if I needed facials and photobooks. Maybe that’s the market they want, but it isn’t me, and isn’t most people…

Groupon Personalized Deals is an attempt to fix this, but it remains be seen if they can pull off this level of deal flow and variety. I’m not holding my breath.

Why group buying works elsewhere

Let’s pick two examples from the existing models above: Costco & Woot. These two have a good thing going for them, and they are squarely in the group buying deal space.

Costco makes it work because they offer most of the items you normally buy at good prices all the time. That’s pretty simple, lots of deals, always there when you need them.

Woot is a bit closer to groupon because they are (mostly) a deal-a-day site. But they have a niche, they have a good sized customer base who they understand and they know how to sell to. They have also fanned out into more of a deal site (deals.woot.com). This works because they have a vertical(ish) focus and they now offer more deals.

How to fix Groupon

Good question, I’m glad you asked. I may be wrong, I have been before, but I think they need to focus by offering more deals in their most profitable verticals along with offering more long-standing deals.

Groupon should be a place to find tons of deals on services, and that also has one crazy-hot deal-of-the-day, not a site that is solely focussed on that one deal.

What do you think?

I’ll be honest, I only skimmed Peter Shakman’s recent post Why I Will Never, Ever Hire A “Social Media Expert”. You know why? Because I don’t need to read the same old, boring diatribe along with a pile of generic social media advice.

This old line again?

If you’ve been in the social media field for a while you might have noticed an annoying trend. We’ve spent years doing two things:

  1. Stop hiring interns to do an important job
  2. Social media experts are bogus frauds

And guess what, most of the talking heads saying this stuff, they’re the experts, the actual ones – whether they like it or not. And this advice is crap. Peter will never need a social media expert because he is one. An actual one. Not a fake one. And you know what, there are a bunch out there.

Just as there are a bunch of experts in every field. They are the ones who know the most. They always exist, even if they don’t know it.

Want to know the truth? Experts often don’t realize what they are until long after they became experts.

When you need an expert

There are times when you need and expert, and it’s not to hard to see where and when. It’s when you need someone good to get the job done right. This is no different then when you plan on buying a bunch of companies, you hire an M&A expert. Here’s an easy way to tell if you need a social media expert:

  • You know transparency and engagement, but aren’t sure what’s next
    Moving from concept to game-plan isn’t easy. It’s takes planning, knowledge and experience. Having someone on your side who has done it more than a couple of times is a huge help.
  • If you want to make social media strategic
    I’m talking about core to your company strategic. I mean if you want social media to be essential to how you get leads and sales (e.g. Hubspot).
  • If you need to engage with a large audience
    Like on the scale of Comcast, American Idol. This is a daunting task, hire someone who has been in the trenches, managed a team doing this stuff, and executed it with direction and purpose.
  • If you have an image problem
    Just like how you’d hire a good PR agency to do damage control if you say, destroyed the gulf. You might want someone experience at the helm of SM when you are trying to win hearts and minds via SM.
  • When you have no clue what you are doing
    This isn’t for everyone, and it may be more of a consulting deal. But if you are just getting started, and have the budget, then maybe you should hire an actual expert to get you going. Rather than stumble into it, find a person who can get you running with a strategy, the right tools, and the right team in place.

Makes sense, right?

I could keep going, but I think you get the point. Yes, there are a lot of charlatans out there claiming to be experts, but there are a lot of real ones who are ready to roll up their sleeves and help you get social media right. Don’t buy the hate and hype – especially when the experts are just deriding themselves.

Right now I am at Social Fresh listening to @DavidBThomas talk about integrating social media without adding headcount. He just mentioned that he had better uptake of his social media policy when he highlighted successes of the policy. For example, sales people listened when he told them how use of the policy had helped close deals.

I agree. But let’s not stop at getting people on board with a social media policy.

Often times you need to get people on board with social media in a much broader sense. Whether it’s to try out twitter, to take social media to the next level in marketing, or start paying for some useful social media tools.

The way you get people on board is to show them that you can and have been successful with the idea at hand. Just make a strong case, you know you can do it.

Successes don’t have to be big either, start with something anecdotal that people can get behind. Creating an emotional connection to success is a fantastic start.

So remember, don’t just ask people to do something, explain to them how you have already seen successes with something and how they can too.

Clock in Grand Central StationA new year provides a chance for a fresh prospective and a fresh start. Like your putting your full effort into your gym routine – I’ll be running twice a week, I swear. Or maybe setting your mind to learning a new language – not French, but Objective C right Mike?

However, this year is also bringing another type of fresh start for me. I’m going to be heading out from my current postion as Product Manager at Bronto. Bronto has been great to me, providing a place for me learn and grow, and to guide their product into position of a solid player in the email marketing field. But knowing that Bronto is in capable, caring hands I am looking elsewhere.

Starting in February I’ll be working on a new product offering with my friend and new business partner Eric Boggs. We’ll be combining our expertise, knowledge, and experience to launch a social media analytics application. Interested in learning more? So am I, so in the mean time you can check out Argyle Social to get a taste.

The next few months are bound to be exciting; full of lessons and surprises. I’m looking forward to it with a fresh prospective on things. Happy New Year everyone.

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