My point in raising that fact is not to claim that Google Plus, which is generally considered an also-ran in the social-media wars, is actually a vibrant platform when used well. (Though that’s no doubt true.) It’s not to claim that the Financial Times has built a powerful brand extension. (That’s true, too.) It’s not even to claim that traditional media has a powerful ability to transfer print influence to the online space. (Also true.)
No, the larger point is that social networking isn’t about tools. It’s about how they are used. Right now, we’re trapped in a cycle in which organizations great and small are spending hours trying to figure out how to crack Facebook or build influence on Twitter. Heck, the most impressive media empire of the last five years — Mashable — is built largely on a steady stream of tiny Facebook tweaks designed make all the difference for social media mavens.
But starting with the tool (Facebook! Second Life! Instagram!) is a disaster waiting to happen. It means accepting constraints of a given platform before a strategy is even defined. That’s why I love the Financial Times. They took a step back. They knew that social media was about visual content, and they wanted a platform that was going to most effectively showcase the amazing photos, videos and infographics that the paper was producing. And they came to the conclusion that Google Plus might be the best way of doing that.
And once that decision was made, the FT committed to the platform. They’ve carefully curated, and keep a steady stream of eye candy flowing by. They’ve encouraged commenting and built a community willing to engage. And, perhaps, it’s helped them grow their digital subscription base to the quarter-million-plus that now pay to read the paper online.
To be sure, social media isn’t an either-or proposition. The FT does have a Facebook page, while it trails in the “likes” as compared with Google Plus, is nonetheless reaching more than 400,000 people, with a well-engaged audience. But that should do nothing to diminish the accomplishment of proving that committing to a platform that meets strategic needs, even one that lacks the wall-to-wall attention of, say, Facebook or Twitter, can pay huge dividends.
It’s a reminder that before someone asks “What’s the Twitter/Facebook/MySpace/Instagram/Foursquare strategy,” we should all back up and ask an even simpler question: “What’s the strategy.” Period.