Google’s new social media tool, Google+, is just weeks old. Though it is still in invitation-only beta testing, it has already surpassed 10 million users. Having received an early invitation, I’ve been up into the wee hours for the last couple of weeks looking at its benefits and weaknesses, and I’m ready to share my discoveries. This first post offers an overview of Google+’s components. In a future post, I’ll take a look into the crystal ball to see where this might be heading.
To start, Google+ is a set of social network tools designed to mimic the way you live. It harnesses the power of video and ties these tools in with other Google properties, for a much more seamless one-stop experience than I’ve found in either Facebook or Twitter.
It is not (yet) the social media site where you’ll find all of your friends or (if you’re a business – and that’s what this blog is about, after all) your fans. If you are among those who would rather let others test the marketing opportunities, you can relax. It will take a little time for Google+ to grow to a size near that of Facebook. But I believe Google+ has enough merit to justify a bit of aggression. Since it isn’t opened up to business accounts yet (though Google assures us that’s coming soon), now is the time for corporate marketers to learn the ins and outs of Google+ from the user’s perspective, identify its unique features, and begin to formulate strategies for best using this new platform.
So let’s start learning the ins and outs of Google+.
Google+ Relationships Are Built Around Circles
In “real life”, you don’t have the same conversations in the workplace, home, church, golf course and pub. Each area of life typically has a slightly (or vastly) different circle of friends. Your understanding of the circle you are talking to influences what you say and how you say it.
Google extended this real life structure to Google+ with “Circles“. When I add a person into my Google+ world, they are placed in one or more circles, and I can pick and choose the circles I share information with… or simply make my posts public. Technically, this is possible in Facebook, though few people know how to do this, if they even realize it is possible at all.
Because Circles provide control of your message, they also open up Google+ to a Twitter-like follower relationship. I can add any user that I can find on Google+ (unless they choose to block me). They can add me to their Circles, but it isn’t required. In this way, I can make comments viewable to anyone who has added them into a circle without having to add them to their own circle. This is important, because it leverages one of Twitter’s greatest strengths: the ability to discover new and interesting people and expand your social circle.
Just as importantly though, I can choose to share other comments only with people I’ve placed in my circles, providing a separation between public and private lives.
Bringing In the Outside World
Finding information is what Google is best at, and through Google+ Sparks, it can bring it directly to you. Similar to an RSS reader, Sparks allows you to create an ongoing search across the Internet and deliver timely, relevant stories to your stream. No longer does the content have to be manually imported into the social network in order to be found!
Most Real-World Communications Are Real-Time
Wall posts are great, and they serve a purpose, in that they remain visible and allow discussions to develop over a period of time. But in many situations, both personal and professional, that’s not enough. Both Facebook and Google+ have implemented text chat, and both make group text chat available. Still, text chat has limitations that just don’t feel “real world”. Chats, even among just two people , can quickly fall into a strange mess of seemingly disjointed comments and answers, and they rely heavily on typing skills (which can vary greatly).
Though Facebook has introduced one-on-one video chat, Google+ has given real-time video chatting a truly natural, much more productive feel. Google+ provides Hangouts, the equivalent of saying “hey, I’ll be around tonight. Stop by if you get a chance… and your friends are welcome, too”. Hangouts provide video conferencing for up to 10 people. Though each needs to know you’ve created the hangout, there are multiple ways to make hangouts visible beyond your own circles. I have already experienced the strength of this in terms of networking. It has much of the same feel as sitting around the table with a group of people just… well, hanging out.
Tie It All Together
Let’s face it: Google is a powerhouse. They do a lot, and they do it well. With Google+, they’ve integrated many of these things into a single interface. While I’m doing a Hangout, I can load up and share a YouTube video. I can use the Google +1 to “like” a post. Posts I make publicly available will be indexed in Google’s search engine. The list goes on, and the ways in which Google tools integrate will only continue to grow.
Where this will all go is a topic for a different post. For now, I see Google+ has a beefed up combination of the best of Facebook and Twitter, with some unique features thrown in. Will it be enough to entice Facebook users to give it a shot, and become an equal or superior social media player in the long-term? That remains to be seen. Facebook certainly has a lot of momentum, and its users have committed a lot of time to loading it with content – from wall posts and notes to photographs. Twitter users have invested a lot of time in developing followers. In fact, I’m sure we’ll see both Facebook and Twitter respond with enhancements that add functionality and usability. They are not going away.
But Google+ has a lot going for it, and with the support and creativity of the Google folks in Mountain View, I’m betting that Google+ will have a long and successful run. If you’re a marketer, I encourage you to pay attention to Google+. I have a few invites available to give, so if you’d like to test it out for yourself, please send me an email (at firstname.lastname@example.org), provide your gmail.com email address (or your regular email address if you don’t yet have a Google account), and I’ll be happy to share an invite while they are still available. I hope to see you in a Google+ Circle soon.