Google+. G+. Google Plus, if you will. Should Facebook and Twitter be very, very scared? Or is it just yet another network to check in to? Ray Morrow takes a closer look…
Having spent seven years in creative with leading UK agencies, Ray now provides freelance planning, strategy, concepts and copy. Read Between The Lines, her business, is all about applying creative curiosity to marketing challenges come up with hardworking solutions. And, of course, supplying the creative and practical support to turn considered strategy into successful reality.
According to Google’s blog, Google+ is a ‘social project’, borne out of Google’s desire to make a better social network – to ‘fix’ what it sees as a ‘broken’ world of online social sharing. It aims to bring in the nuances of real life, bringing in shades of grey on what you share, with whom, and in what format.
How does it work?
See for yourself: http://www.google.com/intl/en/+/demo/ “But that’s the party line!”, did I hear you say? Alright then. A quick run through follows, though you can skip to what I thought at the end of this article if you’ve been there and done that.
Well, it’s skulking about in a Beta-ish fashion at the moment, but thanks to Kind Friends, I blagged an invite and stepped into a world of Circles, Hangouts, Huddles and Sparks.
Circles – are groups into which you sift your connections – work, family, friends, uni and so on. You can then share content with all circles, selected circles or everyone on Google+. It’s logical and very easy to get to grips with. You can share with multiple circles or just the one and can ‘follow’ people who you’re interested in but don’t know, like Twitter. So far so good. Twitter is public (unless you’re on locked settings, you weirdo), Facebook is wholly personal (unless you’re a random friend-collector), while LinkedIn, in my opinion, should be purely professional.
Sparks – are something of a tumblr/traditional search/stumbleupon hybrid. It finds ‘contagious content’ to share and chat about with your Circles and the rest of Google+. I wasn’t hugely impressed – no options to filter results, and a lot of content returned was US-focused. It doesn’t appear to be intelligent either – there’s no way to ‘like’ and ‘not like’ results return to teach the search engine to interpret your tastes. That said, it might improve in time. I suspect this feature has been created with monetisation in mind – something I’ll come back to later.
Hangouts – online video chit chat. Like facetalk, skype and what have you, though you can have more than one person, which, if you like video conferencing (I’m a hater, but each to their own) or needed it for work, would be pretty damn useful.
Huddles – a collaborative way to chat and organise meeting up – professional or personal – online or using your mobile. I haven’t given this a go yet as not enough friends G+.
There’s also ‘the Stream’– a live feed like Facebook – and the ability to ‘+1’ content, which is a bit like Stumbleupon/Facebook/LinkedIn ‘liking’.
Functionality-wise, it does everything you’d expect a social network to do – you can post updates, share content, and comment on posts. Privacy is easy to grapple, and simple to set up. And you can’t post to people’s profiles, presumably to thwart so-called friends who might share photos of you with sporting fake moustaches for eyebrows in front of your boss.
So how was it for me?
Getting started felt like hard work. Though, like most Google products, it is mostly logical, there’s a LOT to learn, new etiquette to figure, and not many people there to play with. That said, there’s a lot to love. The idea of the separate circle to share content with different people. For the first time, for example, I might consider including family members to a network. However, the default ‘all circles’ share option leaves plenty of margin for embarrassing error – post in haste, regret at leisure?
As a Gmail user, the integration with the email and chat services I use most is great. The intuitive upload interface is lovely – and, unusually, works beautifully on a Mac. The +1 feature is nice, and will presumably feed into Google search results in the future – great for good content that’s already ranking high, not so good for splendid-but-lesser-spotted gems. I very much like how it might act as a bookmarking tool for those too lazy/disorganised (like me) to properly bookmark. I may even dip my toe in the murky waters of video conferencing next week, when I have to catch up with a client whose team works in multiple locations.
I’m not so keen on the locked ‘wall’ feature, as I often use social networks as a light-touch way to keep in contact with friends and colleagues when busy. The lack of events-sharing functionality and integration with Google Calendar seems an oversight – I know we’re still in Beta, but that would have been a killer feature that would encourage take-up. Maybe they’re saving that for launch…?
Personally, I’m not sure whether I want or need single network to integrate everything – a one to rule them all as it were. I like a bit of separation in my networks, behaving differently with separate personas in each. I think of the different interfaces as different spaces: work (LinkedIn), a buzzing bar where everyone chats and networks (Twitter), a party with friends (Facebook). And I suspect I’m not alone…
But what about other users…?
“Not enough people have transferred, and to be honest there are a few bugs that could be worked out before I would openly suggest to someone to swap. But I definitely intend to eventually. For the moment http://startgoogleplus.com/ is helping.”
“Just checking occasionally. Twitter is still where it's at for me. “
“I'm using G+ as a cross between Twitter and Tumblr for now.
Have to admit that I never really got Facebook or LinkedIn. Will still check them occasionally, but I expect I'll use this instead…”
“I'm encouraging FB friends (the ones I actually like) to move over but they've got no real appetite for it. I guess they must have work to do…”
So a tepid welcome from my friends and colleagues, but it’s very early days, and all seem keen to make it work. And I’ve seen conversion efforts to put Evangelists to shame already!
There’s talk of integrating the whole Google Empire into one mega-network. I’ve also heard whispers about a games platform being in development that’ll provide a commercial element whilst pleasing the I-have-nothing-better-to-do-with-my-time-Ville types, if every they migrate from Facebook. Which brings me onto my next point….
Marketing and monetisation
The Content Marketing Institute dived straight in, decreeing Google+ a useful tool for the content marketer – a great way to source content (through the ‘Spark’ feature) then share (through Circles), then collaborate with colleagues.
Imagine the heady combination of finely profiled users and opted-in audience. The ability to break down your audience with the detail of Facebook adverts, without the advert barrier.
With my marketing head on, absolute genius.
As a private individual, a major turn off.
Either way, if it happens, I suspect that many users won’t notice the difference – or care if they do, providing a whole new platform for marketing and advertising. From viral seeding to more direct campaign placement, I’ll be interested to see what happens.
As far as growth is concerned, according to PocketLint, Google+ is going great guns:
“Facebook took over 3 years to achieve what Google+ has done in just 3 weeks – hit the 20 million users milestone.”
Impressive stuff. But will this exponential growth continue? Will loyal Facebook fans really migrate? And does it matter if they don’t?
A very hypothetical hypothesis
Of my 300+ Facebook friends, I’d estimate that under 30% are regular users. That leave at least two-thirds – let’s say 70% – ripe for the switching. Apply that to the whole of Facebook (750 million users) and you get 525 million potential G+ devotees.
Then there’s the older generation. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I’m not ‘friends’ with family. In fact, I actively discouraged them from joining Facebook because I’m concerned about privacy – on my part (what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you) and theirs (Facebook privacy is a notorious minefield if you’re not a digital native).
But if Google Plus does what it says on the tin, I might be sorely tempted. And so might countless sons, daughters and grandchildren, opening up a whole new audience that Facebook and its ilk couldn’t dream of touching.
Now imagine if one in four of the hypothetical Facebook switchers (131.25million) mentioned above felt the same, and added two previously un-networked family members (that’s an extra 262.6million)... G+ is now bigger than Facebook with a whopping 1,012.5million users.
So let’s call it a billion users. A billion users sharing sponsored content – advertisements – building individual data profiles whilst propagating and growing and adding yet more users. A self-perpetuating profit machine. Very, very clever stuff indeed.
Question is though Google, what does it all look like on the old bottom line?
A whopping great big plus, by any chance…