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A Introduction to Google+
by RYAN GOFF, VP/Director of Social Media Marketing
AUG 02, 2011
Google+ (Google Plus) is the search giant’s latest social innovation, and it has the marketing world chomping at the bit to ruin it capitalize on yet another up-and-coming social tool.
But what exactly is Google+ and how does it match up against the dominant players in this space?
What is Google+?
At its core, Google+ is a social network that allows its users to build personal profiles, post status updates, upload photos and videos, share links, and the other standard social networking activities.
Upon logging in to the site, users are presented with their “Stream.” Think of it as Google+’s version of the Facebook “News Feed,” or in other words, a running feed of all status updates posted by one’s network of friends.
Unique to Google+ is its “Circles” feature. With “Circles,” users can group their friends into various categories, such as “Friends,” “Acquaintances,” and “Family.” This feature allows users to target their posts to specific audiences.
For example, if I didn’t want my friends to know that I spend my weekends practicing show tunes from various Broadway musicals (which I’ve been known to do), I could choose to exclusively share my audition videos with my “Family” circle. This would prevent anyone outside of my family from seeing my embarrassing post.
As part of the “Circles” feature, users also have the ability to target posts to an “Extended Circle,” meaning that their posts could be seen by one’s friends of friends. Additionally, users can select the “Public” circle, which would allow any user to see their posts.
Google+ users can also use these “Circles” to filter their “Streams.” For example, if I only wanted to see posts made by my work friends, I could choose to view the “Work Stream.”
Users also have the ability to form “Hangouts,” which are Google’s version of group chat rooms. In a “Hangout,” up to 10 users can participate in a video/audio chat, and have the option to watch YouTube videos as a group.
The +1 button, as seen sprinkled throughout the site, is Google’s answer to the popular Facebook “Like” button. +1’ing something serves as a user’s endorsement for that piece of content. It’s another way of saying, “I like this thing you’ve shared.”
Once logged in, users also have the ability to +1 content outside of Google+’s walls. For example, when visiting Gizmodo.com, a Google+ user could +1 a certain article that he or she enjoyed. This would then be shared with the user’s network of friends via a +1 section of his or her profile.
Additionally, Google has incorporated the +1 button into its search pages, allowing users to +1 and bookmark their search results. Users are also able to use this functionality to +1 search engine ads. These +1’s may then be displayed to a user’s friends who may be performing similar searches.
Without question, Google+’s biggest advantage is Google itself.
Let’s face it – Google owns everything. It owns search, email (Gmail), video (YouTube), online advertising (Google AdNetwork), analytics (Google Analytics), blogging (Blogger), etc. And once it begins integration of + and +1 features into these popular tools, you better believe the public is going to pay attention. They won’t have any other choice.
For now, Google+ also benefits from offering a unique way to hide personal information from specific groups. One of Facebook’s most common complaints comes from users who demand more privacy. “Circles” offers just that – a new level of sharing privacy.
It’s yet to be seen how users will come to adopt this method of content targeting, but for now, it’s something to keep the media talking about why Google+ is the savior of all social media.
With a built-in potential user base of 200 million (a recent count of Gmail users), the search powerhouse has had no trouble in getting the word out about its newest product. In just a matter of weeks, Google+ proudly announced that it had acquired 20 million registered users.
But what does a “registered user” really mean? Well, not much. It simply means that someone signed up for an account, regardless of whether or not that account was ever used. And with a flurry of Google+ invites flying left and right over the past month, it’s no surprise that the new social network was able to acquire so many users in such a short period of time.
So that leads us to the question of, “What about usage?” After all, a social network is nothing without a highly active user base. Well, things aren’t lookin’ so hot in this category.
In the week ending July 23, 2011, Experian Hitwise announced that Google+’s total visitor count had dropped to 1.79 million (non-unique visitors), far short of its total user base of 20 million.
Only time will tell whether or not Google+ has staying power, but in the short-term, the social network seems to be suffering from “flash in the pan” syndrome.
Businesses and Google+
For marketers hoping to begin exploiting taking advantage of the new opportunities offered by Google+, the powers that be have asked that you hold on to your horses…for now.
While Google+ will eventually allow brands to create their own profiles and interact with users (just as they do through Facebook and Twitter), the site isn’t there yet. Google is still testing various methods for this brand-to-consumer engagement, and has actively shut down brands that have created their own profiles.
As a temporary solution, the company has offered brands the option to engage with consumers via personal profiles. So if you have a particularly social CEO or customer service rep, he/she could use the network to begin seeking out conversations and interacting. Not an ideal situation, but something to get you through these tough times.
So here it is. We want to hear from you: Are you using Google+ yet? What are your thoughts so far? Does it feel like a ghost town? Where will it go from here?