Google + First Impressions (by Bernie Borges)
Much has already been written in the first week of Google’s new social networking service, Google +. Many of our clients have been asking what it means to them from a marketing perspective. Here are my early thoughts.
IT’S STILL VERY EARLY
It’s no secret that Google’s previous attempts at getting social have been less than successful. They acquired YouTube, so that doesn’t count as a social media product launch, although it’s been a home run for Google. Wave was officially retired last summer, and Buzz should be retired because the +1 button trumps it. Besides, no one uses it.
It’s also no secret that Google is in a race with Facebook for web dominance. Facebook’s Like function has taken the world by storm, and their integration with the Microsoft Bing search engine makes Facebook a very powerful threat to Google’s runaway success in the search engine landscape.
GOOGLE PLUS IS A SOCIAL NETWORK
At its core, Google + (aka Google Plus) is a new social network. Let’s face it, Facebook has established a dominant worldwide footprint as the most popular social network. Facebook is also a robust advertising platform, which is where it represents its biggest threat to Google, although Facebook’s $2 billion (current) annual revenues pale in comparison to Google’s $30 billion pace for 2011.
I must admit, the Google + social network has some interesting features such as Circles, where you can group people together according to a common interest or theme. Another interesting feature is Hangouts, where you can create a video chat session with a group of people. This feature could be useful for business colleagues.
THE BUSINESS USE CASE OUTLOOK
While the initial launch of Google + is strictly for people, Google has stated that business features will be launched soon (see video below). When this feature is launched, the head-to-head comparison to Facebook will be more relevant as (reportedly) this feature will allow businesses to set up a “profile,” although it won’t be called a profile. I wonder if it will be called a “page?” I guess not since that is the term used by Facebook. Once the page equivalent feature is launched, then businesses will be inspired to take notice. I anticipate the page equivalent profile will offer more than a Facebook Page “me too” option for businesses. I hope it offers more features that will appeal to B2B companies (see below). It’s no secret that B2C companies are enjoying more success with Facebook Pages than B2B companies.
GOOGLE’S TROJAN HORSE(S)
There are three huge assets which Google has that Facebook does not:
- #1 search engine market share
- The Android mobile OS
- Google Apps (used by businesses and a chief competitor to Microsoft)
I must say that when I downloaded Google + to my Droid, the process was smooth as silk. The app itself is very elegant! They certainly got it right! By contrast, using Facebook on my Droid is about as pleasant as visiting the dentist. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Google + adoption accelerate due to the growing popularity of Android mobile and tablet devices.
Currently, you must set up your account with a connection to your Google Profile. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to set one up. However, a Google official has already stated that Google + will soon support Google Apps users. Implied in this statement is forthcoming support for Google Apps. This could be another boon for adoption of Google + by business users if business apps such as docs and calendars get integrated. Additionally, don’t be surprised to see a search bar integrated into Google +. In fact, I’m surprised it didn’t make it into the initial trial release. Lastly, it’s a matter of time before you start to see the Google Advertising Network display relevant ads in Google +.
GOOGLE PLUS’ BIGGEST OBSTACLE
Many bloggers have written about the challenge of trying to catch Facebook with such a late entry into the social networking world. The biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of Google + in the short term (IMO) is the time shift it requires for you to use Google +. Even though it’s easy to use, there is a little bit of a learning curve because it is not the same as Facebook. In fact I would say it’s part Facebook (stream, photos), part LinkedIn (Circles) and part Twitter (status updates). In the end, we are all busy and most of us don’t have time to adopt an additional social network. For many it will come down to a choice among them, not the addition of Google Plus to their list of social networks.
Additionally, when the Google + page equivalent is launched marketing departments currently devoting precious time to managing their Facebook pages will need to assess the viability of setting up, promoting and managing their Google + pages. It will come down to ROI. If the pages equivalent is more robust, we may see some migration from Facebook Pages to Google + pages equivalent, especially for B2B companies.
MY PREDICTION FOR GOOGLE +
This is Google’s third attempt at launching a social networking platform. As the saying goes, the third time just may be the charm. This social offering seems to show promise. The vision of Google’s leaders and engineers appears pointed at the long term direction of blurring the lines between social networking and conducting business. While Facebook’s Pages have long offered business and social engagement, B2B companies haven’t found much success with Pages. Google has the strategic advantage over Facebook of integrating their other assets into Google Plus (Android, Apps, Search, Maps, Voice) in a powerful way that could be a game changer. I believe we will see a flurry of new announcements from Google over the coming year. My prediction is that 12 months from now Google Plus will either be a game changer or another flop. My bet is on the game changer.
What’s your bet on Google Plus? Leave your comments below.