101 on Google Plus (and what it means for brands)

What is Google+

Launched on June 28th, Google+ is a new social networking service intended to compete with Facebook.Google+ has incorporated the best features from Facebook and Twitter and eliminated several privacy challenges, giving users greater control of their content, who they share it with and how they share it. Since the announcement, Google’s brand perception has  soared led by a lift among the 18 – 34 age group)

How it works:

Three key features:

Circles: Google+ lets users put friends into different groups called circles, such as “friends,” “acquaintances,” “family” etc. Users can send specific updates to specific circles and also select to receive updates from specific circles.

Hangouts: Hangouts let you chat face to face with upto 10 people at a time, further enhancing the “social-ness” of the platform

Sparks: Sparks serve up content (blogs, videos, recipes, news, links etc) based on interest. As users add interests over time, Sparks become a personal content feed that users can share within circles

How it differs from Facebook & Twitter:

Unlike Facebook, Google+ lets you slice and dice updates coming into your newsfeed by topics and circles, giving users greater flexibility in consuming content. Google+ also lets users follow the public updates of people that a user is not friends with. At the same time, users can choose to share both public updates with everyone (like Twitter)

Unlike Twitter, Google+ does not limit users to 140 characters. Google+ also allows users to share videos, images etc and comment on the content. Twitter updates no longer appear in Google search, thus limiting the reach and impact of the Twitter content.

Cons wise, Google+ currently offers no application platform for third party developer or brand pages for companies and interest groups. But it’s only a week or so old, I’m certain that as it evolves, Google+ will address these issues.

What it means for brands?

Google already has a suite of excellent products (Docs, Gmail, GChat, Picasa, Maps, Blogger, Android, Search, Chrome, Reader etc) that are used by a billion people globally. What this means is that Google+ has a fair advantage in audience development and growth.

Secondly, Google+ has Google search. And Google Search is every brands strongest ally. Any brand that learns to use Google+ appropriately, stands to benefit from organic search. So while Google+ hasn’t yet rolled out brand optimized pages, brands such as Ford have been quick to build presences on the platform to engage with the early adopters using the existing functionality.

Lastly, I think (although we are far away from it) e-commerce integration will be easier with Google thanks to its experience with Google Wallet and Google Checkout.

Bottomline:

I don’t think there is a question whether brands should establish a presence on the platform. The question is when. Google is welcoming brands to enlist in a beta trial. I recommend you go add yourself to this list and if you have an in at Google, begin your conversations with them now so you can not only build your presence but work with Google in helping them define what that experience for brands and fans should be like.

Other Articles:

Singularity Hub: Fantastic and detailed review of Google+. If you have time, go read this now.

Watch-outs:

I’d been experiencing Facebook fatigue. With over 900 people in my list, it became quite a chore to figure out what to share with who. And I figured my network was feeling the same pressure which is why the quality of content in the newsfeed became drastically un-interesting for me over the last few months. I hid my photographs, I decreased the frequency of my status-updates and became overtly conscious of how much and what I was sharing.

Google Circles promises to eliminate this for me and so that excites me. Google Circles also is just fresh and crisper and I happen to trust Google more with my information and privacy than I ever trusted Facebook.

Having said that, one of my concerns is that users wont really understand how to use the circles or will get bored/tire of using them and begin spewing out content to everyone, relevant or not. I don’t want another Twitter. And it is a slipper post when a social network tries to be both Facebook and Twitter. So we’ll see what happens.

Right now, I’m fascinated with the notion of having my content, conversations and network in one place. If I can figure out how to navigate my identity across these circles, I probably won’t need Facebook or Skype or even Twitter any longer. Just my two cents.

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