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What does Google+ mean for your social media business strategy?

It’s been one week since the launch of Google+ (pronounced “Google Plus”), Google’s latest answer to Facebook and Twitter. Everyone is wondering how Google+ will fare, especially given the lack of widespread adoption of its previous attempts at social, Google Wave and Google Buzz (see my blog post on this from last February).
Here’s the net of our analysis: Google+ is early but extremely promising. It’s impossible to deny the sheer magnitude of consumers’ data and data about consumers that Google has. Picasa* photos, Blogger* posts,  YouTube videos, docs, calendar items, searches, ad clicks, and geolocation are all a significant and compelling part of the consumer web footprint. Google+ is the first serious attempt to stitch all of this data together. For the most part, the primary value of Facebook and Twitter has been their social graph, some social data such as status messages and tagged photos, and open platforms supporting the development of third-party apps. Google comes from a different direction. Google has tons of data (both implicit and explicit) and lots of native apps. Google+ provides “vertical integration” across these three layers of the web: data, apps, and social graph. This could be pretty powerful.
There are a lot of similarities between Google+ and Facebook, such as the tabbed profile structure (I can only imagine that custom tabs are coming next), profile picture, list of followers, list of profiles you are following, wall posts, “likes” (Google+ calls them “+1s”), comments, and shares. There are also some key differences:

  • Relationship tiering. Facebook has friend lists with different privacy settings assignable to different friend lists, but most users don’t know about or don’t utilize this feature. Core to the Google+ experience is the concept of “circles” (aka friend lists).
  • Minimum public information. Facebook privacy settings allow users to elect complete privacy from search engine and Facebook search results, whereas Google+ reveals full name and gender.
  • Relationship symmetry. Facebook friendship requires mutual approval. Google+ is like Twitter or Facebook Pages in that Person A can add Person B to a circle (aka follow or “like”) without Person B doing the same with Person A.
  • Rich apps. Google is very good at building apps. Huddle and Hangout are great examples of how Google+ is extending the social graph to text and video. Huddle is text-based group chat available on the Google+ mobile app (currently available only on Android). Hangout facilitates up to 10 users connecting via real-time video. Users in the same Hangout can even watch a YouTube video together. This is pretty awesome. (Facebook’s response today was to integrate Skype video, which can only accommodate 3 users.)

What’s notably missing from Google+ compared to Facebook are explicit demographic data and psychographic preferences, third-party apps, and ads. Surely this will change in due time.
Business Pages?
Business Pages are reportedly coming soon, but no actual date is confirmed. According to TechCrunch, Google says it’s not banning businesses from signing up, but has warned that they may have to create a new profile once Google+ for Businesses is ready.
Even still, a handful of brands are already experimenting, including Ford (see below), Mashable, and ABC News. It’s definitely still early. As of this morning, Ford has 323 “fans” on Google+ compared to more than 750,000 on Facebook. This will grow, of course, but only time will tell by how much.

Google+ holds tremendous potential, but as with all social sites, the devil is in the details. How will features be exposed? What will the social dynamics become on the site? Ultimately, competition is good for consumers and good for business advertisers. Google+ will keep Facebook and Twitter honest and innovative.
Here is what we recommend to our customers:
1. Give it a test drive. Try it on your personal or demo account, and ask your execs and social media team to do the same. Google+ is still in invite-only mode (we can get you an invitation if you need one) but there are plans to roll out to all Google account users by the end of the month.
2. Gauge your Google+ footprint. Check your Web analytics and see if you’re getting any referring traffic from Google+. Survey your customers to see what their adoption might be of Google apps and Gmail.
3. Consider holding off on creating an official business page. Google has already said it won’t be possible to migrate from the current personal profile setup to a Google+ business page.
4. Check back with us. Should Google+ start to take off — and assuming Google provides APIs — we’ll integrate it into Hearsay Social!
And here is what we recommend to the Google+ team:

  • Create custom tabs and expose a partner API.
  • Integrate with Google Places and show check-ins on the feed.
  • Allow one-click email reply, doc collaboration, and calendar invite with anyone in the feed.
  • Expose search and analytics across public posts.
  • Provide vanity URLs so it’s easier for businesses to share the link and optimize for SEO.
  • Don’t be evil. Don’t tweak PageRank to overweight Google+ profiles over Facebook and Twitter results.

* Being renamed to Google Photos and Google Blogs, respectively.

Clara Shih

A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007. Her latest book, The Social Business Imperative, is a Wall Street Journal-featured bestseller. She is a member of the Starbucks board of directors.

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