Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tire-kicking on Google+

Late last week, I succumbed to the temptation and joined Google+, the latest shiny new thing social media has to offer.

A word of warning before I begin: I am a beginner on this platform. I haven't spent more than a few hours on Google+, and so am no expert. If I get anything wrong in this post, please do me and my readers the favour of correcting me in the comments, below - thanks!

Mashable.com has provided an overview of Google+ and what it offers compared to other social media networks like Facebook and Twitter; a more detailed review is posted here

My early impressions

I think Google+ has huge potential, if -- and it's a big if -- Google can get people to adopt it. 

Here's what I can already see being huge selling features.
  • Easy grouping of friends/followers/people. This is one of the big ones, for me. As an instructor in a college, I have a large number of students who are active in social media, many of whom follow me on Twitter for the benefit of the links I share, and many of whom also send friend requests on Facebook. To keep things fair and ensure no-one thinks any classmates have any "inside track" information others don't, I've declined current student Facebook requests (with an explanation as to why). If they still want to be Facebook friends after they graduate, I'm happy to add them - but not before then.  With Google+, I can easily categorize people according to the kinds of information I intend to share with them. I can create a circle for current students - and once they graduate, can move them out into my custom "Communicators" circle if I want to. WIth drag-and-drop functionality, it couldn't really be easier.
  • Easy selectiveness when posting to different groups of friends/followers/people. Related to my last point, if I want to post about something personal or family-related (I'm under no illusion that students who connect with me on social media for the PR-related links also want to know about all the cute things my kid says, cute as they may be), I can choose to only send it to my "Family" and "Friends" circles.  Some of my "Family" and "Friends" also qualify as "Communicators," who'd likely receive most of the links I currently send out on Twitter to PR-related content of interest, so they can be in both circles. At the other end, I have to think it would also make the experience more enjoyable for all my connections, because they're receiving less content from me that doesn't interest them.  Some of my Twitter followers would likely welcome my creation of a "Tennis" circle, saving them from having to read my cheers and rants during Grand Slam tournaments. And I could target administrative messages related to the Creative Communications program to students currently in it. Twitter's hashtag allows people to opt in to such messages today -- but it doesn't have a way for other followers to opt out, without unfollowing altogether (at least, to my knowledge).
  • Potential, down the road, to streamline the number of social networks you're on (i.e. saving time). Just think: if everyone was using Google+, you could check and post to one site, and reach all the people you want to reach with the content you feel they would be interested in. This wouldn't just translate into time saved toggling back and forth between platforms -- it could also reduce time spent trying to refer back to something. "Where did I read that? On Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn?"
  • Group video chat. I watched my students this past winter tweet back and forth about school projects they were furiously working on, to deadline. I can only imagine a Google+ enabled class would have an even easier time of getting together to discuss ideas, issues, and what constitutes a typo late at night once everyone's left campus. Same goes, of course, for collaborators in the professional world, and anyone wanting to chat with others in different locations. Video chats involving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles will be easier to manage here than getting everyone on Skype (at least, in my experience). Not having used the new Facebook video chat service yet, I can't speak to whether it's equivalent.
  • Integration between social and the rest of the content Google has access to. I haven't used it enough to really experience this yet, but if I'm reading Mashable correctly, Google+ will make it easier for you to find content that interests you, from both within and outside your social networks. If it's done right, this has the potential to make a social network even more useful, as we now won't be bound by the limitations of our networks.

But here's why I'm not calling the game for Google+ quite yet.

On top of Google's successful execution of this whole thing, it still relies on people to leave where they are and come to this new place -- not an easy sell.

Ask any marketer about the difference in the cost of keeping an existing customer vs. winning a new one, and you'll find out that getting people to leave things they know to try things they don't isn't easy. Add to that the "stickiness" factor inherent in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn's existing networks, and it's even tougher.

Without the people you want to interact with on Google+, it really won't offer the value for you; it'll just be one more login to add to your social media cycle. 

With more than 750 million users worldwide, Facebook has a pretty good lock on us, at least in the short term. Here's a screen shot I grabbed earlier today from Facebook (you can find these and other stats here) that gives you a sense of the leg up Facebook currently enjoys over the new game in town (which, Mashable is reporting, at least one observer is estimating at almost 10 million users in a couple of weeks, which is nothing to sneeze at either!).

Facebook's recent launch of video chat powered by Skype is, I'm sure, meant to address the new competition, showing Facebook doesn't plan to give Google+ much slack.

But to my mind, Twitter has more to worry about than Facebook. Mathew Ingram writes a good article on gigaom.com looking at Twitter vs. Google+ (I was alerted to this article on Google+ this afternoon by blogger ChrisD) and I have to think Twitter has more to fear than Facebook because of the way we use it.

  • While Snooki may be using Twitter, your grandmother is likely on Facebook. 
  • I (mostly) use Twitter to share information of interest with people who share interests with me (public relations, tennis, Red River College); I (mostly) use Facebook to connect with family and friends about other stuff.

Why do I raise these points?

Your grandma, and many of my non-office-dwelling family and friends, aren't looking for all the functionality Google+ brings. They want news, and community, and photos, and Scrabble, and Farmville (yeesh). Right now, there's no reason for them to move over there.

Snooki and celebrity tweeters, on the other hand, want whatever platform will give them access to their fans. Office dwellers and digital road warriors want whatever will be most effective and efficient. Twitter's real-time, un-gated news feed has offered that until now -- and given everything else the new kid on the block is offering, I think Twitter may see the biggest migration to Google+.

It's back to experimenting for me. If you have observations to share or any corrections to make, please comment!


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