HomeBlog Google+: Something New or Me Too?

Google+: Something New or Me Too?

July 15, 2011 | By Erin Provey

There are a lot of reasons to be interested in the Google+ social networking service right now. It’s new, cool, private, in beta (translation: like a cute little Google toddler!), swiftly growing in popularity and made by Google — a brand about which few people are neutral.

There are a lot of reasons to be interested in the Google+ social networking service right now. It’s new, cool, private, in beta (translation: like a cute little Google toddler!), swiftly growing in popularity and made by Google — a brand about which few people are neutral. The business version of the platform has not been released in any form, and Google is currently removing non-user profiles. That said, there’s no rush for even consumer brands to be setting up pages yet, so B2B organizations have the luxury of sitting back and watching the launch of the functionality and the start of necessarily frenzied B2C brand adoption.

My personal relationship with social media is (not uncommonly) love/hate. These days, I use Facebook primarily for personal stuff, Twitter and LinkedIn primarily for professional stuff, and now Google+ primarily for, well, Google+ stuff — currently, at least in my circles, the conversations are highly Google+ centric (e.g. invites, how-to’s, self-congratulatory elitism). Certainly this phase will pass, but as I tend to be more of a voyeur/consumer than a publisher (social media-wise, that is), I’ve tuned out of the Google+ conversation until it becomes a little less egotistical.

However, having explored the platform, I will say that (compared to poor Orkut, the Google owned/operated social networking site whose very name sounds like some kind of human genome project gone wrong) Google+ is intriguing and has the potential to weave together the currently splintered social universe in a way that’s both Big Brother-scary and tantalizingly convenient. The current segmentation of our social lives into personal and professional is largely a result of our concerns about privacy. Most of us naturally divide our lives between the personal and professional: different wardrobes, different times, different locations, different aspects of our personality and intellect, and different people. Nothing fragmented or contradictory (hopefully), just a healthy “good fences make good neighbors” type of separation, which has naturally extended into our online personas. Google’s identification (and exploitation?) of this innate desire to conveniently separate is what makes the Google+ platform a real threat to the currently fragmented social world.

The resolution comes in the form of “circles,” which are sort of like lists or groups, except that they’re not. Users are added to circles by others, and these circles are functionally designed to naturally mirror the ways that we categorize and share things about ourselves with others. I’ve seen a few posts (mostly on Twitter) by people annoyed that they can be added to other people’s circles without their consent. These people, clearly, do not understand circles and are trying to force Google+ to behave like “just another” social network, which it is not. Someone else adding you to a circle means that (should you choose to) you can access any information they share with that circle. That’s it.

How could this prove threatening to the existing “big three” networks (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter)? For starters, none of these networks effectively allows a person to categorize sharing easily, organically and privately without fragmenting personas across different sites. You can categorize your Facebook friends into groups with custom privacy settings, but this task can be arduous and is still essentially just “blocking” or “not blocking” people from different types of content – very different from the custom sharing allowed by circles. Presuming the existing dominance of Facebook and LinkedIn (and psychological resistance to “yet another” new anything) doesn’t stop Google+ dead in its tracks like a flashy new restaurant two months after the grand opening, Google+ could presumably subsume the function of both – easily allowing for the “synthesized by separate creation” aspect of personal and professional circles, minus the fragmentation. Twitter, in this scenario, could survive as an outlier, based on the opposition of its strategy (followers seeking content, publishers seeking followers and a networking structure that emphasizes content creation over private sharing); however, if Google+ succeeds in its (implicit) objective of being the only social network people need, Twitter would need to fight to retain users who already associate the Google brand with media and discovery.

So, what does this mean for B2B brands? Well, nothing yet. The beta version of Google+ was unveiled on June 28, and despite the exponential growth in users (PC Magazine cites a possible user base of 20 million people by the end of this weekend), the business tools are still being tested internally and Google is trying to discourage business users from setting up accounts using the current personal edition – although certainly there will be some creative B2C brands (and/or their agencies) that lead the way in leveraging this new structure for building communities and excitement around their brands.

B2B marketers don’t need “yet another” social media site, particularly one as exclusive and self-centered as Google+ currently is, to add to the mix. Many of our clients are already stretched thin in their social efforts, and the question inevitably arises: “Which social network should we be spending most of our time and effort on?” In the real world, unless we have multiple personalities or identities, we each have a single social network comprised of a complicated system of connections and relationships. Google+ poses a unique threat to the existing fragmented social media universe in its ability to mirror the way we organically manage our offline social network. Will the temptation of a more integrated online identity be enough to lure users away from the perceived “safety” of their currently fragmented online identities? Stay tuned.

Erin Provey

Erin Provey is a Senior Research Director of Corporate and Executive Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 10 years of experience in brand strategy, including positioning, identity, public relations, digital strategy, copywriting and account management. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinprovey.

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