By Jimmy Daly
Does anyone out there remember Google Buzz? It was Google’s first attempt to compete in the social media world, launched in February of 2010 and it was shut down completely about 18 months later. It aimed to integrate social media with Gmail, which sparked a privacy concern for users. Just for the record, that is 6 years after Facebook launched and 4 years after Twitter launched. To say that Google missed the boat on social media is fair to say.
But being the tech behemoth they are, Google has quite a bit at stake in a market they had yet to penetrate. Bing, who continues to claw away at the search market share, signed a deal with Facebook in October 2010 that would allow them to not only use social cues in search results but to actually include your friends faces in search results. Facebook has over 800 million users and is the most active social media site in the world. This social data could make their search results better than Google’s which had relied more heavily on backlink data. Here is an example of social results in Bing:
You can see in this example of a Bing search result just how important relevant social information can be. These are 3 people that I know personally that have endorsed this page. Of course I am going to click that result rather than another (possibly more relevant and higher ranking result) because I recognize those faces and trust those people.
To maintain search dominance, Google absolutely had to go social. For them, it made sense to create their own network for a few reasons, not the least of which is that they couldn’t get the Facebook data because of the Bing deal. So in the summer of 2011, Google finally launched their long-anticipated rival to Facebook…Google+. Initially, it was an invitation-only service but despite this major limitation, the site had 10 million users in the first two weeks. By the end of 2011, it had over 90 million users.
Because many early adopters were marketers, there was a demand for business pages, which did not launch until November. Google was heavily criticized for their launchsince they couldn’t match the demand for accounts and penalized early users for creating business pages with their personal profiles. Most marketers didn’t care about using the network for personal use, they wanted an early start on the SEO benefit that the site would inevitably provide at some point.
Where are we now?
- Google+ has over 90 million users but it in unclear how many of them are “active”.
- Google+ connects all layers of Google products, from Gmail to YouTube, Picasa and Search.
- Google+ has been integrated in Google search results.
- President Obama used a Google Hangout to host a town hall meeting.
- More than 70% of Google+ users are male and 35% of them are between the ages of 25-34.
Features of Google+
The only way that Google+ had a chance to compete against Facebook and Twitter was to offer some new features. In fact, they have offered a slew of new features that have been well received and could usher social media into the next generation.
On Facebook and Twitter, you can filter incoming messages to check the statuses of friends, family or colleagues. This is a basic feature of all social networks now but Google+ introduced us to Circles, which allow users to filter outgoing information to specific groups of people.
To build a circle, you simply drag your contacts into one or more circles. When you share a post, photo or video, you have the option to share with one or more of these groups or make it public. As many recent college graduates know, social media can create problems when applying for jobs. This feature ensures that information is only shared with people that you want to see it. But make sure you keep your circles up to date!
Google already had instant message and video chatting that could be used through Gmail but they took that to a new level with Google+ Hangouts. Rather than just video chat with one person, you can video chat with up to 10 people and an unlimited number of people can listen and watch. President Obama famously took advantage of this feature to hold a town hall meeting on January 30, 2012. Businesses are starting to take advantage of this free tool also.
Google+ Hangouts makes it very easy to hold a video conference, share screen and watch YouTube videos. You can even access Hangouts on their mobile apps. This feature, although it may sound similar to services like GoToMeeting, could eventually wipe out its competitor’s because it is entirely free!
To their credit, Google understood that they needed to be mobile from the beginning. They have an easy-to-use mobile website as well as more robust mobile apps for Android and iOS.
This is a mobile feature very similar to text messaging or SMS. But just like Hangouts, they have made this much cooler than the average text message. You can communicate with up to 50 people at once if they opt to receive your messages. You can select by circle or just by typing someone’s name into the search bar and you can easily start a mobile Hangout right from a message.
Still in it’s infancy, Google+ Direct Connect enables qualified websites to allow users to quickly access their Google+ page via Google Search. Test it out by typing “+youtube” into the Google search bar. It will take you directly to the YouTube Google+ page. You can learn more about Direct Connect here.
Integration of Google Services
Google has made it abundantly clear that they want Google+ to be the glue that holds together your Google Accounts. In the past, users have been able to create separate YouTube, Gmail and Picasa accounts. Google wants you to use one login to access all of these services and all the rest…Google Analytics, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Docs and Google Places. And did I mention Google Maps, Google Books, Google Reader,Google Earth, Google News, Blogger, Google Voice and Google Translate. They want to own your web experience in the way that Apple or Windows owns your desktop experience. Increasingly, each of these services is taking advantage of the relationships you have in Google+ to enhance their capabilities.
And a lot more…
While we covered most of the really important features, Google+ does a lot more. For example, it has become a vibrant community for photographers because of the integration with Picasa and the built-in photo editing tools. It’s also been great for businesses because of the obvious benefits of “Search Plus Your World”. They also have a very cool selection of online games, a trending feature similar to Twitter and an integrated YouTube search and video playing platform.
Business Pages: Facebook vs. Google+
Okay, you have one hour to spend today on social media for your business. Should you work on your existing Facebook page that already has a few hundred fans or get to work building that Google+ page?
If only it were so easy. Between Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other niche sites likeAvvo, there is no way you have time to manage them all. Here is what we know for sure: Google+ pages are going to impact search results. If it means a little less time on Facebook, that’s okay. Remember that for any social network, your friends, fans or followers will see your information in their feed, not on your page. Spend time creating thoughtful, interesting posts that link to quality information. Optimizing your brand page is a good idea for branded searches but for many businesses, social media is a better tool for marketing to existing clients.