Social Spotlight

The Next Big Thing: Google+ 101

Last week Twitter was all a-twitter with the launch of Google’s latest foray into social media — Google+. Would it be a ‘Facebook killer’ or a flop like Google Wave and Google Buzz? Like all things Google, early access to the field test is invite-only. As I managed to score an invitation, I thought I’d provide an executive summary on the next big thing — Google+. In the end, I also uncovered a larger brand-driven insight that Google is creating with this new platform.

What’s the Big Deal? The Google+ Elevator Pitch

As a friend of mine quipped early on, Google+ could be described as what Facebook would be if Google bought Facebook. Instead, I think Google made their own Facebook. And while calling G+ “Google’s Facebook” is a quick and easy way to explain it to someone who doesn’t know, there are some very big differences …

The Big Differences Between Google+ and Facebook

  • Clean Interface — The first thing many notice and comment on is the clean, simple, Google-like interface their new social network has. You never realized how cluttered Facebook is until you see Google+. Fields of user-friendly white space accented with carefully placed text, easy-to-follow icons, and chunky action buttons, make G+ a feat of both form and function.
  • Circles — When entering a competitive field, you need a painpoint of the current market leader that you can drive in a wedge and start building market share. So what’s a Facebook weakness? Access. Sharing everything with everyone. Do you want your parents to see your party photos? Do you want your distant friends to see that they weren’t included in your recent gathering? Easy — just sort out your friend lists on Facebook. As it turns out, this isn’t so easy. Google exploits this with their easy-to-use circles. When adding a friend, you simply drag their avatar into one or more graphical circles representing groups. You can then update only certain circles (close friends) with certain updates (party photos).
  • Friendship Is a Two-Way Street — Unlike Facebook where acceptance of a friend request is reciprocal, Google+ makes each party chose whether or not to connect with the other. And the best part …?
  • Blind Circles — Maybe you put someone in your ‘acquaintances’ circle while they put you in their ‘besties’ circle!! Oh no — they’ll find out and you’ll be ruined! Nope. Only you can see what circle you’ve put people in.
  • Hangout — Google+’s hangout feature is a big improvement over Facebook’s chat. Tying together Google Voice and your webcam you can create an impromptu conversation with connections. At this early stage, this represents one of the best business applications thus far as the network could easily support quick collaborations of work teams.
  • Sparks — A simple newsfeed system providing you with easy access to content aligned with your interests with which to ‘chum’ your network of circles with.

The Big Question for You: How Can This Help?

So once the dust has settled and we are all over our ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome, all of us marketers must take a step back and ask the million dollar question — can this impact my business? Can it help me build my brand? Sadly, the answer to your biggest question and mine is unclear. Google is rolling Plus out very deliberately and carefully at the individual level — working out bugs along the way as it opens and closes the invitation gates. How brands can create presence and content here remains to be seen.

This isn’t surprising as it tracks with Facebook’s early developmental focus on individual adoption. As such, presumably Google+ will develop brand pages with their own unique twist. Perhaps brands will be able to create circles around those that have ‘plussed’ them providing segmentation possibilities. One can only imagine that ‘Plus Pages’ would plug into other Google business engines like Analytics and AdWords. Though the presence of AdWords on G+ pages could quickly clutter the new network’s clean design. Google Docs could be accessible for easy collaboration while any sort of brand page would surely tie in to Google Places pages.

But this is all speculation, of course. In the meantime we’ll all have to stand by and watch. In short, don’t abandon your brand’s Facebook Page just yet — or anytime soon for that matter. (Can you imagine bailing on Facebook entirely with everything so many of us have invested in it? That’s another post in and of itself.)

The Bigger Picture: Google’s Brand-Driven Insight

After a day of Googling — or ‘Google Plussing’ — the bigger brand picture hit me. Earlier in the week, Google quietly rolled out a redesign of their search pages (a very big deal!), the addition of  the +1 rating to their AdWords system, and a reconfiguration of user profile pages. As it turns out, all of these changes set up the launch of Google+. The search pages now feature the Google+ black bar at the top for easy network access while you’re off Googling other things. Search results offer quick +1 buttons for sharing (a jab to Facebook’s ubiquitous ‘Like’ buttons). After the rollout, a redesigned Gmail also appeared further cementing this interface and experience.

And that’s when it occurred to me. All of this is Google+. By making a deliberate choice not to badge this product as a child brand like Google Buzz or Google Wave, the folks in Mountain View are sending a bigger brand message. This new social network isn’t simply a product extension. Google+ is the new Google. Everything you loved about simple, clean, elegant search plus a carefully constructed, intuitive social network for you to develop even deeper, more emotional connections using the Google brand as your conduit. With Plus, Google is all in.

Are you on Google+? If you are I’d love to add you to a circle. You can find me here.

What do you think of Google+? Do we need another social network or is this just another plant to water in our online garden? What brand page features would make Google+ a Facebook-killer for your business? Please leave a comment below to provide your brand-driven insights on Google’s next big thing.