Lynsey Abernethy, Senior Consultant in our UK Marketing, Sales and Service practice gives her personal review of Google+.  There has certainly been a buzz (pun intended) in the social blogosphere over the past 3 weeks concerning the launch of Google’s 3rd attempt at social networking success, Google+.  What certainly has been successful is the PR over the launch.  The ‘limited field trial’ and registrations that have been opening and closing at a rapid rate, have provided a canny tactic to create great demand.  Rather cleverly, the initial networks were carefully selected to ensure a more proactive network would initially start to build the content to avoid the feeling of tumbleweed whirling across the page which is the case until you start adding people to circles.  It also allowed people to feel that they’d been permitted to join a very exclusive club by securing an invite which seemingly required more effort than it took to get an invite to April’s Royal Wedding.  Following on from Jason’s original post 2 weeks ago, I have gained access and have been actively using Google+ so today provide my updated view as to its value relative to Facebook and the other social behemoths.

User led growth

In Jason’s post he introduced the core functionality and hypothesised about the value for businesses.  The team at Google is now releasing more information about their growth plans and the opportunity for businesses to utilise the network.  Initial interest was collected last week with estimated interest in the tens of thousands.  The business demand is seemingly also hot. The team are trying to contain the launch of business pages until they’ve defined the tailored strategy and approach, which is smart on the basis that users have more control on who they share with and what they see due to the categorized circle-driven networks.  With 10 million people as of 14th July already using Google+ (I don’t feel so special anymore!) within 3 weeks of launch, the potential prize could be big, however that value will always be linked to its potential size, so today let’s start at looking at the experience for users to understand whether the critical mass can be gained.

What is the Google+ USP for users?

Google CEO Larry Page states “Our goal with Google+ is to make sharing on the web like sharing in real life” and from early interactions it is clear that this is doable.  In fact, for me Google+ seems to hold the opportunity to offer the functionality that I currently get from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Skype rolled into one – an ability to network personally and professionally, filtering information, both shared and consumed, according to the audience, and also follow and learn from the sources that I rate.  However, this won’t be fully achievable until it reaches critical mass.  As although I would like to use it to share links to my blog, for example, so my friends, family and professional network can read them from one source, if I post it there currently around 20 of my friends will see it, compared to 500 on Facebook.  Quite a hurdle and how long will I persevere with convincing people to move over to the medium? 

Robert Scoble, seemingly Google+’s real ‘Super-User’ said it best in his first blog post on Google+: “Why yo mamma won’t use Google+”. The requirements and set-up that allows you to manage and filter your content provides challenges to convince the less technical users take the time required to learn how to use the system.  Although Facebook has a tremendous reach, it still has a large proportion of members who seldom interact so appreciate the simplicity of their newsfeed for all relevant information.  If the same approach is taken to Google+ they either will limit their connections to recreate the Facebook experience, thus gaining potentially net benefit, or they will add too many users that they could feasibly keep up with and get frustrated with it.  Many unofficial guides and tips are popping up all over the internet, which in itself demonstrates that it’s a tough system to crack for new users.  In fairness, the G+ team are planning a broader launch in September will bugs worked through and additional functionality, it’s early days, but there are a few principles that I would suggest to the team over in the Silicon Valley:

  • Identify and promote a core USP: Whereas Facebook, Myspace and Twitter all provided a unique offer to users to entice them to join and participate: a new comms tool for university students, a music focused messaging site and a micro-blogging platform respectively, Google+ is simply rehashing and improving functionality offered elsewhere.  In fact the enhancements on competitors are more confusing and complex to your infrequent web users, therefore what is the motivation to switch? 
  • Simplify the directory: With a tool which seeks to be personally and professionally social, there will be a wide range of targets to follow, but today you cannot browse this list.  I would like to be able to see all, musicians, politicians, actors etc available to me and select those of interest to add to my circles
  • Build a wider pool of influencers: Like Ashton Kutcher brought twitter to a mass audience, G+ must motivate a range of influencers to migrate onto the platform and begin to build content that their legions of fans will demand.  Today the celebrity quotient seems low, and difficult to find as there is no means of directory, but the tech experts have adopted this as  a primary channel ensuring their coverage is good.  They do seem to have engaged early a community of artists so you can follow some quite incredible photographers, like Thomas Hawk.  Richard Branson has also come online in the last week and demonstrated a great engagement with his followers quickly.  More like this please!

I admire Google’s approach and look forward to seeing the growth of the platform.  I will continue to try in earnest to use and share, but suspect that I’ll be sticking with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin for some time to come.