When new social networks pop up, normally one doesn’t invest too much time in taking a deep-dive into functionality until there is significant adoption, suggesting that it is more than just a flash in the pan, and that it may have an impact on the social and digital space. With the release of Google+, we have just that; it has already hit 10 million users, has pinpointed and addressed some of the glaring “weaknesses” of Facebook, and has taken an active stance in the incorporation of business tools from the outset.
Regarding the meteoric growth,
the above statistic is estimated by a third-party, and therefore can’t be taken at face value. That said, even if the estimates are close numbers have been confirmed and G+ is now at 18 million users; we’ve never seen an adoption rate of this velocity within the social networking space, and with the high penetration of Gmail (the only service with double-digit growth), adoption may just be picking up.
The Facebook weaknesses that Google+ are targeting are privacy and segmentation. Within Facebook, users can create Lists (but rarely do) for privacy and Groups for segmentation, but neither had really solved the issue with the fire-hose effect and the inundation of content across users’ networks. Google hopes to solve both with Circles, a way to categorize your connections and only publish to those set categories when appropriate; however, your connections can’t necessarily see what the name of the Circle is in which they reside. In this way, Circles are more like multi-directional mailing lists, rather than “groups” of connections - people in groups know what groups they’re in. For a nice slideshow on how Circles work, check out Ross Mayfield‘s Circles slideshow.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the elements of Google+ that are in the works for the business roll-out later this year and discuss how the enterprise may make use of them, products that may already satisfy business needs, and possible efficiencies created by having all functionality centrally available via Google+. All advantages are heavily caveated with the adoption test. Will the features – or Google+, itself – achieve high enough adoption for it to make an impact on businesses and effect enterprise software? Google has already requested that businesses stop creating personal profiles as brand or company profiles; brand profiles will be rolled out soon, though, apparently.
Facebook has done a great job thus far in giving businesses and brands a voice within the social space, allowing for 1-to-1 communication between community managers and consumers, while also maintaining and upgrading their development platform, enabling brands to create rich experiences to engage users. By building out this development platform, they have created a network of preferred developers that brands can trust with their customer participation within the platform. Other notable social platforms do not enable developers to build into their platforms so easily, and therefore those platforms can become ridged in possibilities. Google Apps seems to provide just such a developer platform for brands to take advantage of, and hopefully its integration with Google+ will be a key component in the business roll-out.
We don’t know what form these Google+ business profiles will take: will they be mostly consumer-facing? Will they be more aligned to create efficiencies within the enterprise? Are they going to be most effective for B2B opportunities, leveraging connections between organizations and their partners? Or will it be a balance of the three? Facebook is geared mostly to the C2C (or F2F, if we’re being warm and fuzzy) and B2C, but doesn’t really touch the B2B space. Is this an opportunity for Google+?
If engagement within the enterprise is one of the objectives for Google+, then it would really be taking aim at corporate intranets, rather than social networking sites like Facebook. Sophisticated intranets can be costly, and if Google+ can create an effective toolset for businesses internally – marrying email, with news streams, with video conferencing, with screensharing, with whiteboarding – it could be a huge win. Let’s dive into some of the features that should be launching later this year with business pages.
The Google+ integration of YouTube and Google Photos (formerly Picasa) will allow for multimedia content to be pushed and shared across the company, and leveraged for internal & external presentations, training materials, product guides, and more.
The method that media is shared across the network will also be shifted in that, unlike Facebook, content can be shared selectively via Circles. In this way, only the folks that would need content for training materials would see updates to the image and video libraries; only those who are creating client presentations would be notified when additional content of that variety was added; and so on. Circles, which we will touch on more next, provide a metafilter for the deluge of content that comes streaming down the virtual pike.
While traditionally, intra- or intercompany meetings are held via phone conference or VoIP, video conferencing adds another dimension to communication between offices. In the past, Skype has been up to the task, and now that Facebook has rolled out Video Calling, we’ll most likely see an increase in mass-adoption of video conferencing. That said, Facebook Video Calling, at the moment, is one-to-one, so only two offices could participate – that is, if employees were willing to log into Facebook and put their newsfeeds on display for everyone in the room. Google+ will be releasing Google Meeting, which allows a user to video conference with up to 10 folks from their office or other offices. Feels flexible, but, like everything we touch on here, it will all rely heavily on execution and adoption.
Additionally, Google Screencast will enable groups within the enterprise and business partners (clients, suppliers, investors, etc.) to share screens with one another, GoToMeeting-style. Sharing screens is invaluable for walking through complex presentations (though I’d argue that no presentation should be complex) and ensuring that all parties are aligned and on the same page.
The third leg of the meeting functions is Google Whiteboard, in which groups of users can leverage Google Docs to simultaneously share and edit documents. Users can already do this with Google Docs, and seeing the functionality leveraged in Google Wave was an interesting, but failed, experiment. Very curious to see how Google uses learnings from Wave to make Whiteboards a success in the Google+ environment. By contrast, Facebook’s use of Docs within Groups certainly hasn’t been viewed as a success; the experience is clunky and the feature seems rarely used.
Within the enterprise, segmentation of messaging is normally done through email distribution lists, which we know can be extremely inefficient. A social business takes advantage of new technologies that allow for users to publish content to select groups of people for response and action, creating a living, breathing area for the data, task, or project (e.g. Socialcast or Basecamp). One of the issues with these technologies, however, is that one cannot truly get away from email, and when email gets involved, it normally is to create redundancies in the form of notifications. This is where Google+ and Circles may have an advantage. Many enterprises have corporate Gmail accounts, complete with Docs and Calendars, and the integration of Circles and notifications may provide the metafilter which could lighten the load on inboxes. And that’s just intra-business segmentation.
Enter Circles for B2C – this is where things get more interesting. On business profiles within Google+, it’s no stretch of the imagination that brands may be able to segment their audience with some automation of the Circles feature. Imagine if you, as a brand, could send out different messaging to your different psychographic segments. With Facebook, you can geo-target posts, either by language or by IP, and you can target Facebook ads based on interests, but that’s really where the segmentation ends. If you wanted to message your groups of consumers differently, you’d really have to set up different pages to accommodate; e.g. a retailer with men’s, women’s, and children’s lines could remain consolidated with one brand profile, but put it’s consumers into different Circles and message them with the appropriate content.
Today, Google is certainly taking aim at Facebook in the C2C space, and users are jumping on board at breakneck speed; not to mention there has been some talk of Facebook losing younger users based, perhaps, on privacy settings and their aversion to being “friends” with their parents. Google+ also has a massive opportunity in the intra-company and partner optimization space by integrating email, calendars, and docs with new features like streams, video conferencing, screensharing, whiteboarding, media sharing, and Circles. It will be very interesting to see what Google’s final business product looks like with regards to C2C, B2C, B2B, and Social Business Design.
This originally appeared on the Stuzo | Dachis Group blog.